A partnership between private business and government is starting to yield positive results in the Eastern Cape, following a R9 million investment by the state.
The department of rural development and agrarian reform in the province, as part of implementing its agricultural economic transformation strategy, had invested R9.1 million towards three aquaculture grow-out tunnels to expand catfish production.
Mlibo Qoboshiyane, MEC for rural development and agrarian reform, earlier this month visited the completed aquaculture grow-out tunnels.
The MEC witnessed the first transfer of catfish into one of the three new tunnels at the Karoo Catch fish farm, which last year signed a five-year partnership with the department.
Karoo Catch, which is based in Graaff-Reinet, employs 102 full-time employees from the local community. Of the employees, 75% are women and 77% are youth, with at least 20 farm workers and 69 factory workers.
The construction of the three grow-out tunnels will enable Karoo Catch to increase catfish production from 60 tons to 120 tons of catfish per month.
Qoboshiyane said his department’s strategy was aimed at upscaling commercial agriculture production in the province through investment partnerships between key commodities and the department, in a bid to create jobs and transform communal farmers into commercial farmers with access to markets for their produce.
“Part of the department’s R9.1 million for the 2017/18 financial year was for skills development, commercialisation, incubating new aquaculture farmers and providing them with the market, and creating jobs for locals, especially women and the youth,” Qoboshiyane said.
Ken Light, managing director of Karoo Catch, said the company is owned by various trusts who are the main shareholders.
He said the company started out as a project to try to get work for rural women who did not have the chance to get a good education and were unemployed.
“Linked to creating jobs was the chance to try and develop aquaculture from a food security point of view.
"Then the Industrial Development Corporation got involved in more recent years and from November a decision was made to turn [Karoo Catch] into a proper commercial venture. So it moved from being an aquaculture project into a commercial venture with a complete agriculture farm, and we are in the process of building a factory. There is a lot of marketing activity that will follow on.
“We are now in the process of becoming a fully fledged business,” said Light.
He said they had been assisted by a lot of grant funding from various government agencies, mostly in the form of loan funding.
Light said the department of rural development and agrarian reform had made a lot of contributions in a number of areas for the company, particularly in the construction of the grow-out tunnels.
“They gave us the funding to develop those tunnels. We have got to do aquaculture training for the unemployed women I spoke about earlier. That will be with the department’s support, which is fantastic. We have given the department hope in terms of aquaculture, so the relationship works both ways,” Light said.
Qoboshiyane said aquaculture was identified by his department as one of the priority commodities to drive rural development.
“I am glad to see young people eager to learn to farm catfish. What we have seen is wonderful – from the hatchery to the processing of catfish.
“This is what we want our farmers to do, they should exploit the agriculture value chain. While primary production is important, it is processing that has more money because you add value to what you produce,” Qoboshiyane said.