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Community Based Aquaculture Projects

BY Leslie Ter Morshuizen

The unemployment rate in South Africa (for the 1st quarter of 2013) is 25.2% of those people within the working age group; which is up from the 24.9% in late 2012. Other Africa countries also experience fairly high unemployment rates and this represents a serious challenge as our society moves forward. The population also continues to grow with the 45 million South Africans in 2001 having increased to 52 million in 2013 (http://www.statssa.gov.za). Food is becoming more expensive and the need for food security is a growing concern facing African governments. When one considers the rapid rate at which the Aquaculture Industry is growing in the light of the issues mentioned above, it seems that the Industry may hold the solution as it simultaneously addresses food security and employment, and could possibly assist with moderating food cost increases. Many people appear to have recognised this, and I have found a distinct increase over the past months in people who wish to establish community based aquaculture projects.

 

Aquaculture certainly does hold much potential as a Business in which people can be employed sustainably and even hold equity, but to those who are considering this as a community project, I wish to raise a caution.

 

I have been involved with various community type aquaculture projects over the years, and have followed the progress of a few others. From this experience and that of colleagues, I am convinced that the ONLY way they work is for the following to all be in place:

  • A commercial mandate – business is tough and the only way that a project will survive in the commercial environment is for commercial principles to be applied.
  • A strong commercial partner – this person or group must also have the authority and responsibility to drive the process at all levels.
  • Adequate funding – ‘cash flow is king’ and without sufficient cashflow for establishment, support and running costs, the venture is doomed before it gets off the ground. Conservatively realistic time frames are part of the assessment of capital requirement.
  • Discipline – actions should have appropriate consequences, and this must include the ultimate possibility of exclusion from the project if the behaviour warrants it.
  • Extensive training – which is not a once-off event but becomes part of the initial phases of the project and is supported with extension support thereafter, forever. Aquaculture is a skills intensive profession and cannot be successfully conducted by people who have not been appropriately equipped.

 

Shareholding by community members is normally the primary focus of community aquaculture plans, but in my opinion this is a relatively low priority. I hold that it is more important to build a successful business which will train and employ people sustainably over a prolonged period of time than it is to give shares to people who lack the skills to make a project work in the tough commercial environment.

 

In essence I believe that community aquaculture works when people are employed to perform tasks, subject to an employment contract. In exchange for meeting their employment deliverables they enjoy not only their salary and training, but also a share of the profits for that period. Anything else and I predict failure. It is unrealistic and totally unfair to expect people to move from a subsistence / unemployed world view to ownership, and to expect them to instantly grasp the concepts of shareholding, employment, deliverables, time frames, production targets, cash flow, stock supplies, ordering, profits and dividends without adequate support being in place. We are talking about potentially changing the trajectory of peoples’ lives and the destinies of their children, certainly not a topic to be handled carelessly or without the proper mechanisms being in place.

 June 03, 2013
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