In recent days, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) has infamously grown in popularity, thanks to the Fishrot scandal. In the interim, let us take you back to 1990 when Namibia gained independence.
The state restructured the fisheries sector, aiming to direct the flow of benefits toward Namibians and with the vision to make Namibia a leading fishing nation with a well-developed aquaculture industry.
Since then, the MFMR has adopted the appropriate framework of regulatory texts (such as the Marine Act, Inland Fisheries Act and the Aquaculture Act). Well, good and well-structured policies, but little to no tangible effect. In 2003/4, the adoption of the Aquaculture Act led to the creation of the Directorate of Aquaculture (freshwater and marine) within the MFMR.
You may not believe it, but the Directorate of Aquaculture is turning 18 this year. Still an infant who entirely depends on its mother (the government) for almost everything. The government keeps pumping millions into the aquaculture sector, but why is the sector failing to be independent? Do we lack skilled labour? Do we lack facilities? Or is our country just not good for aquaculture?
These questions might arise when you take a visit to one of the state’s Inland Aquaculture facilities. Well, yes, the MFMR doesn’t have any marine aquaculture facilities.
So let us focus on what is ours, the depilated fish farms that keep the state coffers coughing. Before answering the questions raised, it must be noted that the MFMR has some little achievements that they always show on our national television, the Mpungu community fish farm, Hardap (Ecko Fish farm) and the Epalela fish farm harvests. So, when one reads ministerial statements, there is always one thing that stands out: the need to expand our aquaculture production and meet the local needs.
Yes, you guessed right, the Hardap fish farm cannot meet the demands of the nearest irrigation farms. So, will it be able to meet that of the 15 254 people who live in Mariental, based on the latest Population and Housing Census in 2011? The demand for Tilapia is high in Southern Africa, and due to this demand, China is now exporting tilapia to the region because unlike in the USA and Europe, people in Africa are looking for a cheap source of protein. But what is holding Namibia back from tapping into this market?
Firstly, we need to move from pond production to a recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) as it produces a higher quality of fish than pond-based Tilapia production. Tilapia is mentioned here because all Inland Freshwater Aquaculture in Namibia is entirely farming with tilapia, and additionally, due to its favourable adaptive features, which include being less susceptible to diseases, having a high growing rate, and being able to thrive on abundant and cheap artificial food. It is at this point that value addition also comes in. Proper packaging, labelling and product varieties would play a good role in the fish market, locally or internationally. The local fish sellers also need to get involved in the value addition part of the fish market. You often only find dry freshwater fish in the local markets, and wonder if no one ever tries to add value to their products.
Moreover, the Aquaculture Directorate needs serious reform, as 31 years after independence, we have what it takes to steer this sector forward. But the will of the ministry to support and drive this sector seems to have died with the late Dr Abraham Iyambo. The sole focus of the ministry now seems to be on marine fisheries, more specifically on the fishing rights. In the meantime, the ministry still has fish farms that are just being maintained by foreign expatriates such as Leonardville in Leonardville village, while Fonteintjie in Keetmanshoop is under legal dispute. On the renovation of the Fonteintjie fish farm alone, the government spent over N$ 21 million. But eight years later, the repairs are not done yet, and it is back to square one. The government has invested N$126 million in freshwater aquaculture development between 2003 and 2009. But are we reaping any fruits from all these investments, or is this investment only to show people that the government is taking the aquaculture sector seriously, but in fact there are no tangible results?
The Inland Aquaculture facilities are well-established in Namibia, but these facilities need to be optimally utilised, while others need to be renovated. However, with the current economic status of the country and not forgetting the Covid-19 pandemic, the renovation of these farms and the increase in production might not happen anytime soon.
The only commercial producers in Namibia for freshwater fish are Ecofish at Hardap and Van der Westhuizen at Uis. So, the ministry needs to assess what it has, and put in place cost-effective measures such as utilising graduates who are on the streets. Sometimes, one would ask themselves questions like what purpose the University of Namibia’s Sam Nujoma campus in Henties Bay serves when all it does is produce graduates for the streets? We believe there is more than enough human capacity, but yet not being utilised to the full extend.
Using cheap labour with no broader understanding instead of the professional graduates may seem as a cost-cutting mechanism for the government, but is just a limiting factor towards aquaculture growth in the country. The knowledge about the existence of fisheries graduates is always met with disbelief, contorted faces and many questions about what we do, and at which institution we obtained our qualifications. Therefore, we are also here to raise awareness that we exist and want to make a significant impact on aquaculture in the country. We are graduates from the University of Namibia, and obtained our Bachelor of Science Honours degrees in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. However, our qualification is not only limited to fisheries.