Fishermen doing what they know best in the deep waters of the Zambezi River
By Derrick Silimina
Fishing in Zambia’s vast fisheries once seemed inexhaustible but this has led to serious depletion of fish stock.
While agriculture is the most important source of livelihood, Zambia has 15 million hectares of water in the form of rivers, lakes and swamps, which provide the basis for extensive freshwater fisheries. Everyone in Zambia, irrespective of socio-economic status, enjoys fish.
However, demand for domestic fish for consumption still outstrips production. Government is aware of the direct benefits of fish as a source of food of high nutritional value, especially for vulnerable groups, so the sector is not underrated.
The sector, because of its mostly rural setting, continues to contribute significantly to rural development in terms of employment and income generation and reducing poverty.
It is estimated that the sector supports more than 300 000 people deriving their livelihood directly as fishers and fish farmers, or indirectly as traders, processors and other service providers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
And according to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, there are nine major fisheries in Zambia namely Kariba, Tanganyika, Itezhi-tezhi, Bangwelu, Mweru Luapula, Mweru Wantipa, Kafue and Zambezi Rivers and Lukanga Swamps.
Chirundu Fisheries Department Assistant research officer Taurai Ngoma says aquaculture industry in Zambia is not growing to the expected level due to innumerable challenges facing the sector hence the escalating fish deficit now at 70 percent.
Mr Ngoma notes that currently, government is even unable to ban the importation of fish mainly from China on the local market.
“…the aquaculture sector is growing at a snail’s pace. Although we are growing, we are not growing as fast as we want to grow. There hasn’t been enough fish that has been produced in the country as at now! We still have fish deficit and that is why government is unable to ban the flooded local market with imported fish. So maybe in due course, we will be restricting the amount of fish coming into the country because we don’t have enough and we are forced to import,” Mr Ngoma said.
Asked the modalities that government has put in place to scale up fish farming especially among local fish farmers in the country in order to cushion the current 70 percent stock deficit, Mr Ngoma states that a number of financial measures are in place to boost production.
“One of them is through the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) Loan facility. Right now, the Commission is giving out loans to potential fish farmers and those who are serious, they can simply apply to CEEC but the tricky part is they don’t usually give to individuals as they need a cooperative as it is easier to fund a group rather than an individual,” he noted.
“Also, the other modality is the 2017 budget allocation where Finance minister Felix Mutati mentioned that there is quite a chunk of money that has been reserved specifically for aquaculture. So, these two are the measures that government has put in place to avert fish deficit in the country.”
Earlier this year, government acquired a US$50 Million loan from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to boost its fish industry. Half of the loan will help 12,000 women and young small scale fish farmers.
And Livestock and Fisheries minister Michael Katambo recently confirmed that Zambia has stock deficit hence depending on imports to sustain local demand.
“As a country, we have a deficit of fish but with fish farmers and projects that are being implemented with the loans from African Development Bank (AfDB) and other measures from Government, the graph is rising, we are managing. We have about 85, 000 metric tonnes, now we are talking about 50, 000 to 60, 000 metric tonnes deficit which means the graph is rising,” he said.
Mr. Katambo said in an interview that Zambia would become a net exporter of fish once Government implemented all the projects. He said the target is to meet the fish deficit within the next three years.
“We have a deficit and we are importing fish that is why we are putting in place measures to curb bad fishing. We are going around the country to sensitise the communities on good fish practices and other stakeholders. We have the potential and resources in all provinces, we are even encouraging backyard fishing,” Mr. Katambo said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ngoma notes that the sector is still facing teething challenges as it requires enough capital in terms of funding as well as the lack of seed or fingerlings.
“Aquaculture is big business. We may tell people to venture into it but the income injection that is required for one to just venture into full production is just too huge. That’s the tricky part of it but once you have all the facilities in place, it’s easier but for you to start just digging the ponds requires more funds,” he observed.
“Then the other challenge that is limiting the production of fish in the country is the source of fingerlings, (the seed). There isn’t many companies that are able to produce seed in Zambia because first things first, you need to have seed just like growing maize is. For instance, on the crop production side, we have a lot of seed companies such as SeedCo, ZamSeed, and MRI seed companies among others but on the fish side, we have a situation whereby those people who are growing fish are more than those who are producing fingerlings.”
As government endeavours to promote fish farming, it should go a step further to raise the scale of operations by attracting corporate investment into the sector as a way of realizing its full potential and as well as strengthen the fisheries department’s policy and legal framework if socio-economic emancipation is to be realised.
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