By seamlessly integrating an agroecosystem, Kafue Fisheries produces 1200 tons of fish per year and is a major supplier of livestock for breeding and slaughter.
“The need for sustainable farming has been recognised for many decades. What we have done here is to show how marginal resources could be better used for greater productivity,” says Speedy Holden, managing director of Kafue Fisheries Limited.
Holden, now in his mid-sixties, is part of the team that took Kafue Fisheries from an obscure farm to one of Zambia’s most iconic fish farms.
The farm is about 8 kilometres west of Kafue and bordered by the Kafue River on the south and the Shamunyemba and Shakulya Villages on the north. The area is serviced by a public road recently upgraded by the fisheries’ management – it connects to Chanyanya Road.
“To get started with aquaculture, one needs nothing more extravagant than what we have here: Good water, soil, good climate, friendly people, and a high demand for quality and affordable protein,” say Holden.
Fish makes up 53.4% of the total animal protein in the Zambian diet. The annual fish catch is 75 000 tons, while total consumption is pegged at 130 000 tons.
Unsustainable fishing methods have led to the decline of Zambian fish stocks according to a recent report released by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI). Related to the falling fish stocks, is the decline in the consumption of fish – it dropped from 12kg per person per year to 10,3kg per person per year.
Holden credits the administration of Zambia’s founding president – Dr Kenneth Kaunda – for the foresight to ensure that the nation gets the best genetic livestock and seed to exploit the demand for high quality and affordable fish protein. “Zambia was fortunate under KK’s governance to have a world class genetic pool of livestock and seed under correct international protocols. I also have to add that just like at Kafue Fisheries, Zambia as a whole has all the advantages: Water, good soil, the weather, people and a demand for good protein. How we connected these advantages formed the essence of what we set off to establish here 30 years ago,” says Holden.
According to him, they did ‘kick around’ for a few months trying to figure out the ideal aquaculture system. It became evident that producing high-protein fish species that could be sold at affordable prices to surrounding communities was the way to go.
Drawing heavily on the ancient Chinese farming method of combining livestock and crop farming, Holden set up a system of joining land and fish ponds on the 110 ha of land. Waste from the pig sty on the banks of the ponds is released into the ponds to provide rich plankton for their Niloticus bream and sharp tooth bubble fish. The water from the ponds is recycled onto the pastures. This is where part of the 1 000 head of cattle graze. The rest of the cattle graze on surrounding farms at a fee.
Daily tasks include the cleaning of pigs, pigsties and the feeding of the animals. At the start of the day fish is loaded onto trucks to be delivered to customer outlets.
There is also the clearing of pond outflow grates and the moving of fish into different ponds and ensuring that the fish food is prepared and distributed through the 130 ponds. The temperature of the water in the hatcheries where the fingerlings are produced also needs to be monitored constantly.
By using an oxygen and water pump system, bacteria and fungi are cleaned out to ensure the outgoing water contains as little pollution as possible. Then there is the production of feed for pigs and the maintenance of the many vehicles on the site.
“In essence what we are doing, is to intensify the use of land and water resources in a sustainable manner through diversification of farming activities and through recycling. This has helped us to increase our productivity and boost incomes. Soils are also improved and the environment regenerated,” Holden explains.
Visitors are often intrigued by the dark green water in the ponds but therein lies one of the interesting aspects of the agroecosystem. The dark green makes it impossible for a fish to see that it is among great numbers of fish. This, Holden says, reduces the stress in the fish population induced by the need to be competitive when in clear waters. The murkiness also hides the fish from predators such as birds. Furhermore, the deep green ponds reduce the tadpole and frog populations.
To make up for reduced oxygen in the water during the night, an oxygenating system has been set up. “This is an integrated green aquaculture system. One component’s by-product is another’s input,” Holden says. Two main hatcheries producing four million fingerlings per year are the engine for the integrated aquaculture system.
The bulk of the feed for the 5 000 to 6 000 pigs is made up of maize and soybeans bought from small-scale farmers in surrounding areas, which underscores the real benefits of the concept. It is undeniable that the operation contributes substantially towards poverty alleviation through employment, sourcing and the supply of low-cost protein. The farm employs 264 Zambian workers. The presence of the workers and their families prompted farm management to invest in building a school and two clinics.
Joyce Nyondo, 30, and Mussolini Muchimba, 25, who previously had dim prospects of employment, are good examples of people who have benefited from the integrated aqua-culture farming. Beyond employment, the duo had children attending Chikoka primary school, which is funded by Kafue Fisheries.
Another ripple effect of Kafue Fisheries’ integrated aquaculture, is the growing number of local people directly engaging in aquaculture. The company is providing training to the local and as a result there are more than a dozen small-scale aquaculture farmers in the Mungu area.
Indirectly, fish trading has become a major source of livelihood. Bicycles laden with crates of fresh fish are a common sight in the area. Products from Kafue Fisheries reach customers through two main distributors – Capital Fisheries and Impende Fisheries – with a national sales footprint for low-cost fresh fish.
Augmenting the distribution chains are local ‘mom and pop’ stores, within Kafue town and outside. “At best, there is a store in every local markets and other commercial trade areas where consumers get fresh fish and meat from our fisheries,” Holden says.
To satisfy the ever-increasing demand for fish protein, Kafue Fisheries intends to increase its fish production from the current 1 200 tons per year to 2 500. “This expansion will require the construction of new facilities such as fish ponds and pig houses on the farm. We expect that some of the products from the farm will be sold to countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Holden says.
The expansion plans also bring into sharp focus the challenges of operating such an entity. A couple of years back, the farm lost fingerlings worth US$30 000 after a 20 hour power outage.
“Power capacity is a huge consideration, and despite the contingency plans we had then, we could not run the farm on generators for longer periods. But we’ve made huge investments to prevent a recurrence of the losses we suffered,” Holden says.
Part of the investment in the expansion is ensuring that the workers’ occupational health and safety standards are maintained. The investment will include proper training, provision of protective clothing and ensuring that surrounding residential areas are up to the required health standard.
Furthermore, it is essential that the expansion of the fisheries translated into more social and economic opportunities such as job creation and the development of local aquaculture farmers.
“Our expansion plans would continue to aim to unlock increased food production and to conserve the environment. Generally, we want to see family farming systems around having similar integrated aquaculture systems running,” Holden says.
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