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N. Songore
FAO/ALCOM, P.O. Box 3730, Harare, Zimbabwe


With the ever increasing use of small water bodies for fisheries in Zimbabwe, there is need for an effective and efficient extension service if utilisation is to be sustainable. An efficient extension service entails strong co-operation among the various institutions involved in fisheries development activities. A holistic approach is essential since the target groups are not full time fishermen but farmers who fish. This paper highlights the problems and constraints facing small water body fisheries extension in Zimbabwe as well as some of the possible solutions.


Located in southern Africa, Zimbabwe is a land locked country that is relatively dry with a few perennial rivers. Over the years a large number of dams have been constructed to harness the much needed water resource for domestic use, livestock watering and irrigation. Though the exact number of these dams is not well known, about 12000 dams have been inventoried. Most of these small water bodies, found mostly in the drier parts of the country, are characterised by a fluctuating water level which in turn influences fish production. The distribution of water bodies is shown in Figure 1.

There is an increased interest by the Government of Zimbabwe in the exploitation of small water bodies through fisheries. Small-scale fishing is now being carried out in most of the country's small water bodies. These water bodies have proved to play an important role in food security of rural communities and in some cases they contribute towards income generation. However, fisheries potential is still not well known and the best fishery management interventions have yet to be identified (Chishawa, 1996).

The national policy on fisheries development is aimed at increasing fish production, with the following developmental objectives:

Figure 1. Map of Zimbabwe showing distribution of water bodies according to land use.

Figure 1.

1.1 Institutions involved in Zimbabwe s fisheries development

A number of institutions are involved in fisheries development in Zimbabwe, with different institutions concentrating on different aspects of fisheries development to attain their development objectives. The most prominent of these institutions are:

The Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (Agritex), which is under the Ministry of Agriculture (Fig. 2) has the mandate to carry out extension be it agricultural, aquacultural or capture fisheries. Within this department is the Animal Production Branch under which the Fisheries Unit falls. The Fisheries Unit is staffed by three graduate fisheries specialists based at their headquarters in Harare. The main objective of Agritex through the Fisheries Unit is to maximise benefits from the fisheries resource for the local communities on a sustainable basis. The unit provides extension services which include regular in-service training for field extension staff, training of fishers, fish stock surveys, catch monitoring, organising fishing activities, facilitating procurement of fishing permits for would-be fishers, fish stocking and monitoring performance of the fishing activities. Extension advice from the fisheries unit is provided to the ultimate users (fishers or farmers) through multidisciplinary field staff who are in direct contact with users. These field staff are also involved in agricultural extension as well as other community oriented duties.

Figure 2. Organogram for the Ministry of Agriculture showing the departments involved in fisheries.

Figure 2.

The methods used in the dissemination of information include: field visits, demonstrations, farmer to farmer, in situ training and workshops.

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management (DNPWM) within the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (Fig. 3) is responsible for conservation, law enforcement, research and management of Parks Estates under which most of the national waters fall. The department also runs a number of fisheries research institutes throughout the country.

Fisheries research is also carried out at two of the country's institutions of higher learning namely the University of Zimbabwe and the Africa University (Fig. 4). The Ministry of Agriculture through its Department of Research and Specialist Services is to some lesser extent involved in fisheries research.

To sum up, in Zimbabwe there are three institutions involved in fisheries research activities, one involved in fisheries extension and one involved in law enforcement.

Figure 3. Organogram for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management (Fisheries Section)

Figure 3.

Figure 4. Organogram for the Ministry of Higher Education showing fisheries-related departments.

Figure 4.


Most of the small water bodies in Zimbabwe are fished either legally or illegally. Rod and line fishing, except for some very few special cases, is free for all. Use of a fishing net (gill net, lift net, seine net) requires a licence. The licence for net fishing is issued by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management usually relying on recommendations made by Agritex. The most popular method of net fishing in small water body fisheries is the gill net. Before a gill net licence is issued Agritex carries out fish stock assessment to determine the amount of fishing pressure that can be applied over and above the existing effort. The licence specifies the length of the net, the number of nets to be used, the mesh size and the water body or bodies in which fishing should take place. A special permit is required for the use of explosives, firearms, chemicals, poison, intoxicating substances and electrical devices.

Men, women and children are all involved in fishing activities. A wide variety of both active and passive fishing gear is used on these small water bodies. These range from traditional gear (traps, axes, spears) to the modern gear (gill nets, seine nets, scoop nets, handlines, longlines, etc.). Traditional gear is usually made from locally available material. Traps made out of transparent plastic material are popular among women because they require little attention and are only checked when time is convenient whilst gill nets are more popular with men because of their higher efficiency as compared to other gear. Rod and line is the most common gear used due to its low cost and availability. Fishing in most cases is for both cash and subsistence. Fishers can either be organised in groups or as individuals but the responsible authorities often encourage the formation of fishing groups.

In Zimbabwe, management of fisheries has always been the responsibility of the central government through the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management, and local authorities. Communities are rarely consulted on issues pertinent to the management of their fisheries even though they are the ones directly affected by the decisions made.

