NANCY MWAPE, Livingstone
GIVEN the low levels of employment and low agricultural yields in Mwandi district, overfishing is threatening fish stocks in the upper Zambezi River and it is feared the problem may in the long term wipe out aquatic animals.
Fish is a source of livelihood for about 28,000 households along the Barotse flood plains of the Zambezi River, which is endowed with an estimated 122 fish species.
Small-scale farmers, who live along the upper Zambezi River basin, mainly rely on fishing for a living.
Over-dependence on fishing by the people in the area has also resulted in over-fishing to the point of almost depleting fish stocks.
To help conserve biodiversity in the Zambezi River, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), a non-governmental organisation, has partnered with the Inyambo Community Development Trust (ICDT) to preserve aquatic life and also improve livelihoods.
AWF Kazungula landscape director Nasson Tembo said fish stocks were being depleted due to unsustainable fish harvest methods using illegal fishing kits. Illegal fishing is propelled by peopleâ€™s desire to meet household needs.
Restocking fish stocks in water bodies is crucial to safeguarding food security. Therefore, AWF, with support from the United States government through Sustainable, Conservation Approaches in Priority Ecosystems (SCAPES), is promoting community participation in fisheries management.
In November 2012, the AWF and ICDT secured a grant of US$50,000 from the United Nations Development Programmeâ€™s global environmental facility to support aquaculture through community enterprise strategies.
Historically, aquaculture development in Africa has been targeted at the poorest people through a fish conservation method that also addresses household hunger through community-based fish ponds.
Mr Tembo said the project is aimed at helping individual fishermen gain the skills needed to develop alternative livelihood activities.
â€œThe goal of the project is to effect positive change at household level, support food security and income generation to make a measurable difference for families,â€ he said.
The project also focuses on gender equality, by empowering women to promote their involvement in community-based management of natural resources and community enterprise development.
In Namanjanga village in Mwandi, AWF is supporting 10 households, six of them being female-headed.
The AWF and ICDT, through the Mwandi Integrated Fish Farm, has developed fish ponds to sustainably produce home-grown fish from the Zambezi River.
It has also facilitated small enterprise management training for community members in Mwandi.
Mr Tembo said after undergoing training, members of the community have shown commitment to work with the department of fisheries to ensure sustainable utilisation of fish.
Ten households in Namanjanga village were trained in aquaculture, focusing on pond construction, fish management, feeding habits, maintenance of optimal water levels and quality.
Namanjanga household aquaculture project chairperson Nawa Muzimi said investment in fish ponds was as good as investing in real estate because assets of this sort tend to appreciate in value at red-hot pace.
â€œFish pond business is like housing; our families will continue to benefit as long as we work hard.
â€œThe future is bright, we have a ready market like fish traders and the entire community will benefit from this project,â€ he said.
Ten ponds have already been sunk under the Namanjanga agriculture aquaculture project, and each one of them has been stocked with 2,000 fingerlings that were donated by the ICDT, through Mwandi Integrated Fish Farm.
The 10 households made their first fish harvest of 150kg last December, from which they managed to raise an income of about K1,800.
However, AWF estimates that with proper management of fish ponds, a pond containing 2,000 fingerlings should produce about 500kg of fish, and a harvest of 250kg, translating into K7,500, if fish is sold at K15/kg.
But Muzimi is confident of improved harvests in future as fish farmers master the trade.
â€œWe had challenges [with the management] of fingerlings in the initial stages…Â bare ponds [without fence] were attracting hippos from time to time. We have since resolved to guard the ponds 24 hours – women guard during the day and men at night. Furthermore, through AWF support, we shall be fencing the area,â€ he said.
Apart from fish farming, Mr Muzimi said the project also involves crop production, and some vegetables like rape, cabbage, tomato and onion were produced and sold in Sesheke and Namibia.
Lydia Mundia, the project treasurer, said her participation in fish farming and crop production has empowered her to provide for her family.
â€œThe money I raised from the fish sales helped me to buy food for the family and seeds for agriculture production,â€ she said.
Ms Mundia is also rearing pigs, and with proceeds from this business, she was able to pay school fees for one of her children who has since completed grade 12.
â€œI want to use money from the fish business to send my daughter to college. My prayer is that once she finishes college, she will start work and help me to support the seven orphaned grand-children Iâ€™m looking after,â€ she said.
In the initial stages, the project attracted 20 households but half of them withdrew, assuming it would not be a profitable business venture.
But on seeing a good harvest from their colleagues, who even managed to give a token of appreciation to the chief, there are now more households wanting to come on board.
Mr Tembo said fish farming is a good business venture that can contribute to household food security and job creation.
He said the successful harvest in Mwandi has attracted 40 farmers, who have since applied for loans from the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission to invest in fish farming.
Fish farming has been identified as one of the viable strategies for the conservation of aquatic biodiversity.
If many fish traders could embrace fish farming, over-fishing in the Zambezi and other rivers will be a thing of the past.
NANCY MWAPE, Livingstone