by J.D. Balarin1, A. Chishawa2 and R. Evans3
Consultant to FAO Regional Office for Africa
2 Senior Ecologist , Department of National Parks, Zimbabwe
3 Fish Farmer, Zimbabwe

UntWMF17.JPG (4918 byte)

The FAO Regional Office in Accra, Ghana, recently initiated a survey of aquacultural development in the region. The directory generated for Zimbabwe lists 57 commercial fish farmers. The results suggest there is a recent resurgence of interest in large scale fish farming in Zimbabwe.



Zimbabwe has no tradition of aquaculture, although the concept was first introduced as early as the 1950s. The main activities at that time were stocking farm dams and commercial trout farming in the Eastern Highlands. Intensive research was also initiated at the then Henderson Research Station but the aquaculture section closed in the 1960s and developments in general appear to have remained relatively static until the 1980s.

Since the late 1980s, with the establishment of ALCOM in the region and the reactivation by FAO of the Henderson Research Station, there has been a marked increase in support to small scale community-based aquaculture. At the same time, a healthy interest has developed in commercial fish farming.

Annual fish farm production in 1984 was estimated at 800 t. However, the estimates of potential output from proposed commercial projects were as high as 2 500 t/yr.

In 1986 and 1987 the Agricultural Extension Services organized two Fish Forums to discuss aquacultural issues. Although there was a high degree of interest, a number of planned aquacultural projects did not materialize. The severe drought of 1991-92 caused some efforts to be abandoned. Coupled with this, the advent of ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) and the entry into the market in 1993 of an estimated 43 000 t/yr of relatively inexpensive horse

mackerel from Namibia, led to a further decline in commercial fish farming efforts. The opening of the economy meant that commercial fish farms, especially those located in marginal climatic zones, were no longer economically competitive with cheap imported fish now available on the local market.

A 1992 ALCOM survey in Zimbabwe estimated annual aquacultural production of 750 t. More recently, a survey by National Parks and Wildlife has shown a noticeable recovery in the commercial sector with an estimated annual production at 1100 t in 1994. The current survey by FAO estimated 1995 production from the commercial sector alone was 1655 t. Future prospects seem bright. Interest is being shown by external investors with markets for top quality tilapia fillets. A number of large scale production facilities ranging from 2 000 to 5 000 t/yr are currently being considered for Kariba and the Zambezi River by ventures in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Study design

This study was carried out on behalf of the FAO Regional Office for Africa in Accra in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Targeted individuals were sent a postal questionnaire asking for current information about their aquacultural enterprises. The questionnaire was also circulated through the Commercial Farmers Magazine. In all, 57 returns were received, reviewed and a directory compiled. This directory will be published by FAO as part of a series listing all fish farms and aquacultural institutions in Africa.


Current status of commercial aquaculture in Zimbabwe

Most fish farms are relatively small, 56 % were of a production level below 20 t/yr (Figure 1) and only 6 producers reported yields over 50 t/yr. The bulk of production (45%) comes from a single farm on the Zambezi, presently averaging 750 tons and with plans to expand to 2 000 tons annually. Over 87 % of respondents were using ponds and 55% had tank systems while cages were of lower interest (16 %). Yields were below 5 t/ha/yr for 52 % of farms. Most farms (63%) relied on rivers as the main nutrient input but a significant number (46%) used commercial fish feeds.

UntWMF18.JPG (9237 byte)


Nearly 75% of respondents produced their own seed while 14%, mainly trout farmers, depended on National Parks for fingerlings. Approximately 70% of respondents are farming tilapia, with an increasing number of farms (46%) growing Oreochromis niloticus. However, the requirements to obtain permits to import this non-indigenous species were considered a constraint by some producers. Trout were the next most important cultured species (24%), while catfish (11%) and carp (9%) were farmed to a lesser degree (Figure 2). Of the 27 farms currently active, 5% of

UntWMF19.JPG (7798 byte)

 respondents indicated they were operating on a pilot or experimental stage and 12% were in the process of expansion. Conversely, 14% (8 farms) had stopped production as they were not satisfied with the market and a further 30% (17 farms) indicated that recent years of drought had adversely affected their production.

In addition to producing fish for the food fish markets, a popular reason for growing fish was for farm workers' food and for recreational fee fishing. A number of dams have been converted to angling waters. In several of these cases, feeding is promoted and some waters have yielded record bass in recent years. If production from the 9 610 farm dams stocked as culture-based fisheries and the 2 200 rural fish ponds are considered, aquaculture could contribute an important part of Zimbabwe's national fish production.

The future

In the near term, plans are underway to develop three large commercial farms producing tilapia fillets for the export market. These proposed production units could eventually produce a total of over 6 000 t/yr. The recent upsurge in interest in tilapia fillets on the American and European markets has inspired considerable commercial interest in growing the fish in Africa, capitalizing on the warmer climatic conditions and relatively cheaper resource and labour base.

In 1993, over 15 000 tons of tilapia (live weight equivalent) were imported into the USA, an 87% increase over imports of the previous year and higher than the imports of salmon. Tilapia production in the USA amounted to 7 500 tons in 1994, growing at 30-40% per year, but the economic scope for expansion is limited by the less than favourable climatic conditions which necessitate the need to heat and recirculate water.

Forecasts by Fish Farmer and Fish International are that the demand for tilapia fillets on the USA market will continue to increase. Priced at US$4-5/kg (1994 prices), this lucrative market is opening opportunities for producers in tropical climates where the fish could be produced at more competitive prices. As has been the example of the horticulture and ostrich industries, Zimbabwe may also be well placed to cater for this growing export market for high quality tilapia fillets.

[1:Reprinted from ALCOM Newsletter Oct 1996, No.23.The Aquaculture for Local Community Development
Programmes (ALCOM), operates in SADC countries with funding from SIDA, Belgium, and FAO, and is implemented by FAO.]