2.1 Problems and constraints facing small water bodies fisheries extension in Zimbabwe

Duplication of activities

There are a number of different institutions involved in reservoir- and fisheries-related matters and in most cases there is no communication amongst these institutions. This results in wastage of essential limited resources through duplication of effort and also in interinstitutional disputes and rivalries to the detriment of local communities. There is also competition for funding from international organisations.

Relevance of research to development

Although the number of fisheries research activities has been increasing over the years, some of the results frequently have no relevance to solving the problems of the fishers or farmers because of their pure academic nature. Generally there is lack of target group involvement in designing research projects, with most simulations being carried out under conditions that are very different from reality.

Lack of participation of target groups

Target groups in small water body fisheries are not full-time fishermen but farmers who fish occasionally. They do not have intentions to become full-time fishermen. Most of the fisheries development projects are formulated using the top-down approach whereby the target groups are not involved or consulted. Often these projects have been inappropriate and irrelevant. Decisions made without liaison with target groups have led to recipients becoming alienated from some projects.

Lack of co-ordination of involved institutions

Institutions offering complimentary services often do not agree on a common approach leaving the target groups confused. In most cases the link between research and extension is non-existent. Researchers are willing to impart information to extentionists but rarely are they willing to receive information or suggestions from the extensionists who are in constant contact with the target groups.

The problem of co-ordination is further compounded by Non-Governmen tal Organisations (NGOs) who usually execute their programmes in agreement with local authorities but without formal arrangements with the central government or its relevant departments. This results in more confusion at community level. In most cases the NGOs' staff generally lack adequate knowledge of local communities and conditions hence they usually give inappropriate advice.

Provision of production inputs

Some key players in fisheries development programmes have resorted to providing their target groups with production inputs which has led to a dependence syndrome. From experience it has been noticed that even though the advice from those providing free inputs may be inappropriate, the people are more willing to listen to these groups than to someone with good advice but who lacks free inputs. In most of the cases more time is spent on organisational issues concerning procurement and disbursement with very little development work actually done.

Bureaucratic nature of government departments

Due to the way government departments are run, the communication channels are too long. Some solutions or results are only made available after long delays. The procedures are often too rigid. As mentioned before, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife issues gill net licences but this can only be done after Agritex carries out feasibility studies and forwards its recommendations. The procedure is often very cumbersome and worsened by the fact that the issuing of permits is centralised. Changes in the permit issuing process are usually not communicated early enough to target groups. The delays and difficulties in obtaining fishing permits have often resulted in high rates of illegal fishing activities.

Resource base of extension staff

Most extension staff have inadequate technical resources to carry out the desired objectives. Back-up facilities are usually inadequate or untimely. The extension worker to farmer ratio ranges from 1:250 to 1:400 (Binali, 1995). This is too high considering that resources are rarely available. Trained extension staff are often transferred to other areas thereby creating a gap in the flow of information leading to a constant training need. Moreover, resources for continuous training are not always available.

Organisational problems

People wishing to embark on fishing activities are often encouraged to form fishing groups. Generally the people utilising a particular water body are of different social strata and it is a difficult task to have such people form homogeneous groups. People have learnt that the only possible way a fishing permit or a licence can be quickly processed is by forming fishing groups. After they have been issued with the permit each of the group members goes his or her own way. A water body supposed to be exploited using four gill-nets belonging to a single fishing group would end up being exploited by approximately forty gill nets, each member having four nets. Formation of groups often undermines equal distribution of benefits because most of the fishing groups consist only of relatives.

Extension messages targeted to the wrong audience

Most of the extension messages are targeted at the men but preliminary results show that small-scale fishing is dominated by women and children who rarely attend meetings and workshops. There is very little contact between women and extension personnel.

Fisheries extension is mainly focused on improving production of fish on a commercial basis, an area which is dominated by fishermen, whereas training in production of fish on subsistence basis where their female counterparts are the major players is less prominent. This also makes the extension inappropriate as the target group are not fishers but farmers.

In most cases programmes promoting community-based fisheries management have, unknown to the implementers, focused on the most powerful group of individuals. These have often been gill net fishers' groups whose membership, as stated earlier, is mainly composed of relatives. The resulting regulations have been in favour of these fishers at the expense of the other resource users such as trap fishers, hook and line fishers and other traditional gear users. Such cases are bad examples of community-based fisheries management and in most cases the affected communities have become very hostile to people talking of alternative fisheries management interventions.

Interpretation of legislation

Legislation pertinent to fisheries management has not been adequately communicated or interpreted to resource users. Most of the communities including some of the authorities, are still confused on what is legal and what is not. For example, people believe that gill nets (from 3"mesh and upwards) and hook and lines are the only legal fishing methods. There was an incident on one of the small water bodies where people were physically abused and their fishing traps burnt by other members of the community because they believed that type of fishing was illegal and that it was capturing juvenile fish. In this particular case the traps were legal since their use did not require a permit and they were also not competing with any other fishing method. The traps were very species-selective taking only small Barbus sp. which is usually selected against in the gill net and hook and line fisheries.

