OVER the years, the fisheries' industry has been emerging and rapidly growing thereby winning recognition by some rural population as the sunshine in Zambian agriculture.
Presently, the fishing sector stimulates growth of a number of subsidiary activities and is the source of livelihood for a large section of economically backward population, especially fishermen. It helps in increasing food supply, especially proteins, generating adequate employment opportunities and raising nutritional levels.
It has a huge export potential and can be a big source of foreign exchange earnings for the country if well managed.The major thrust in fisheries development has been on optimising production and productivity, generating employment and improving the welfare of fishermen and their socio-economic status.
But, there are several challenges and issues hampering the fisheries development in the country, such as, inaccurate data on assessment of fishery resources and their potential in terms of fish production, lack of infrastructure and lack of proper management. Others are difficulties in development of sustainable technologies as well as harvest and post-harvest operations.
This is evidenced by the data captured in the Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP) 2011 annual report which highlighted challenges in data collection as most of the farmers did not keep records and were sparsely distributed. Further, the report indicated that the fish sector recorded a decline of 61 per cent in its export, while imports increased by 294 per cent as the result of increased domestic demand and the depletion of local supply.
The increase in local demand meant that the fish stocks that were available for export in the previous year were absorbed by the local market in 2011. This report indicated that the fish caught did not increase due to the continuous depletion of breeding sites.
The situation needed urgent attention because there was a continued depletion of breeding sites due to uncontrolled and bad fishing methods. Thus, there has been greater need to transform the sector by taking into account its challenges, achievements and capabilities.
It is against this background, that an agriculture organisation through the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) has recognised the need to support Zambia's entrepreneurs in the fishing and aquaculture sector as key for sustainable growth of the sector. The USADF through Zambia Agribusiness Technical Assistance Centre (ZATAC) signed an agreement worth K610 million with Itezhi-Tezhi District Business Association (IDBA) which is largely dominated by SMEs to help them run their fishing business viably.
The funds will help the association to procure and install cold-rooms, refrigerated trucks and working capital to enhance its fish collection system and marketing. This will help establish a strong and sustainable environmental resource base, balanced and pre-emptive policy, public and private investments as well as good governance.
The sub-sector continues to be low developed but, it is worth nothing that the coming on board of the private sector is the starting point of development in the industry. The agreement entered into between ZATAC and IDBA, however, would assist the business association which comprises 67 members to operate and manage their business professionally.
According to ZATAC chief executive officer Likando Mukumbuta, the grant would facilitate for enhanced fish collection system and marketing. It is worth mentioning that USADF provides grants of up to US$250,000 directly to the grassroots groups and enterprises as well as address their economic problems. Mr Mukumbuta pointed out that under the agreement, his organisation would provide the technical support to the business association as well help them develop a five year business plan.
This will help IDBA to create concrete paybacks such as increasing job opportunities for the community, improved income base consequently deal with social development needs. ZATAC is USADF's country partner in Zambia with the responsibility of facilitating the USADF projects in the country and to date has provided support of more than K50 billion to 36 projects covering all the provinces of the country.
"USADF is now providing K610,852,000 to IDBA to set up a fresh fish business. The funds will mainly be used to purchase cold chain facilities and expand market for their fish," Mr Mukumbuta says. The full utilisation of the fisheries potential can be achieved through infrastructure, investments, technology intensification, diversification and value addition.
Therefore, the funds would help create job opportunities and support the economic activities in the area where the association operates. IDBA was formed in 2002 and the chairperson Kenneth Kachinka says so far the organisation has created employment opportunity in Itehzi-Tehzi District in now Central Province. Mr Kachinka noted that the grant was the relief to his association as it would provide for a sufficient equipped freezing and storage capacity.
"With the grant, we are going to procure a refrigerated truck to pick up fish from collection points to deliver to IDBA's fish marketing centre in Itezhi-Tezhi and we will ensure that the truck is adequately insured," he said. The major purpose of the project is to increase the capacity of IDBA to purchase and market fish as evidenced by increased volumes of marketed fish and increased gross revenues for the association and its members.
Various issues related to fishing activities in the country need to be addressed in a time-bound manner with mutual understanding and cooperation between public and the private sectors.
What is happening in Itezhi-Tezhi should be replicated to other parts of the country to ensure that the sector's potential is fully tapped, for the benefits of Zambians especially rural dwellers.