Botswana's food production can join the Blue Revolution

Harvest of 300g tilapia from an irrigation reservoir
Harvest of 300g tilapia from an irrigation reservoir

Many countries around the world have started to focus on the aquatic environment for increased food production. This is in response to the fact that the world population grows and needs to be fed at the same time as the landing of natural fish stocks from the ocean and lakes has stagnated or even decreased.

Many therefore see fish farming as the only way to produce enough fish to satisfy the needs of a growing world population.

Aquaculture and fish farming have become huge business and products are sold/distributed to countries all around the globe. Almost all seafood consumed in Botswana is imported. The salmon products mostly come from Norwegian-owned farms in colder countries and the majority of the Tilapia, commonly called bream, comes from farms in China!

Import statistics for fish and seafood from 2016 indicate an import of 3,960 tonnes with a value of P105.4 million. If one looks at only the frozen fish segment it indicates an import of 400 tonnes with a value of P11.7 million.

Can Botswana with its limited water resources join the Blue Revolution? Yes, we can, but it needs proper planning and a well-founded strategy as to what would be the most suitable system and which organisms/species to farm for a commercial industry to develop.

The choice will be dependent on where in the country the fish farm should be established and the level of investment. The whole value chain needs to be considered, from feed and fingerlings to equipment, transport and technical expertise.

Local production through aquaculture and improved value chain management of fish capture from natural stocks can contribute positively to the economy as it has the potential to decrease imports, increase value, generate employment and diversify the food production sector.

Of course, all import of fish and seafood cannot be substituted by production locally; most canned products, all shellfish and most of the smoked products cannot be produced/farmed locally.

Recent discussion with importers/wholesale stated an import of 10 tonnes of tilapia products per month.  This comes mainly from China through trading companies in South Africa.  This is a segment that should be possible to produce locally.

A further gradual product acceptance is also anticipated through marketing and nutritional information. If fresh fish was more readily available the market should appreciate this and accept it in increasing volumes. It is also possible to farm other species such as catfish and carp. It will all depend on what the market wants.

The fish species most suitable for freshwater fish farming in our local area are tilapia species and catfish. 

Before any introduction of a species is done in a farm, one must get approval by the relevant authorities to verify that the animals cannot escape and cause damage to the natural environment.

As of today, there is only one larger commercial enterprise farming tilapia, operating in Kasane.  Some of its products have been nicely packaged and sold in supermarkets also in Gaborone.

Another farmer operates from just outside Gaborone and it mainly sells small fish (fingerlings) to schools and farm dams.

Many might argue and say that we do not have enough water to venture into fish farming. The good thing with modern fish farming is that very little water is consumed as it is either recirculated, or that after having been ‘borrowed’ by the fish farmer is used for irrigation of crops (with the added benefit of nutrients).

This means that at most sites where irrigation projects are designed one could also suggest the establishment of a fish farm.

Through different policies our government has stated that agriculture should be innovative and diversified. The Office of the President has also shown interest in the sector as it is developing and supporting projects in the field of fish farming and fisheries as part of the poverty eradication programme. 

Through its support, they recently refurbished a fish hatchery in Mmadinare, which should be able to produce fingerlings at a reasonable price for anyone who wants to farm or keep fish.

If government wants to promote this sector further, it needs to support projects to verify that fish farming, under the existing conditions in Botswana, would be practically possible (health and technical) and profitable over the years to come.

It needs to assist with market research to assess possible sale across the border to neighbouring countries, as there is a high demand for fish if produced under controlled conditions and with regular supply.

Government also needs to facilitate the logistics of feed import/sale. Feed is the biggest portion of the running cost of a fish farm business and a critical mass of feed import is necessary to keep the transport cost down as well as to negotiate a better price for the feed.

*Ulf Nermark worked with natural resources within Botswana government between 1990 and 2000. He thereafter set up Water Farming Botswana (Pty) Ltd to promote fish farming. He taught aquaculture at the Botswana College of Agriculture for two years and set up a small education facility there. He is a LEA mentor and has BOTA (BQA) accreditation to teach fish farming. Water Farming Botswana is at present the only local company that can offer Consulting services in this field based on practical experience in Botswana. The company can also assist with practical training on fish farm management.

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