Other factors affecting small water body fisheries extension

Extension services for small water bodies are also influenced by the scattered nature of these dams as well as the distance from established fisheries. Small water body fisheries are pitted against established commercial fisheries for extension services and in most cases they lose out. Extension agents prefer to devote effort to more concentrated commercial fishers than the farmer/fishers. Another factor is that the target groups are involved part time in fisheries with most of the time devoted to agricultural activities. The agricultural calendar dictates the amount of time spent on fishing. According to them fishing is not a priority. This last factor makes it difficult to justify specialised extension services and hence the integration of small water body fisheries into general agricultural extension services.

The content of the courses offered to Agritex extension workers is more geared towards fish production than fisheries management. The few management aspects incorporated in these courses are more concerned about fish conservation than the socio-economic aspects of the people utilising the fish stocks.


3.1 Co-ordination of institutions

There is a need to form an inter-ministerial committee to co-ordinate activities of all the various institutions involved in fisheries development programmes. This committee will facilitate regular discussions amongst institutions involved in promoting fisheries development programmes resulting in improved communication and reduced rivalry. The committee will also facilitate development of working plans and strategies and agreement on lines of operation by the various institutions.

3.2 Participation of target groups

The main objective of development requires that benefits reach the recipients. The target groups' participation should be an objective and the key means of the development strategy. This demands that the target groups participate in the development process as both agents and beneficiaries. Direct involvement of the target groups in all phases of the project is the most important instrument for lasting change.

Real participation means that development activities are not imposed on the people. Their involvement in selection, designing and implementing of local activities ensures that priority needs as perceived by them are met. Development activities must depend on social and political organisations (including local authorities) and other institutions at the grass roots level that are empowered to make decisions. For meaningful decision making however, such organisation should have access to the resources and decisive influence over their utilisation.

Over and above, there is need for reviewing case studies to identify legal issues which hinder community participation in fisheries management.

3.3 Extension

Responsibilities for dissemination of information should not be allocated to regulatory departments if vital and confidential information has to be collected. Extension staff should be locally based so as to be in constant touch with events as well as to collect vital information. Extension workers should be devoted and dedicated and also committed to development projects. They should have a sound knowledge of the target group.

The government of Zimbabwe is devolving management responsibilities of natural resources to resource users, therefore extension packages should include aspects of community-based fisheries management. Target groups should be taught the implications of such an arrangement and what it entails. Evidence from pilot projects where such an arrangement has been implemented shows that the target groups are presently hardly prepared to assume responsibility for management.

3.4 Research - research linkage

All demand-driven research should come under one institution. This will ensure strengthened effort and close liaison as well as avoid unnecessary conflicts and duplication of effort. Institutions interested in pure academic research can still go ahead with their programmes.

3.5 Extension - research linkage

Effective transfer of information requires firm linkage between research and extension. The extensionist must have access to the knowledge and must understand the technological innovations for successful transmittal. Without feedback from the user groups through extension agents research activities branch into irrelevant areas and without access to research results extension agents lag behind technologically.

It should also be noted that although farmers or fishers are usually resistant to change and in some cases are unaware of technological advancements they have always made discoveries and inventions even without scientific research. Research programmes should therefore integrate target groups and these should be involved in the implementation of the research findings.

Programmes should be designed over a long time scale and amalgamate knowledge from ecological, social, technical and other disciplines. The long-term holistic approach will assist in problem identification and solving. On the other hand, research results should be processed and interpreted in a way better understood by the ultimate users.

3.6 Material support

Provision of free production inputs should be discouraged as this leads to dependency syndrome. Development projects should only provide advice, technology, training and information.

3.7 Bureaucracy

Excessively long communication channels should be avoided to speed up urgent needs, and some functions need to decentralised. The issuing of permits should be decentralised to various provincial offices of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. Something similar should also be done in Agritex so that their provincial representatives can carry out dam surveys within their provinces without relying on staff coming from the capital. Such moves will expedite transmittal of vital information resulting in smooth implementation of fisheries development programmes.

3.8 Establishment of a common database

Often institutions spend a lot of time collecting information which has already been collected by other institutions. This results in unnecessary waste of resources. People are tired of answering similar questionnaires, as in most cases feedback is not communicated back to the information provider. Communities have now resorted to answering what they think the interviewer wants to hear and this obviously makes it difficult to plan extension packages. There is a need to establish a national database which is accessible to many users so that time spent on collecting baseline information is shortened.


Small water bodies are a very important resource in rural Zimbabwe. In designing extension packages for small water body fisheries it is important that the nature of the target group is considered. The target group in this case is composed of farmers fishing occasionally to supplement other food producing activities. Fishing is not their top priority. However, given the necessary extension support, fisheries can play an important role in both their food security and their diversified subsistence economy. Sustainable support requires modification of the current extension system to include aspects of small water body fisheries.


Chishawa, A.M.M. 1996. The inland fisheries sector in Zimbabwe. National Report. (In press).

Binali, W. 1995. Aquaculture extension in Zimbabwe. Paper presented at the Technical Consultation on Extension Methods for Smallholder Fish Farming in Southern Africa. Lilongwe, Malawi 20 – 24 November 1995.

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