Photo above: Fish farming has fast turned into a way for many Africans to beat poverty and hunger. Photo credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS.
By Jeffrey Moyo
IPS Africa Correspondent
HARARE, Zimbabwe (IPS) — Hillary Thompson, aged 62, throws some grains of left-over rice from his last meal, mixed with some beer dregs from his sorghum brew, into a swimming pool that he has converted into a fish pond.
“For over a decade, fish farming has become a hobby that has earned me a fortune,” Thompson, who lives in Milton Park, a low density area in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, told IPS. In fact, he has been able to acquire a number of properties which he now rents out.
Thompson is just one of many here who have struck gold through fish farming.
African strides in fish farming are gaining momentum at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns as part of its proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire this year.
The SDGs are a universal set of 17 goals, targets and indicators that U.N. member states are expected to use as development benchmarks in framing their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.
Faced with nutritional deficits, a number of Africans have turned to fish farming even in towns and cities to complement their diets.
In Zimbabwe, an estimated 22,000 people are involved in fish farming, according to statistics from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Behind the success of many of these fish farmers stands the Aquaculture Zimbabwe Trust, which was established in 2008 to mobilise resources for the sustainable development of environmentally-friendly fisheries in Zimbabwe as a strategy to counter chronic poverty and improve people’s livelihoods.
Over the years, it has been on the ground offering training aimed at building capacity to support the development of fish farming.
The figure for fish farmers is even higher in Malawi, where some 30,000 people are active in fish farming-related activities, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Fisheries are reported to contribute about 70 percent to the protein intake of the developing country’s estimated 14 million people, most of whom are too poor to afford meat.
For many Malawians like Lewis Banda from Blantyre, the country’s second largest city, fish farming has become the way to go. “Fish breeding is a less demanding economic venture, which anyone willing can undertake to do, and fish sell faster because they are cheaper,” he told IPS.
In many African towns and cities, thriving fish farmers have converted their swimming pools and backyards into small-scale fish farming ponds, and many like Banda have seen fish farming trigger their proverbial rise from rags to riches.
“I was destitute when I came to Blantyre eight years ago, but now thanks to fish farming, I have become a proud owner of home rights in the city,” Banda said.
Globally, FAO estimates the value of fish trade to be 51 billion dollars per annum, with over 36 million people employed directly through fishing and aquaculture, while as many as 200 million people derive direct and indirect income from fish.
FAO also reports that, across Africa, fishing provides direct incomes for about 10 million people – half of whom are women – and contributes to the food supply of 200 million more people.
In Uganda, for example, lake fishing yield catches are worth more than 200 million dollars a year, contributing 2.2 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), while fish farming employs approximately 135,000 fishers and 700,000 more in fish processing and trading.
The rising fish farming trend comes at a time when the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has been on record as calling for initiatives such as fish farming to be replicated in order for Africa to harness the full potential of its fisheries in order to strengthen national economies, combat poverty and improve people’s food security and nutrition.
Last year in South Africa, Alan Fleming, the director of The Business Place, an entrepreneur development and assistance organisation based in Cape Town, came up with the idea of using shipping containers as fish ponds, an idea that was well received by the country’s poor communities.
“My children are now all in school thanks to the noble idea hatched by Fleming of having a fish farm designed within the confines of a shipping container, which is indeed an affordable idea for many low-income earners like me,” Mpho Ntabiseni from Philippi, a low-income township in Cape Town, told IPS.
Citing a growing shortage of traditionally harvested fish, the South African government invested 100 million rands (7.8 million dollars) last year in aquaculture projects in all four of the country’s coastal provinces.
In 2014, some 71,000 South Africans were involved in fish farming, according to figures from South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs.
Nutrition experts say that fish farming has added nutritional value to many poor people’s diets. “Fish farming helps poor African communities to add high-value protein to their diet since Africa often suffer challenges of malnutrition,” Agness Mwansa, an independent nutritionist based in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, told IPS.
Adding an environmental concern to the benefits of fish farming, Julius Sadi of the Aquaculture Zimbabwe Trust, told IPS that “fish from aquaculture ponds are preferred by consumers because they are bred in water that is exposed to very little or no pollution, which means that there is high demand and therefore high income for fish farmers.”
As a result, donor agencies such as the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID) have helped to give Africa’s aquaculture industry a kick-start over the last decade.
According to FAO studies, about 9.2 million square kilometres (31 percent of the land area) of sub-Saharan Africa is suitable for smallholder fish farming, while 24 countries in the region are battling with food crises, twice as many as in 1990.
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 report released jointly by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) says that the East and Central Africa regions are most affected, with more than 30 percent of the people in the two regions classified as undernourished.
With fish farming gaining popularity, it could be the only means for many African to beat poverty and hunger. “Fish breeding has emancipated many of us from poverty,” said Banda.