KELVIN MBEWE, Mazabuka
MAZABUKA town in Southern Province is popularly known as Zambia’s “sweet town” because of its sugarcane plantation at Nakambala Sugar Estates.
However, there is more to the sweet town than just sugar production.
The town lies on the banks of the Kafue River (Lower Kafue Basin) and the locals have taken advantage of this to venture into fishing for a living.
According to World Fish Zambia, the fisheries sector benefits a total population of over 27, 000 people in the basin and produces about four tons of fish per day.
This makes fish in the area the most preferred and available source of proteins, thereby increasing the demand for the commodity.
Despite the river being infested with crocodiles, hippos, snakes, among other dangerous water creatures, fishers in this area brave the threats and it is normally business as usual for them.
According to Steward Chimuuka, a-33-year-old fisherman of Shimungalo fishing camp, some of the fishers have resorted to using charms to protect themselves from water creatures.
However, this is not the only challenge the fishers are going through in the Lower Kafue Basin.
Due to the high demand for fish in the area and countrywide, the fishers have resorted to using unfriendly but easier fishing methods.
They use mosquito nets and poison to catch fish. To make matters worse, others are practising unsustainable farming methods near the river.
This has negatively affected fish production in the Kafue River as the use of mosquito nets triggers the harvesting of small immature fish, whereas farming near the river equally affects fish breeding due to the use of fertilisers by farmers.
World Fish Research indicates that the negative impact of unsustainable fishing and agriculture methods is already being felt in the area.
The organisation’s acting country director, Sloans Chimatiro, says fish production in the lower Kafue basin has reduced from 35, 315 metric tons (1990-1994) to 22,452 metric tons (2010-2014).
The numbers are expected to drop further if unstainable fishing and agricultural methods continue.
Food security, job creation and income generation for the locals are also at risk if these threats are not attended to.
As a remedy to this predicament, Government is working closely with organisations with interests in the improvement of aquaculture and fisheries. Among these organisations are World Fish International, Solidaridad Zambia, and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
WWF wants to ensure that it tackles the challenges facing the fisheries sector. It is encouraging sustainable fishing methods such as the use of appropriate fishing equipment as well as fish farming in different fishing communities, especially in the lower Kafue basin.
A stakeholders’ meeting was held in Mazabuka recently and featured interested participants with a view to finding a lasting solution to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture production.
According to Mbamwai Mbewe, a chief fisheries research officer in the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock who was in attendance, the enhancement of fish farming is the surest way of increasing fish stocks in the country.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock is therefore identifying and demarcating breeding areas for fish to ensure that they multiply without any disturbance from unsustainable agricultural methods.
In addition, the ministry is strengthening fisheries research programmes with the aim of developing appropriate fishing gear.
And the locals in the Lower Kafue Basin are working with Government in a campaign to stop unsustainable fishing methods.
They have formed a fisheries committee which is monitoring and enforcing the law against fishers who are found wanting.
Mr Chimuuka is the chairman of the committee.
“When we find someone using bad fishing methods, we confiscate the boat and take the culprit to police. Three to four people have so far been prosecuted. Others have been charged and have paid the fine. The penalty fee is K5,000,” he said.
He said the committee is working closely with the police.
“We hand the culprits to the police. We have a register of people [licensed fishermen] but we would like the penalty fee to be increased to ensure that erring fishers are deterred,” he said.
Meanwhile, other fishermen have adopted a smart way of sustaining fish production in Mazabuka by venturing into fish farming.
Boyd Chikuni is one of the few locals that have built fish ponds and is enjoying the benefits of fish farming.
Mr Chikuni got tired of risking his life daily by fishing from the crocodile-infested river.
He has his own fish pond at home where he harvests 200 big fish every three months. This earns him an income of about K4,000 quarterly.
As a fisherman, he was earning K200 on a good day, but this was occasionally. With a steady income, Mr Chikuni is able to plan and make a budget for his family.
Fish farming is saving him time and money as he no longer has to buy boats and fishing equipment.
“We sourced the fingerlings from Chilanga fish farm and we stocked the pond with about 500 fingerlings in May last year. This time around, the fish is marketable. A few weeks ago I harvested 200 big fish of about 4 inches,” he said.
Mr Chikuni says he is earning more money from fish farming than what he was getting when he was fishing from the Kafue River.
“My family and I have enough fish to eat and sell. When we harvest, the harvest is quite big and the income helps us to meet household needs,” he says.