Restoring Fisheries for Sustainable Livelihoods in Lake Malawi (REFRESH)

The Malawi REFRESH program is a five-year initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development to safeguard Lake Malawi and its biodiversity while enabling economic opportunities for communities in the eight surrounding districts.


Lake Malawi is located at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, between Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. The lake is home to more than 800 species of cichlid fish, nearly all endemic, representing an important economic and cultural resource for the region.

Malawi is one of the countries in Africa with the highest dependency on fish as a source of protein, and the increase in human population -estimated at 19.7 million today- has resulted in overfishing in the lake. The lack of alternative sources of income for sustainable livelihoods has threatened the health and biodiversity of Lake Malawi.


By creating alternative economic opportunities that do not depend on fishing, communities surrounding the lakeshore have the opportunity to become more resilient while positively contributing to the conservation of Lake Malawi’s biodiversity. With higher and more diversified earnings, communities will be able to invest in greater food production and pay for improved housing, healthcare, and education for their families. 

The strategy

The REFRESH program, led by PACT, is working to boost conservation and improve livelihoods around Lake Malawi. TechnoServe is leading the efforts to promote and accelerate alternative enterprises to support the conservation of biodiversity and the freshwater ecosystem of Lake Malawi.

To do this, REFRESH is helping entrepreneurs to start and grow micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), with TechnoServe providing assistance focused on business skills and conservation topics. These “conservation enterprises”  have received small-grant funding to accelerate their growth and provide alternative sources of income to fishing communities. They positively impact shoreline communities by incentivizing the development of different productive activities, such as agriculture, poultry farming, beekeeping, and ecotourism. 

Horticultural production at Chiole Farm Based Organisation.


To date, REFRESH has:

  • Supported 4,951 individuals to adopt alternative livelihoods through their engagement with 35 conservation enterprises.
  • The percentage of income from alternative sources among fishing communities has moved from 51% to 55%. 
  • The REFRESH program has provided technical training in conservation and business management to 34 enterprises, and 33 of them managed to develop business cases in preparation for receiving matching grants.
  • 15 businesses were recommended by the REFRESH program to be recipients of grants provided by USAID and distributed by PACT, a partner organization.
  • New businesses have recorded positive sales, with at least five of them registering over 50% increased revenues 


Funder: USAID 

Implementing partner: PACT, University of Rhode Island