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Tips on sustainable exploitation of E. Africa's fresh water bodies

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By AGIE ASIIMWE-KONDE
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Plenty is expected from the first global conference on the blue economy being held in Nairobi from today to November 28. More than 4,000 delegates from 130 countries will discuss the opportunities, challenges and strategies to promote the creation of ocean-based economies built on fisheries, tourism, aquaculture and other marine-based initiatives.

It is fortuitous that co-hosts Canada, Japan and Kenya settled on Kenya — and by extension East Africa — as the venue for the discussions.

East African countries are increasingly turning to the blue economy for solutions to their pressing needs, especially extreme poverty and hunger.

This is inevitable as pressure on traditional sources of livelihood, particularly agrarian agriculture, has become unbearable.

The United Nations has described the continent’s oceans, lakes and rivers as the “new frontier for Africa’s renaissance” and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) has a huge potential in its 2,800-kilometre coastline, Lake Victoria waters and the numerous lakes and rivers.

To fully exploit these opportunities, there is a need for collaboration between governments, the private sector and development partners.

All too often, the role of development partners is unappreciated or downplayed.

In East Africa, Msingi, a not-for-profit organisation funded by Gatsby and DFID, selected aquaculture as its first industry programme.

It then identified an opportunity to turn a 15,000-metric tonne farmed fish industry into a 220,000-metric tonne industry with a potential to support 75,000 profitable enterprises and employ hundreds of thousands of people. It will also contribute to solving the protein-deficiency crisis for millions of families. The current fish market size is 1.3 million metric tonnes.

Sustainable aquaculture development requires a coordinated approach across the region, grounded on a long-term (seven to 15 year-focus) development with clear roles for the State, the private sector and development partners. The opportunities to develop aquaculture into an $84-million annual industry by 2030 are open to all and can only be realised if the planning appreciates what role each partner can play.

The challenges include low yields from farmed fish (only 15,000 tonnes across the four countries) due to lack of farm management know-how, appropriate genetics, low quality inputs (feed), access to finance and underdeveloped market access and infrastructure.

Compare that with the size of the opportunity, as Kenya alone imports 50,000 tonnes of fish a year! Fish in East Africa is 95 percent hunted, while all other protein sources are farmed, an unhealthy paradox with 53 per cent of the region’s population malnourished. Aquaculture presents a great opportunity to convert wild fishermen into profitable fish farmers.

Some recommendations for East Africa that are worth considering at the upcoming blue economy include:

Adoption of a regional approach to aquaculture transformation;

Involving key stakeholders in the planning to develop long term-comprehensive and realistic programmes. Governments must craft innovative and supportive policies to encourage domestic and foreign investments.

Policies and investment programmes must take a long-term approach rather than the popular but unrealistic three to five-year cycle while separating politics from business. Identify value chain priorities per country and ensure they complement one another to play in the African/global market.

A regional approach is a sure way of resolving a unique paradox: Socio-economic exclusion of communities near water bodies is most extreme in East Africa and malnutrition is arguably at its highest ever. Yet, East Africa is home to the popular tilapia and the potential to expand its production and diversify the region’s fish portfolio is vast.

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