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Closing Down the Kariba Kapenta Fishery a Grave Error - Stakeholders

by Laiton Kandawire
18 Apr 2020 at 07:56hrs | Views
In this piece our Patsaka-Nyaminyami Community Radio, Environment and Tourism Correspondent, Laiton Kandawire, chronicles the feelings of hopelessness and disenfranchisement expressed by the fishing community of Kariba and those dependent on it.

The dream of a perfect fishing environment is not entirely new to me. In 2013 my newspaper article for The Zimbabwean titled "Lake Kariba Fish Need Breeding (and Breathing) Space) caught the eye of the publishers of the official Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament (KITFT) who requested to republish it. I was sent a cheque with a princely sum for my efforts. So began a three-year mutually beneficial business relationship with the publication. Fishy stories pay, folks.

Today, however, we are faced with a different challenge and a totally different set of circumstances. A worldwide coronavirus pandemic ( COVID-19) has forced nations to lock down their countries and with that action, some material economic activities. Kariba has not been spared. Her kapenta fishery has been shut down, to the chagrin of major players in the sector.

The Lake Kariba fishery supplies 60 to 70 percent of Zimbabwe's fish requirements, according to a recent Lake Kariba Fisheries Research Institute paper. It's importance to the nation's food security cannot be overemphasized. However, it has been hurriedly totally closed down in the country's efforts to combat the coronavirus.

On the surface of it, this would be a welcome development, what with a FAO-sponsored biometric analysis of the kapenta fisheries on Lake Kariba in both Zimbabwe and Zambia in 2012 and subsequent years establishing that "the kapenta fishery is overfished and revenue from resources is widely dissipated." Any period of shutdown would therefore be welcome to allow fish stocks "breeding and breathing space", to quote from my earlier work. It would all have tallied in well with kapenta bio-ecological characteristics, prominent amongst which would be very high fecundity and rapid growth.

This time around it is the social and economic impact of the shutdown that has attracted both the attention and ire of the stakeholders.
The sudden order to shut down operations at a time when catches were failing meant that the limited stocks available had to see a surge in prices. The selling of kapenta became shady and clandestine, using a queer auction bidding system. This pushed kapenta into the basket of products out of the reach of ordinary folk when they needed it most. And with this seemingly benign action, affordable protein normally available to low-income groups flew off their dinner tables.

Mr Nobert Mapfumo, Chairman of the Kapenta Producers Association described the resultant phenomenon best, stating simply that the "health benefit (of the shutdown) takes upper hand but for one to be healthy one needs food." His message struck a chord in the hearts of many people in Kariba who were interviewed by this reporter. The food situation in the country should have been considered by the powers-that-be in planning the shutdown. Mr Mapfumo believes that food and good nutrition is a "critical factor" in the fight against COVID-19. Without food in the homes of the majority of citizens, the command for them to stay at home would be wishful thinking on the part of authorities. Mapfumo concludes that "the sector (fishing) should not have been locked. It's an essential service." The authorities did not see it that way.

Mr Rhodes Kudawafeva Madyira, Secretary-General of the Kapenta Workers Union, agrees with Mr Mapfumo and is further puzzled as to how this knowledge escaped the attention of the authorities. Mr Madyira reveals that 99 percent of the fishermen under his Union working for ‘indigenous kapenta producers are paid on commission systems, meaning they are paid on production". He foresees a "disastrous" situation. Asked how fishermen were faring in this lockdown period, Mr Madyira could only say "their situation is out of hand."

Out of hand it is as events on the ground prove. Long queues for government-subsidized mealie meal in Nyamhunga, whenever it arrives means social distancing cannot be observed. Maize meal is the staple diet in Zimbabwe among the majority low-income groups. Affording an alternative is out of the question. Social distancing, however, is a foremost tool in combating COVID-19 and ignoring it can encourage a speedy spread of the infection among the population. If the infection is already there in Kariba, then this is one sure way of spreading it. Currently there is no testing centre for the coronavirus in Kariba in wide use.

Kariba residents, including fishermen, have reacted to this situation by flocking to the lake to fish for sustenance. The national lockdown couldn't have come at a worse time for them as trucks from outside town that bring fresh vegetables and other supplies to Kariba have been trimmed to a bare minimum. Those accessing the little supplies coming though are charging far too much for this fishing community.

One resident of Mahombekombe suburb who opted for anonymity for fear of reprisals described shutting the fishing sector as "a grave error", both literally and metaphorically. In trying to save a people from a deadly virus, the interventions adopted by the government risk sending the people to their early graves, instead. The authorities are unwittingly abetting the virus by driving people into compromising situations. Although mistaken for singing birds, the caged people of Kariba are desperately trying to escape from their traps.
Without adequate food supplies, including their beloved kapenta, the fight against the coronavirus is for others, not them.

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Laiton Kandawire is a Kariba-based journalist, blogger, Holiday Destinations Planner and Travel Writer. He can be reached on: ulakariba@gmail.com or +263 772817733.'

Source - Laiton Kandawire

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