Analysis: BONIFACE SUSA
PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has set good example by engaging in fish farming. Who could have thought a sitting President with his entire busy schedule could become a fish farmer while at State House?
The participation of the head of State in aquaculture speaks volumes of the potential in the sector with regard to economic development of the country.
For a long time, fish farming was not given much attention by previous governments and the sector never recorded any discernible growth. The department of fisheries which was under the Ministry of Agriculture did not receive the required support for it to perform its functions effectively. The department lamentably failed to make an impact on the diversification programme that could have endeared more farmers to engage in fish farming in addition to growing crops such as maize. Almost all regions of the country are blessed with rivers and streams but only few farmers have established fish ponds to raise fish on commercial basis. While field days are held frequently for farmers who produce crops, it is rare to see fish-farmers attending similar events at which they can share knowledge and their experiences in fish farming.
The PF government should be commended for creating the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock to revamp fish industry in the country. Most gratifying is government’s recent decision to employ more extension officers in the Ministry. Farmers are confident that Government will remove all bottlenecks that hinder development of this important sector. With poor crop prices, farmers should now look at fish farming as an alternative source of income to sustain their livelihoods. Farmers will certainly boost their income because of high demand for fish and fish proteins. In the long-term, there will be drastic reduction of malnutrition among children across the country mostly in the rural areas. Fish farming will also curb the rampant over-fishing of the rivers because most of the farmers will raise fish for sale in fish ponds and other recommended enclosures. With a thriving local fish industry, there will be more money in the people’s pockets and less fish imports as well.
According to fish experts, fish farming is cheaper as compared to maize production. First, a farmer should have access to sufficient water because that is the most important requirement in fish farming coupled with good soil that can hold water in a fish pond for a long time.
With maize production, someone has to contend with high cost of fertilisers and seeds to produce the staple food but a fish farmer will only need chicken or pig manure to grow his fish cheaply. In short, a farmer may even choose to keep chickens and pigs to increase his income from both fish and the livestock. Within a year a fish farmer can harvest his fish two or three times depending on the type of the fish. It makes economic sense for a farmer who doesn’t want to wait for a single maize harvest in a year.
Fish farming should also be encouraged among cooperatives to promote diversification among farmers. Many cooperatives exist because of subsidised agricultural inputs that they receive under Farmer Input Support Programme FISP. At the moment most of the cooperatives have gone to sleep and will only become active during the distribution of subsidised fertilisers and seeds. One common objective of any cooperative is to create and share wealth through various economic activities in order to eradicate poverty among its members. Engaging in fish farming will certainly make some of the cooperatives more viable and serve the actual purpose for which they were established.
Government should be commended for empowering youths with survival skills at various training centres to reduce unemployment rate among the young people in the country. Deliberate policies should be put in place to train unemployed youths in agriculture particularly fish farming. With diminishing opportunities for white collar jobs, youths should consider fish farming as potential money spinner that can sustain their livelihoods. Not all youths can be carpenters, tailors or bricklayers. It is important for youths to cast their nets wide in acquiring skills that can add value to their lives. The inspirational note by Lemony Snicket which says “If we wait until we are ready, we will be waiting for the rest of our lives” is food for thought. Youths should seize every opportunity to engage in anything that is able to uplift their living standards.
The author is station manager, Mkushi Community Radio.