Has kapenta been dethroned from our menus?

GODFREY Chitalu.

WHEN I was growing up, refrigeration-free, dried, Lake Tanganyika small sardine, aka Mpulungu kapenta, never missed during our meals.Mother had a way of boiling or frying it in a mix of onions, tomatoes and spices as an accompaniment to our staple food nshima.
Father reminded us that this delicacy, apart from beans and buka buka fish, was a poignant reminders of our Lungu heritage.
My observations were such that most of our neighbours in the military barracks, where I grew up, always had a kapenta meal of some sorts. It was either Mpulungu or Siavonga kapenta with vegetables for lunch. Chicken and meaty meals were reserved for supper, where chances of our military parents partaking were high. Most soldiers elected to eat lunch from mess tins together at work. A sumptuous dinner, with family, became a perfect launch pad for endless parties and duty free drinking sprees.
Over the years, I have seen that gradually our mouth interactions with kapenta had declined to very low levels. The once revered and cheap kapenta has started missing from many peoples menus. The scenario is not of our making but is driven by market forces. Perhaps we should take not that overfishing in our lakes has made the commodity not only scarce but very expensive.
Nutrition wise, we are told that dry kapenta has more benefits than its fresh counterpart. kapenta is a rich source of protein, whose consumption should be encouraged, if it weren’t for its skyrocketing price. Based on spousal observations in the past twenty years of our marriage, the frequency of purchasing dry kapenta is nothing to write home about. We have relegated it to delicacy status.
Kapenta, was very key on the Zambian menu; topping as a poor people’s food. Now it is a shelf of its former self, in the process loosing even its very lustre. Take heed when technocrats complain about the effects of depleting fish stocks in our rivers and lakes.
Overfishing on both the natural Lake Tanganyika and artificial Lake Kariba has taken its toll on quantities that are supplied to the market. Since production levels are low, with an ever increasing demand, prices of kapenta have risen tremendously. It is no longer sustainable to buy a small cup of dry kapenta for K10 and expect to feed your family. The equivalent of a one kilogram price of sausage, meat or chicken is now what constitutes a manageable quantity of kapenta for a small family.
Some women spoken to have told me that they long switched from buying kapenta as a source of protein in preference to meats. When you weigh the pros and cons of buying kapenta, unfortunately it tilts you to chicken or meat, said one housewife. My wife only purchases Kapenta because we are wedded to Lungu traditions of having it on the table as a brother to beans. Economically speaking it no longer makes sense to rely on kapenta proteins when you can get it from other sources, cheaply like Tilapia.
The last time my wife and I visited Siavonga, it was pitiful that very few fishing rigs were seen in the night, even if it was not a fishing ban period. Three days without spotting fishing rigs during a non-fishing ban period is really bad. Contrast it with another visit five years ago; where the hustle and bustle of fishing rigs, replete with mercury lamps to attract kapenta, was the order of the nights. It was wonderful enjoying the scenic Lake Kariba view as hundreds of kapenta fishing rigs floated.
We took a step to go to Matinangala bay, where traders fought to buy semi dry kapenta while others stopped short of blocking boats on the mud and pole pier. Overfishing on Lake Tanganyika is also rampant such that fights abound as traders wrestle to buy kapenta, some of it arguably from our neighbouring countries.
If we want to bring back kapenta on our menus, it is important for us to support the annual government fish ban. The ban, which is done under the aegis of the Ministry of Livestock, aims at promoting sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources. We must as well advise that shallow water fishing has a way of endangering spawn. In the next few months the annual fish ban will start and run from December to February. If this is properly observed perhaps it can help bring back kapenta to our menus.
The author is a social and political commentator.

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