Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

TRADE and Industry Minister Rob Davies needs to ensure that there is a potential growth market for the fish products that will be produced by fish farming initiatives launched at the weekend, the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said on Monday.

This appeal by Agbiz follows the launch of the aquaculture development and enhancement programme announced on Sunday by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The programme aims to promote investment in fish production and to support infrastructure development in an aquaculture industry through active farmer support and management programmes.

The aquaculture development programme would help new entrants and existing ventures. Its geographical spread would include rural areas such as aquaculture development zones and special economic zones mooted by the two departments, and would also contribute to broad-based black economic empowerment.

The departments hoped the initiates would lead to substantially increased investment in aquaculture, increased production, job creation, broadening of participation and the diversification of the sector.

Agbiz CEO John Purchase on Monday said there was private-sector investment into the aquaculture industry, albeit at a slow pace.

An increase in investment would require the government to ensure there was "sufficient, stable and a potential growth market for fish products, and that solid take-off agreements were concluded".

He said the fish that would be cultivated were generally "very efficient converters of feed into an animal protein form". This was the attraction of this type of farming. However, mainstream South Africans were generally not major fish eaters and there was uncertainty over the level of uptake and when the market would be saturated.

Mr Purchase said Agbiz, however, acknowledged there was merit in the government’s programme to support aquaculture.

"Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector in the world, growing at an annual rate of 8%-10% per annum over the past two decades," said Mr Davies.

"The South African sector showed growth of only 3% in 2010. This slow pace can be attributed to lack of integrated plans and government involvement in driving development," he said.

Therefore, the objective was to encourage and elicit investment with the purpose of addressing government priorities of broadening participation in the sector, and also encouraging rural development and food security, he said.

Aquaculture embodies a combination of relatively high employment and growth multipliers that are being prioritised through the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the New Growth Path.

The Department of Trade and Industry website has the guidelines and further details.