Aquaculture in Africa is flying as SA lags behind

BY Leslie Ter Morshuizen

I spent the past few days at a World Aquaculture Society Conference, meeting Industry leaders from across the globe, listening to some brilliant papers and learning of inspiring actions being taken in different places to grow the Industry.  Inevitably some interesting trends became apparent in the Industry, most notably the difference in the situation to the north and south of the Limpopo River.
Fish farming is a great business throughout Africa.  Demand far exceeds supply, prices are good, feed manufacturers are investing in infrastructure to produce high quality feeds, fund managers are investing, entrepreneurs are erecting infrastructure across the globe and Fish Farming is growing rapidly as a result.  This is resulting in more women being employed in processing and distributing fish products, healthier diets for all ages, and growing local and national economies.  Viva Aquaculture!
Unfortunately, there is a stark contrast between this vibrant African Industry and the local situation in South Africa.  SA is blessed with lots of technical experts, capable academics and the best logistics on the continent, so business should be easy.  Government has recently come on board and started supporting the Industry through initiatives too many to mention by the likes of DAFF and DTI (thank you for this it is highly appreciated), but even this isn’t enough.  Unfortunately, whereas most of the continent operates in a legislation-light context, we in SA have onerous, complex and contradictory legislation often implemented by narrow minded, under-resourced and under-competent officials.
The legislative framework is unfortunately (still!) the largest hurdle throttling the growth of fish farming in SA.  All the excellent work being done by the various Ministries comes to a grinding halt when DEDEA gets involved.  The mandate of DEDEA is to protect the environment but they use this as smokescreen to hide their incompetence, apathy and possibly another agenda.  When permits to farm Nile tilapia in Limpopo Province are `turned down’ on the grounds that their escape could harm the environment this sounds environmentally appropriate, until we consider that the species is already present in many of the local rivers.  How is keeping new genetic material out protecting the environment?  Clearly it is not!  All this myopia does is that it prevents development and progress, keep the locals in a cycle of poverty and creates animosity between the operators who wish to farm tilapia vs the State who is totally unyielding.
If we want South Africa to become a significant player in Aquaculture, especially in freshwater environment, we need to sort out our legislative processes to facilitate the fast and appropriate assessment of where and what risk exists, and to issue permits where the risk to the environment is truly negligible.  Pretending that the problem will go away is dragging SA further and further behind our neighbours across the continent, to our loss and nobodies gain.

 June 25, 2017
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