Walter Nyamukondiwa Kariba Bureau
Kariba Town is on a mission to reinvent itself as a centre of production, using local resources to diversify its services rather than trying to be just a tourism hub.
Tourism has received a battering over the years, resulting in the town losing its lustre.
The closure of some shops, hotels, companies and harbours on Kariba Dam has not dampened hope of the town’s renewal.
A series of interventions aimed at repositioning the town as both a tourism and industrial hub are falling into place despite myriad, but inevitably transient, challenges.
Most of the interventions are centred on Kariba’s economic activities that revolve around fisheries, crocodile farming, power generation, buying and selling and surprisingly crop production, including a banana plantation.
These have remained resilient over the years, with optimism that the sun will shine one day and restore the town to its former glory. One of the interventions is the recently held Nyaminyami Festival that drew thousands of people from all walks of life. It was a major statement of intent aimed at attracting events tourists.
The success of the festival has convinced organisers to make it an annual event due to its potential to grow and attract regional and international contemporary music and cultural activities.
To complete the revival effort, authorities are seriously considering scheduled flights to link the destination with other towns, including Victoria Falls.
This has been the bane of tourism revival efforts in the past.
On the business front, while the power generation sector is reeling from receding Kariba Dam levels, which has seen the scaling down of production from installed capacity of 1 050MW to around 245MW as of Monday this week, the fisheries sector, which contributes about 70 percent of the country’s fish output has continued to hold out, despite a drop in volumes.
The kapenta industry has morphed into a sector that generates US$36 million annually from about 9 million kilogrammes of fish produced in recent years, with significant unaccounted volumes being produced by artisanal fishermen.
This represents a salient decline from a US$$76 million industry when the fishery churned out around 19 000 tonnes at its peak in 1999.
Kapenta Producers Association chairperson Mr Nesbert Mapfumo said it was now difficult to quantify the number of people employed in the industry and production volumes owing to the growing number of unregistered artisanal fishermen.
It gets even murkier when it comes to fish production as there are no official figures on the volume of fish hauled from Lake Kariba.
This is because some people only need a dingy boat to venture in the lake to fish, while on the lookout for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers on patrol.
People are making a living from exploiting the fish and kapenta resource with some companies managing catches of up to 600kg in one night during the August peak period.
Said Mr Mapfumo: “This is the time when we have optimum temperatures for optimal catches. It is during this time when we make investments ahead of the lean periods.
“Salt never used to be a major cost for us, but because of the changing environment, costs are rising every day so when you get money, you have to stock up. Labour costs are also rising to the extent that we have more than three adjustments so far.”
Mr Mapfumo, who operates about 35 kapenta rigs, employs over 100 people, including dryers from the local Mahombekombe community who come in as casual labourers. The company supplies fish and kapenta to markets in Harare, Karoi, Chinhoyi and beyond.
Others have thrown in the towel, with most of the players who were in the sector selling their boats and permits, saying kapenta fishing was no longer viable.
With the numerous challenges including climate change-induced shocks, players in the sector remain hopeful that they will weather the storm. Temperatures are oscillating between 40 and 44 degrees Celsius and that is considered unsuitable for kapenta fishing and anticipated windy conditions also limit the fishing effort. There is also the threat of the invasive crayfish which is thought to have invaded the kapenta and fish breeding areas, eating up the fish.
Zimparks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said to save the situation, there has been drive to encourage harvesting of the crayfish through issuance of cheap permits.
“We have been pushing for a nominal permit fee to stimulate uptake of the permits and increase harvest levels,” he said. “The only way to control cryfish population would be to aggressively harvest the species and thus keep the populations in check.
“There were few takers and the number dwindled further due to permit fees which were deemed too high.”
For those who ventured into crayfish harvesting, said Mr Farawo, there was a relatively low volume of catches and the market had not warmed up to delicacy. There seems to be a ready export market as some who undertook the project were exporting the fish back to Australia, its country of origin. Cropping has remained in the semi-arid region at Charara Estates where investment has been made to repel wild animals through erecting an electric fence. However, Charara Estates has taken advantage of the ideal semi-arid weather conditions through determination, ingenuity and an obliging water reservoir in Lake Kariba which provides abundant water for cropping.
A truck comes into Kariba town every Tuesday with bananas which are bought mostly for resale locally, while some people come from Zambia to get stock for sale back home.
Charara Estates supplies horticultural produce to Kariba where people hardly have gardens owing to the menace of wild animals.
Kariba is also home to the multi-million dollar crocodile farming venture, Padenga Holdings, which processes crocodile skins for the export market.
Padenga is involved in the production of crocodile skins and meat of the Nile variety at its three farms: Kariba Crocodile Farm, Ume Crocodile Farm and Nyanyana Crocodile Farm. The farms are primed to produce about 14 300 animals a year, with meat for export to European and Asian markets.
It employs a significant workforce from Kariba town while other companies like Lake Harvest, which breed bream, have remained afloat largely because they export some of their produce to neighbouring countries.
Lake Harvest also runs aquaculture operations in neighbouring Zambia, which insulates the company from economic reform-induced shocks on the Zimbabwean market.
With so much perseverance and optimism pervading the Kariba industrial landscape, it could be only a matter of time before the town regains it former glory.