SOMETHING FISHY AFOOT

Zambia 2017 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: AQUACULTURE

Zambia is looking to boost its aquaculture sector, with an eye on solidfying its position as one of Africa's top producers of fish.

Everyone knows the proverbial disadvantages of giving a man a fish. However, if teaching a man to fish will feed him for a year, imagine the benefits that boosting a country's aquaculture sub-sector could bring for an entire population. This seems to be the thinking behind the Zambian government's increased drive to channel substantial sums of the national budget into increasing the country's fishery capacity.

Zambia is among the highest producers of fish in Sub-Saharan Africa, with over 8,500 tons per year. A variety of fish are farmed, including breams, the common carp, crayfish, and, the most common, tilapia. However, despite this notable increase in demand, local fish consumption is currently well below the world average and, indeed, has fallen to half of what it was 20 years ago. This is because wild-capture fishing activity has led to lower yields, increases in unsustainable practices, falling fish stocks, and a subsequent uptick in prices. With fish less affordable than before, figures show that just 7kg of fish is consumed per person per year in Zambia, compared to the average global consumption of 19kg. Efforts are being made to reduce this gap, since fish can be one of the cheapest and most nutritious forms of animal protein. In this context, therefore, the only alternative to cheap fish imports from Asia is aquaculture.

Shortly after being re-elected, President Lungu reiterated in his inaugural speech the desire to turn the potential of the sector into “commercially viable projects that will uplift our people's nutrition status and incomes," calling on government agencies to promote aquaculture parks in high potential zones. At the end of 2016, aquaculture received special mention again, this time in the national budget speech given by Finance Minister Felix Mutati. It was declared that ZMK18.3 million would be dedicated to facilitating aquaculture entrepreneurship, with funding earmarked for training programs for farmers in fish feed production and for the development of fingerling centers in Runfusa, Mungwi, Kasempa, and Chipepo. The government also underscored the need to increase fiscal incentives to enhance private-sector involvement in the industry. Already, several foreign financers have expressed an interest in investing in Zambia's water resources, with commitments to grow long-term strategies for water sector development and related projects coming from both Denmark and the Netherlands.

Also keen to involve the private sector is the Aquaculture Development Association of Zambia (ADAZ), currently undergoing discussions with the European Investment Bank regarding funding for the recently conceived Zambia Aquaculture Enterprise Development Project (ZAEDP), a USD50.89 million proposal designed by ADAZ in conjunction with the African Development Bank and due to commence in 2017. The Department of Fisheries has selected high potential zones for aquaculture, called fish farming blocks, themselves split up into clusters known as “Aqua-Parks." The ZAEDP will develop these Aqua-Parks and provide training to those already working in fish farming, as well as those who are new to the industry. Loans will also be offered to allow some of these individuals to invest in the aquaculture value chain. Service centers will be established near these farming blocks to provide extension services and expert advice to these entrepreneurs.

Other initiatives include the USD1.5 million World Bank funded Chikowa Dam project, as well as a fish farming ban enforced by the Department of Fisheries. The dam will be used not only to provide water resources to communities in the area, but also in irrigation and fish farming. The farming ban prevents fishing in natural waters between December 2016 and end of 1Q2017, allowing wild fish time to complete their breeding cycle and encouraging young farmers to construct fish ponds, increasing numbers of farmed fish exempt from this regulation.

As the World Fish Center notes, the fisheries industry in emerging markets can be instrumental in securing sustainable futures for individuals not just in terms of nutrition and food security, but also in terms of job creation and increasing a country's foreign exchange. The abovementioned campaigns, projects, and initiatives are testimony of the Zambian government's interest in casting a wide net, keen to capture every practical opportunity available to further its development of the aquaculture sector.