IN A massive swing from agriculture to aquaculture, the dusty Karoo will become the centre of a commercial fish-breeding initiative that is set to haul about 250 women out of unemployment and poverty.
The Camdeboo Satellite Aquaculture Project in Graaff- Reinet is the brainchild of a local company called Camdeboo Bream, and it is aimed at boosting the local economy and creating employment.
The Graaff-Reinet firm?s objective is to become a leader in the breeding and supply of fish for the fresh and frozen markets, with up to 50 satellite farms situated in the area. It is being launched with an initial budget of R750000.
The species to be bred is the tilapia (bream), which is widely used in aquaculture systems.
The species has its evolutionary origin in the Zambezi River basin and has since spread southwards through most of the warmer regions of southern African, researchers say.
Project co-ordinator Liesl de la Harpe said the funding, from Thina Sinakho, an Eastern Cape government local economic development support vehicle, was allocated for the design phase.
"This includes the environmental impact assessment, system design, feasibility study, and the formulation of training, marketing and business plans, together with the identification and appraisal of potential empowerment partners," she said.
De la Harpe said the pilot phase, scheduled to be launched in January next year, would involve the establishment of a central farm management structure, facilities as well as four breeding tunnels on three different sites.
"Various sites have already been tested and showed favourable conditions for such a venture.
"The pilot phase will run for a two-year period and will provide a training facility for satellite farmers who are keen to participate during the commercial phase.
"We aim to establish and successfully operate 50 satellite farms between 2011 and 2015. Additional jobs will be created within the central cluster management structure and more opportunities will exist with the establishment of service providers and suppliers."
Each one of the 50 farms will produce not less than 10 tons of tilapia, and she said the Camdeboo area was chosen because of its ideal weather.
"In winter, there is no rain and so we can rely on solar power for heating, as tilapia like warm water."
She said fish would be bred in captivity and at high densities, with the production process handled through recirculating aquaculture systems placed in greenhouse tunnels.
"Furthermore, greenhouse tunnels and solar power will help effectively manage the seasonal climate variations in the Camdeboo," she said, adding that artificial diets would be used for the duration of the production cycle until a market weight of 30 grams was achieved after about four months.
Part of the proceeds, she said, would go into trusts for the education of the farmers? children.
"This is true empowerment."