As Zimbabwe sets out to develop a fully-fledged fish farming industry, a number of initiatives can be adopted to grow the vast aquaculture potential of the country.

Zimbabwe already boasts the largest fish farming operation in Africa and there is scope to grow small-scale commercial fish production too, in a country which holds 60 percent of all dammed water in the SADC region and has desirable climatic conditions for fresh water aquaculture.

Along with the rest of the world, Africa is reaping the benefits of the global Blue Revolution by developing its aquaculture potential in both natural water bodies and specially constructed ponds.

It is recognised that fish farming is the fastest growing food producing sector in the world and has a key role to play in feeding an increasing world population, as fish can be produced more efficiently and cost effectively than most meat proteins.

Globally, production from aquaculture has now overtaken harvesting of wild fish stocks, and is growing at an average annual rate of 10 percent in Africa.Fish farming has emerged as a major protein producing industry in Africa, even in landlocked countries.

Stimulatory policies, enabling policy frameworks, investment funding, support programmes and strategies in many countries are unlocking the continent’s vast aquaculture potential.

Zimbabwe recognises aquaculture as a form of livestock production with potential to contribute significantly to sustainable livelihoods, food security, and economic development, through value addition and export of processed fish product.

The Zimbabwe Fish Producers’ Association (ZFPA) was established in March 2016 to promote and develop aquaculture as a fully-fledged and vibrant part of the livestock industry. One year on, a framework is in place to build a vibrant and viable fish farming industry with strong value chains that incorporate small-scale commercial fish farmers.

ZFPA is part of the process to craft a National Aquaculture Policy for Zimbabwe, under an EU funded initiative, expected to be completed by October 2017.

The association was a key stakeholder at a Consultative Workshop on the Fisheries and Aquaculture sector in Zimbabwe convened by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate in April this year.

Here, ZFPA was tasked to draw up a position paper on fish farming, to ensure that fish farming is adequately articulated in the National Aquaculture Policy and can play its part in food security and national economic development.

The drafting of a National Fish Policy seeks to rationalise legislation and other strategic issues relating to fish. This process will ultimately determine whether fish farming and fisheries should operate as single entities under separate policy frameworks, or under a single mandate.

Paul Mwera, chairman of ZFPA, notes, “With annual production currently around 9 000t, Zimbabwe is now the seventh largest tilapia producer in Africa and our vision is to grow the industry significantly, both for domestic consumption and export market.”

Fisheries and Aquaculture Advisor for the EU funded SmartFish Programme Mr Blessing Mapfumo said: “Zimbabwe, like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with similar environments, has great potential to develop viable aqua-businesses that can meaningfully contribute to fish supplies in the country.

“However, much still needs to be done for the country to realise its full potential and it all starts with an enabling policy framework.”Kenya’s Aquaculture Stimulus Programme, introduced in 2008, has yielded significant results.

At least $50 million allocated by the Kenyan government for the construction of 200 ponds in 140 farming constituencies, stocking with tilapia and training on hatchery management, has produced a growing base of fish farmers. This has resulted in production growth from less than 5 000t in 2008 to over 25 000t currently.

Zambia, which shares the Zambezi River with Zimbabwe, has created an enabling environment for aquaculture development, with provision for development of fish farming in their national budget.

Like Zimbabwe, that country also has a vibrant and functional aquaculture association to promote the industry and has recently witnessed exponential growth in the sector, and complementary growth in support sectors such as fish feed production and fish distribution chains.

Namibia was the first country in SADC to develop an aquaculture strategy in 2003 and recognises the importance of promoting fish consumption to further grow the industry. In both Namibia and South Africa, which have a history of sea harvesting, there is now a growing shift to aquaculture development.

Ghana is reaping the rewards of an $85 million Aquaculture Development Plan, with a 360 percent increase in fish production. At least 130 000t of fish are produced there per annum, generating an estimated 220 000 jobs across the value chain (from both capture fisheries and aquaculture).

In South Africa, the government recently launched a presidential ocean economy initiative called “Operation Phakisa”, which is an acronym for “hurry-up” in Sesotho.

This programme includes an aquaculture development strategy targeting to produce 20 000t of fish, creating over 15 000 new jobs and a fledgling industry.

The country has successfully developed its aquaculture policy, and an Aquaculture Bill is under discussion in parliament.

Uganda stands out as a fine example of small-scale fish farming development over the last decade. Tens of thousands of progressive smallholder fish farmers have spearheaded rapid industry growth in the country, ultimately translating into food self-sufficiency at household level, as well as improved nutrition and economic development.

With the right policies and strategies, there is enormous potential to develop fish farming in Zimbabwe using tilapia — Africa’s own indigenous fish which achieve good growth rates under intensive production. This nutritious fish is in demand countrywide. With the development of a new and specialised industry to produce feed for commercial fish production, a growing base of support services and the establishment of a fish producer association, the time is ripe to support and further develop emerging small scale production.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development has a long history of supporting fish farming, through the fish farming unit at Henderson Research Station and fisheries extension provided by AGRITEX as well as Veterinary Services. Along with other countries, Zimbabwe must look to aquaculture to help meet the protein needs of a growing population. Fish farming is a form of livestock farming that offers many advantages.It enables non-consumptive and sustainable use of the country’s water resources for intensive agricultural production.

Aquaculture can also be practised in specially constructed ponds or tanks, even in urban areas. In drought conditions, where water is scarce, a fish project can be sustained with a single borehole from a ground water source.