Fishing for food in dry seasons

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
27 April 2007, at 1:00am

JOHANNESBURG - With food security often at the mercy of erratic weather patterns, Southern Africa could bank on its "tremendous" potential to farm fish to sustain its predominantly agrarian communities, according to aquaculture experts.

"Aquaculture in Southern Africa is unfortunately still underdeveloped but there is good potential, as there are adequate inland water resources in most parts of the region," said Erik Hempel, team leader of the regional office of Infopeche, an intergovernmental organisation providing marketing information and a cooperation service for fishery products in Africa, set up in 1985 as a United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project.

Hempel pointed out that aquaculture could complement existing sources of income and food as well as provide alternatives to impoverished communities of subsistence farmers in the region. "We know of a subsistence farmer at the foot of the Hardap Dam in southern Namibia who uses the water not only for his fish farm, but recycles it for his crops - he grows vegetables and farms fish in combination."

According to the FAO, southern Africa has an estimated 20,000 small bodies of water, mostly reservoirs built to provide water for domestic use, watering cattle and irrigating crops. Some of these were stocked with fish, but, lacking adequate management, production remained low.

Besides inland water resources, countries along the east coast of Africa, like Mozambique and South Africa, have the potential to develop shrimp farming, but Hempel said aquaculture along the west coast, which is "exposed to the elements, would require a great deal of investment".

He pointed out that "there is good potential to develop oyster and mussel farming, which is already happening in South Africa", but said subsistence aquaculture could be developed mainly in inland freshwater bodies.

An illiquid potential resource

Alec Forbes, a marine biologist and aquaculture consultant, said aquaculture was prevalent in Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, "all with some degree of success, but falling short of the real potential". Most efforts to kick-start fish farming for subsistence farmers have been stumped by lack of resources, skills and funding.

The FAO has developed a strategy to promote subsistence aquaculture in Africa, according to Lahsen Ababouch, Chief of the Fish Utilisation and Marketing Service at the FAO. "We are trying to replicate [in Africa] the success of aquaculture in Southeast Asia and Asia," he added. Fish as a source of protein is critical for improving food security, "which is our mandate" in least-developed countries.

Investment in aquaculture is critical, as the FAO's annual report on fish farming last year found that nearly half the fish consumed worldwide were raised on fish farms rather than caught in the wild. Dwindling fish stocks and rising demand have increased the pressure on aquaculture. The FAO was still in talks with donors on its plans for Africa, he added.

Source: Reuters AlertNet