Binga fish co­op­er­a­tives face un­cer­tain fu­ture

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Fea­ture/na­tional News - Ka­man­geni Phiri Fea­tures Ed­i­tor

FOR prob­a­bly the first time in years, mem­bers of Kapenta Fish­ing Co­op­er­a­tives in Binga are ques­tion­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of Lake Kariba to sus­tain their lives. Dwin­dling wa­ter lev­els and over­fish­ing in the great lake are threat­en­ing to sink Binga’s kapenta fish­ing co­op­er­a­tives. Pi­o­neers of the ven­ture in Binga, Mwenda and Kariva Kapenta Fish­ing Co­op­er­a­tives have seen the gloss of the once-thriv­ing fish har­vest­ing busi­ness dim­ming by each pass­ing year. But still they hang around.

Mwenda Kapenta Co­op­er­a­tive chair­per­son, Mr Robert Machika (58), says the many chal­lenges be­dev­il­ing most kapenta co­op­er­a­tives are crip­pling and driv­ing mem­bers away.

“Times are tough. Busi­ness is low and com­pe­ti­tion is high. When we started in 1987, we were 16 mem­bers but mem­ber­ship has since shrunk to 10.

“Even other co­op­er­a­tives’ are also los­ing mem­bers. There were also very few fish­ing co­op­er­a­tives back then.

“We were only three kapenta fish­ing co­op­er­a­tives but to­day there are over 20 co­op­er­a­tives based in Binga op­er­at­ing in Lake Kariba. We have in­di­vid­u­als who have their own rigs,” he said.

Lo­cal fish­ing co­op­er­a­tives are also bat­tling fierce and ag­gres­sive com­pe­ti­tion from Zam­bian co­op­er­a­tives and in­di­vid­u­als who own fish­ing rigs.

Mr Machika says the Zam­bian fish­er­men of­ten over­lap into the Zim­bab­wean side of the lake to poach fish.

“Breed­ing ar­eas are ex­posed to poach­ers hence the fish are not mul­ti­ply­ing as they should. Most poach­ers are Zam­bians though there are a few Zim­bab­weans in­volved as well.

Zam­bians em­ploy un­eth­i­cal means in their fish­ing op­er­a­tions at times. Be­sides poach­ing our fish they even in­vade breed­ing ar­eas. You pay a fine of $4 000 if you are caught poach­ing but it’s not al­ways that one gets caught,” he said.

Mwenda Co­op­er­a­tive, the old­est such fish­ing ven­ture in Binga dis­trict, started its for­mal op­er­a­tions in 1990.

Mr Machika says kapenta fish­ing is a cap­i­tal in­ten­sive ven­ture. Lo­cal fish­er­men put the price of a back­yard in­dus­try man­u­fac­tured rig at around $6 000 while a top­notch model has an ask­ing price up­wards of $18 000.

Most co­op­er­a­tives kick-started their op­er­a­tions us­ing loans availed by the Small En­ter­prises De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (Sedco) and the Euro­pean Union.

“We used the Euro­pean Union loan to buy our first two fish­ing rigs. We all lacked ad­e­quate knowl­edge of the busi­ness. We had to first learn the trade dur­ing those for­ma­tive years.

Govern­ment work­ing with some non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions ar­ranged some train­ing pro­grammes for all co­op­er­a­tives. It was not easy get­ting into an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by whites.

Irvine and John­son was the only com­pany fish­ing big fish; most whites were com­pet­ing with us in fish­ing kapenta as it was and still is brisk busi­ness,” said Mr Machika. Mwenda Co­op­er­a­tive, which started with three fish­ing rigs in 1990, now has only two.

The two rigs are old and con­tinue to give the co­op­er­a­tive prob­lems de­spite hav­ing changed their en­gines.

When busi­ness was at its peak, all co­op­er­a­tives em­ployed lo­cals on con­tract ba­sis to help them at the rigs and dry kapenta at the fish racks.

The co­op­er­a­tives ter­mi­nated con­tracts of re­spec­tive aux­il­iary staff as kapenta yields dropped.

“Most co­op­er­a­tives also em­ployed clerks full time to keep records but had to ter­mi­nate their ser­vices when things got bad,” said Mr Machika.

Mr An­drew Sande, who at 36 is the youngest mem­ber of Mwenda Co­op­er­a­tive’s lead­er­ship, re­mem­bers with nos­tal­gia the good old days when they used to clock 90 tonnes (90 000kgs) of fresh Kapenta fish per month.

“Each rig would give us 30 tonnes of fresh kapenta per month. When the co­op­er­a­tive bought a third rig around 1992, the yield shot to 90 tonnes per month. This trans­lates to 30 000kgs of dried matemba per month since three kilo­grammes of fresh kapenta give us a kg of dried kapenta,” he said.

Mr Sande took over the shares of his late fa­ther, Mr Chumba Sande, who was one of the founders of the co­op­er­a­tive. He says to­day the co­op­er­a­tive’s for­tunes have taken a knock to an ex­tent that mem­bers were strug­gling to fend for their fam­i­lies.

“In the past we could sell 1 000 bags of matemba. Trucks would come to load our kapenta fish. These days things have changed, we only sell two bags,” he said.

Pa­tience is begin­ning to run thin among some of the co­op­er­a­tives’ mem­bers who are re­sign­ing in search of greener pas­tures.

Mr Win­das Muyuni, the co­op­er­a­tive’s trea­surer, says some mem­bers are now opt­ing to be mid­dle-men, buy­ing fish from the co­op­er­a­tives and re­selling them at a profit to fish com­pa­nies at Binga Cen­tre.

