Categories: Articles, Resource managementPublished On: 11th July 2024

Zimbabwe fisheries record growth

By 4 min read

Fishery 1

In recent years, Zimbabwe has experienced a burst of aquaculture investments as the country attempts to diversify its agriculture production portfolio. Zimbabwe was once one of the continent’s major producers of fish, with exports to international markets that included the European Union.

However, like other sectors, the fisheries took a hard knock at the turn of the century, throwing thousands of people who earned a living in the sector into economic uncertainty. The Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Development Ministry recently announced a spike in fish production, jumping from 20 000 to 33 000 metric tonnes between 2022 and 2024. The increase is being attributed to the government’s Agriculture, Food Systems, and Rural Transformation Strategy.

It is part of the Presidential Community Fisheries Scheme that has seen thousands of fishponds being set up across the country, with government providing fingerlings and technical support to farmers. Zimbabwe is also benefitting from the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) FISH4ACP. The project is described by the UN agency as “a global fish value chain development initiative of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).”

Funding is from the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). In 2022, FAO announced that the aim was to expand tilapia production to 20 000 metric tonnes annually, but according to the latest Agriculture Ministry statistics, those projections have been exceeded by diversifying fish varieties. For beneficiaries such as Tapiwa Makombe, being part of the initiative has helped him realise small but significant economic gains.

“The fish breed quickly, I am not surprised there has been an increase in national fish production,” said Tapiwa who set up four ponds in his backyard on the outskirts of Bulawayo. He is part of a growing corps of fish farmers trying their hand in new agriculture projects as more and more farmers register poor grain harvests.

“Nothing is easy, you have to be hands on especially with something as delicate as fingerlings which need constant attention, feeding and protection from birds,” Tapiwa said.

Once harvested, Tapiwa sells to supermarkets and individuals, with the ubiquity of fishmongers being evident in townships and the central business district. Authorities are pulling no stops in promoting aquaculture with learners being targeted to be part of the drive. The government is upscaling fish production by introducing breeding to schools, and in April this year the Presidential Community Fisheries Scheme announced that about 130 schools had set up ponds as part of escalated aquaculture sector growth.

“The programme aims to take aquaculture as a business not only providing fingerlings for schools but also incorporating training for capacity building for all fish farmers within the aquaculture sector,” Davis Marapira, the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Deputy Minister told state media.

“These trainings are crucial for ensuring the continuity and sustainability of aquaculture practices in schools,” Davis said. The increase in fish production is seen as part of government efforts to not only spur economic activity, but also promote good health in a country where aid agencies have raised concerns about undernutrition.

“Despite the numerous health benefits associated with fish consumption, Zimbabwe has relatively low fish consumption compared to other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). To address this, the programme encourages the theme of “eating fish once or twice a week,” Davis added. The Minister’s sentiments are echoed by FAO which has lamented that Zimbabwe’s “per capita fish consumption is well below the average in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This means that consumption of tilapia in Zimbabwe can be increased significantly, if production costs can be decreased to reduce retail prices.”

By expanding fish production to local communities, the government is projecting affordability at a time when the price of basic food commodities have become a barometer of the country’s economic hardships. Zimbabwe recently announced it was putting 10 000 dams under irrigation, and the fisheries sector is expected to benefit from that investment. With residents such as Tapiwa in the country’s major cities setting up aquaculture projects, this is helping further push fish production at a time when other agriculture sectors are reeling under the effects of poor rains.

Like many initiatives before it, the government is promoting aquaculture as a response to challenges that have plagued agriculture production, stagnating economic growth in a country where the sector has long been one of the country’s major forex earners. However, the growth of the fisheries sector has not been without its problems. Early this year, the government announced it was tightening the law to deal with increased theft of fish fingerlings in schools. Authorities are seeking stiffer sentences to address what has been described as economic sabotage in a sector at its infancy and is being touted as offering hope for economically marginalised communities.

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