By: Alfred Sayila, Zambia Southern Africa
Through the ministry of fisheries and livestock, the government in Zambia has crafted a policy that will guide the future development of aquaculture in the country. However, elections this upcoming August are likely to slow down the momentum to implement the Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy which is expected to resume once the polls are over and another administration is put in place.
After realizing the two sub-sectors are not fully represented in the Second National Agriculture Policy (SNAP), the government came up with the fisheries and aquaculture policy, which did not address specific issues about the two sectors.
The process to develop the national policy on fisheries and aquaculture started way back in 2016 when the ministry of agriculture was split into two to pave the way for the creation of the ministry of fisheries and livestock.
“In Zambia, what prompted the government to introduce the national fisheries and aquaculture policy was the prevailing shortage of fish in the country and the increase in illegal fishing from the water bodies.”
SNAP was the brainchild of the cabinet office, experts from the department of fisheries, policy planning department, and others, who formed the initial technical working group. But what prompted the government to introduce the national fisheries and aquaculture policy was the prevailing shortage of fish in the country and the increase in illegal fishing from the water bodies.
“There is visible depletion of fish in most of the country’s water sources, resulting in a critical fish shortage forcing the government to allow imports from neighboring countries in the Southern African region. And this has meant a strain on the country’s meager financial resources.”
Permanent secretary in the ministry of fisheries and livestock Benson Mwenya admitted that despite the annual ban on fishing from December to March every year, it has not helped to increase fish in the country’s water bodies which are overfished due to unreported fishing activities.
”I am afraid the ban has not helped increase fish population in our waters,” admitted Mwenya, who supported the fisheries and aquaculture policy crafting, which will guide future fishing activities in the country.
Mwenya said the country continues to face unilateral and unconventional fishing activities, contributing to fish depletion and the consequential shortage of fish. He disclosed that his country suffers from the proverbial 81,000 metric ton fish deficit every year against a growing demand almost thrice the figure!
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations World Fish Survey of recent times echoed the decrease in fish stock in Zambia partly due to overfishing and unconventional fishing methods.
“Before establishing ZAEDP and crafting the national policy on fisheries and aquaculture, the two sub-sectors suffered from inadequate fisheries, infrastructure, technology, illegal fishing, and unregulated and unreported fishing activities.”
Due to these factors, the deficit of fish has led to low fish consumption at 5.9 kilograms per person per year instead of the 12.1 kg required internationally. Further to the survey findings, the low level of fish consumption in Zambia has also culminated in low fishing catches from the country’s lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. At the same time, the few people actively engaged in fishing have also contributed to the shortfall.
For example, from the estimated one million people engaged in fishing, only 72,000 are involved in active fishing. This number cannot satisfy and sustain the local demand for fish, accounting for the major component of animal proteins consumed in the country against chicken, beef, and pork.
For this reason, the government decided to come up with various measures to increase fish production in the country to meet both domestic and external markets. This resulted in the Zambia Aquaculture Enterprise Development (ZAEDP) establishment to provide soft loans, logistical support, skills, and extension services to upcoming commercial fish farmers throughout the country.
“As a result, so far, many fish projects have sprung up in various parts of the country; this came up with a special seed fund responsible for dishing out loans to fish farmers to acquire such things as fish cages, nets, feed, and other inputs.”
Since the formation of ZAEDP in 2019, Zambia has seen a rapid increase in fish and aquacultural-related products. As a result, the country is expected to be self-sufficient in fish stocks to meet local demand and some for export in the next five years from now.
The government thinks both the implementation of the policy on fish and aquaculture and the formation of ZAEPD will help the two sub-sectors to contribute to the Gross National Product (GDP). However, the success of the national policy and ZAEDP will depend on the political will of the future government with the participation of both the public and private sectors.
The National Aquaculture Research Development Centre (NARDC) and the setting up of a facility for the genetic improvement of local fish breeds will also help in an increase in fish stocks. This step followed an outcry from local fish farmers that foreign fish breeds were doing much better than local varieties, hence establishing the Genetic Improvement Program.
Although Zambia is landlocked and dependent on mining, it is endowed with abundant fisheries resources from water bodies located in the Zambezi, Luapula, and Congo basins. The country is said to possess almost one-third of freshwater found in the Southern African region.
“Before establishing ZAEDP and crafting the national policy on fisheries and aquaculture, the two sub-sectors suffered from inadequate fisheries, infrastructure, technology, illegal fishing, and unregulated and unreported fishing activities. Now fish farmers will easily access quality and affordable support under the government Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC).”
Finally, the government was able to mobilize more than US$50 million from some cooperating partners such as the Africa Development Bank, the Irish government, and the German Development Cooperation. Funds from these agencies have helped in capacity building of the fisheries and aquaculture development and a marked increase in fish production.
Latest statistics from the ministry of fisheries and livestock have put the fish output in Zambia at 100-107 tones per year against a total domestic demand of 185,000 tones. The deficit has resulted in significant pressure on capture fisheries due to overfishing leading the two sectors unable to meet the growing demand for consumers.
* Alfred Sayila is a journalist/analyst in Southern Africa.
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