14 June 2013

Namibia: Are Fish Farms Doomed?

GOVERNMENT has injected massive amounts of cash to establish fish farms for the express purpose of poverty alleviation and to boost the country's food security.

Fish farming was introduced in the Oshana, Oshikokoto, Ohangwena and Omusati regions for the first time in 2004. Similarly in 2004 government introduced fish farming to the Caprivi Region at Likunganelo and at Kalimbeza primarily as a source of food. Some individuals from the beneficiary communities were even sent to Malawi to attend crash courses on fish farming.

One of the reasons fish farming was seen as a means of poverty alleviation is because it required low inputs compared to livestock farming. The Kavango Region has its own fish farms at Mpungu and Karovo and there was also one such project at Shipapo Wambambangandu. Leonardville in the Omaheke has its own fish farm that cost government N$20 million.

All fish farms in the Caprivi, Kavango, Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Omusati and Omaheke regions are community-based fish production farms. It is important to highlight the fact that fish farming was also meant to provide communities with easy access to a cheaper protein source that was 'gout-free' compared to red meat that is costly.

When these fish farms harvested tilapia and red-breasted bream among other fish species the project managers went on radio to announce dates on which fish was to be harvested. It was in essence a win-win situation, because the aquaculture projects had a ready market while the communities had access to cheaper fish.

But alas, this seems to be no longer the case, because it has been a few years since we had a tilapia harvest for the benefit of many rural communities in which fish farms were established. The idea to farm with fish has always been a good one, but it seems it has produced unforeseen challenges.

Aquaculture appears not to have its desired impact on various communities that were supposed to benefit from this kind of farming. Even the current Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernard Esau, had briefed a familiarisation visit that aquaculture seems not to be working and he wants a national review.

A lack of proper research also resulted in some of the fish at these farms being washed away by floods particularly in the Caprivi and Kavango regions. Another challenge that faced fish farmers is that they have been unable to compete with fishermen, because farmed tilapia costs more than river fish.

This naturally disadvantaged fish farmers because they have to pay for the feed unlike a fisherman who just requires a net and a canoe. But despite the above challenges, it is important to point out that fish farming is a viable poverty alleviation measure, particularly for rural communities.

When this concept was introduced in the northern regions those regions initially had about 800 fish farmers. And because all of them were supplied with fingerlings by government the north had 500 active fish farmers at one stage.

But this figure shrunk drastically to a mere 23 fish farmers in the north two of which are in the Oshana Region, nine in the Oshikoto Region and 12 in the Ohangwena Region.

Of course some people will blame the diminished fish farms on the floods experienced from 2008 to 2012, but they may as well blame it on the 2013 drought. Because what happened to the fishponds that were never flooded? What about the earth dams that are still intact?

That said, fish farming should not be doomed to failure, since we need to learn from our mistakes.

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