“We take our mem­ber­ship se­ri­ously. Each mem­ber paid $250 as share cap­i­tal. Some mem­bers re­signed to pur­sue other in­ter­ests when the go­ing got tough while oth­ers were kicked out for steal­ing from the co­op­er­a­tive.

Once one is con­victed, mem­ber­ship au­to­mat­i­cally ceases,” he said. their

To help con­trol the over­har­vest­ing of fish, Zim­parks and their Zam­bian coun­ter­parts in­tro­duced a Full Moon Cal­en­dar which sus­pends all rig fish­ing in Lake Kariba for the seven last days of each month in Zim­babwe and 10 days per month in Zam­bia.

The Zam­bian boat fleet is more than dou­ble the rec­om­mended num­ber on the lake. Binga fish­er­men say kapenta catches have plunged by more than half over the last two decades be­cause of Zam­bians’ over­fish­ing.

The Zam­bians al­legedly use banned four-mil­lime­tre fish­ing nets that can catch the small­est fish. Zim­bab­wean fish­er­men, on the other hand, are al­legedly us­ing eight mil­lime­tre-nets that al­low small fish to es­cape then grow and re­plen­ish the stock.

Binga’s fish­ing co­op­er­a­tives are ap­peal­ing to the Govern­ment to help them di­ver­sify and start new projects. They want fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to re­place their ag­ing fish­ing rigs and be able to com­pete with their Zam­bian coun­ter­parts.

“Some of our mem­bers are young and have fam­i­lies. They need to take care of their chil­dren. We need more rigs for us to har­vest more fish.

The Govern­ment can also help us di­ver­sify. We want to set up in­come gen­er­at­ing projects like mar­ket gar­den­ing. Although this is a low rain­fall area, the Govern­ment can help by sink­ing bore­holes,” said Mr Machika.

Binga has 27 co­op­er­a­tives but only 17 are reg­is­tered with their union, Ku­jatana Kwesu Fish­ers’ Union. Its chair­man, Mr Ke­nias Chig­wagwa, says the Binga-based kapenta co­op­er­a­tives are in dan­ger of sink­ing ow­ing to over­fish­ing in the Zam­bezi wa­ters.

He says Govern­ment needs to re­duce the per­mit fees as a way of re­vi­tal­is­ing the kapenta fish­ing co­op­er­a­tives.

“If they can re­duce per­mit fees to $1 000 that will be bet­ter. In Mozam­bique a per­mit costs $600 only for a year while in Zam­bia its $400 for a year.

“Zim­babwe’s kapenta per­mits cost $2 000 per an­num yet we fish from the same wa­ters with the Zam­bians. It is the Govern­ment that en­cour­aged us to ven­ture into fish­ing in 1980. We need its sup­port,” he said.

Mr Chig­wagwa said when per­mits be­came ex­pen­sive kapenta fish be­came few. The union leader also wants a sin­gle fish­ing per­mit to sup­port more rigs as is the case in Zam­bia.

“Co­op­er­a­tives are strug­gling be­cause here a sin­gle rig sus­tains 25 peo­ple yet in Zam­bia there are many rigs for less peo­ple. Our per­mit is more ex­pen­sive yet it sup­ports a sin­gle rig but a Zam­bian per­mit can be used by 10 or more rigs,” said Mr Chig­wagwa.

He said some mem­bers are pulling out of the co­op­er­a­tives to op­er­ate as in­di­vid­u­als. Mr Chig­wagwa said the in­di­vid­u­als are do­ing well and buy­ing houses at Binga Cen­tre.

“They are do­ing well be­cause they have no per­mits or Zimra to worry about. The money they get is all theirs. They don’t have to share with any­one,” he said.

Mr Chig­wagwa says mid­dle-men and un­reg­is­tered co­op­er­a­tives were threat­en­ing the ex­is­tence of co­op­er­a­tives through dis­torted prices.

“The of­fi­cial price of matemba is pegged at $4 per kg or $120 per bag. A bag is 30kgs. The price can go as low as $3,50 or less per kg when co­op­er­a­tives sell to un­scrupu­lous deal­ers,” he said.

Govern­ment ac­knowl­edged in the past the cri­sis in terms of the im­bal­ances in fish­ing in the lake. It said the sit­u­a­tion called for both coun­tries to rec­tify it at di­plo­matic level.

“What I know is that over the past cou­ple of years there has been a se­ri­ous con­flict in terms of fish­ing rights within the lake.

The prob­lem we face is that of un­scrupu­lous fish­ing by some op­er­a­tors and the un­even num­bers of fish­ing rigs between the two coun­tries, but I be­lieve this can only be solved by the two coun­tries tak­ing a hands-on ap­proach in ad­dress­ing the prob­lem,” said the then Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment, Wa­ter and Cli­mate, Cde Saviour Ka­sukuwere.

The BaTonga or Basil­wizi (peo­ple of the Great River) have since time im­memo­rial an­chored their lives on farm­ing on the banks of the mighty Zam­bezi River and catch­ing fish for rel­ish and trade as a way of earn­ing a liv­ing.

Lake Kariba cov­ers 5 580 square kilo­me­tres and can hold 185 bil­lion cu­bic me­tres (653 bil­lion cu­bic feet) of wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to Wa­ter-Tech­nol­ogy.net.

Can a life di­vorced from the Zam­bezi River wa­ters sus­tain mem­bers of the co­op­er­a­tives? Only time will tell.

Fish­ing rig

Dwin­dling busi­ness: A place for dry­ing fresh kapenta

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