Basotho embrace fish farming and aquaponics



MASERU – Basotho have increasingly embraced fish farming and aquaponics for their entrepreneurial endeavours. However, despite this growing interest, lack of investors and supportive infrastructure poses significant challenges to scaling up production. Moreover, fish farming is not new since it was pervasive nationally during the era of Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan under whose tenure Lesotho created many small dams throughout the country.

A major concern among farmers is the decline of aquaculture in Lesotho, which historically boasted dams in every district for fish breeding and export. Climate change has taken its toll, leading to the drying out of dams and encroachment by human settlements, rendering aquaculture a relic of the past. Nonetheless, studies indicate that fish farming remains pivotal for the prospective development of Lesotho’s fisheries industry.

The potential for aquaculture expansion has been buoyed by ongoing and planned water development projects, notably the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phases I and II. It is further emphasised that Lesotho’s cold climatic conditions are conducive for the production of high-quality trout.

Similar to its salmon counterparts, trout thrives in clean, cold, well-oxygenated, fast-moving water found at high altitudes, precisely the conditions offered by Lesotho’s dam reservoirs. The African Women Farmers Allies (AWFA) is set to convene a roundtable discussion on aquaculture issues on April 19.

This gathering will bring together stakeholders, including the Ministry of Agriculture, fish farmers, and GIZ, to delve into the topic comprehensively and chart a path forward for revitalising aquaculture in Lesotho. In an interview with Public Eye, the president of the African Women Farmers Allies (AWFA) Motšelisi Mokhele-Peete, highlighted the value of water bodies like dams, ponds, rivers, or puddles for aquaculture.

She recounted her recent participation in a consultative and capacity-building workshop on leadership organised by the Africa Women’s Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFISHNET) in Tanzania from March 21 to 23, where significant insights were shared regarding fish farming and the market dynamics in Africa.

“The primary objective of the roundtable is to establish stronger partnerships with the public sector and donor agencies, aiming to enhance our networks, access to markets, and overall economic prospects. We plan to extend this outreach across all 10 districts of Lesotho. Additionally, in August, we will host our inaugural major event focused on fisheries and aquaculture in Lesotho.”

Mokhele-Peete added: “Lesotho boasts abundant freshwater resources, positioning us favourably for fish farming. Our locally produced fish is of high quality, benefiting from our pristine water sources with minimal chemical contamination. This gives us confidence that our fish is among the best available.

“However, Lesotho currently faces significant challenges in fish farming. During the administration of Chief Leabua Jonathan, Lesotho was a leader in fish farming, with dams present in all 10 districts. We supplied fish to other nations as well. “Unfortunately, this landscape has transformed; the dams have dried out, and settlements have replaced them. Consequently, houses built in these areas now face challenges during rainy seasons” since they interfere with natural water sources, she explained.

She added that rebuilding these dams by the government could provide opportunities for women, youth, and unemployed individuals, particularly in local communities, to engage in community projects centred around fish breeding and hatcheries for local sales. Alternatively, community members could initiate small-scale projects by pooling resources to acquire equipment such as 5000-litre tanks, constructing ponds, or even setting up basic basins at home.

They could then seek support from the Ministry of Agriculture, acting as intermediaries between farmers and potential investors. “I have primarily been involved in agro-processing, value chains, and value addition. As for venturing into aquaculture, the Ministry of Agriculture is yet to conduct soil testing in Teyateyaneng, Berea, where I plan to initiate aquaculture training,” Mokhele-Peete she explained.

Mpusi Makara, a fish farmer, expressed his interest in fish farming, highlighting aquaculture as one of the most sustainable industries given the constant demand for food. He disclosed his involvement in aquaculture since 2019, and that he has been actively researching various farming techniques and touring different farms.

In 2022, he acquired his first aquaculture system, which he has successfully managed for two years. “When I first ventured into aquaculture, I started with around 1 000 fish but, unfortunately, now I am down to just 15. The majority perished during a power outage from the LEC three weeks ago,” Makara lamented.

He added: “The advantages of aquaculture are numerous. Notably, crops grown in aquaponic systems are healthier due to the absence of pesticides and chemicals commonly used in conventional farming. Additionally, aquaculture requires less land, which does not necessarily have to be arable, making it more environmentally friendly. Moreover, it boasts a zero carbon footprint as it does not rely on machinery fuelled by fossil fuels.”

He highlighted another crucial aspect of aquaponics: its independence from traditional dam-dependent fish breeding. “This is the beauty of the aquaponics system. We can incorporate hatcheries within the setup without relying on external dam resources.

“Currently, our focus is on tilapia, for which the system is specifically designed. They are fed protein-rich pellets, although we are actively exploring more affordable and sustainable feeding methods,” Makara also said.

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