31 janvier 2023

Lesotho: the trout, the little African kingdom's river gem

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At an elevation of 2,100 meters, the river undulates at the foot of Lesotho's rounded mountains, encircling calm. The trout farmers in the distant have been working since daybreak; it is "harvest day. "This little landlocked country in southern Africa, with its copious rivers, has become one of the region's main producers of the delicate and sought-after freshwater fish in less than two decades. The people claim to have eaten salted and sun-dried fish for centuries. Young lads on the riverbanks wave at passing cars. Stephen Phakisi, 59, began production in 2005, around 50 kilometers upstream from the Katse dam (centre).

The Malibamatso River was enlarged by the construction of the 185-metre-high concrete monster, producing an excellent pool. Workers in dry suits tighten the nets on the little floating production line. Rainbow trout are dragged from the pools in massive, swarming, slimy swarms. The workers work quickly: sixteen tonnes of fish are taken before midday after being anaesthetised, slaughtered, and plunged into the ice.

Unexplored territory
"We had to pay a lot of money to get here, and it wasn't lucrative at all for five years," the businessman laughed to AFP. Many nasty shocks have occurred: fish dying on their tummies, half-dead fry after a 16-hour journey from Cape Town... Phakisi, a jack-of-all-trades consultant who worked on government projects, entered this unexplored market with two partners and minimal experience of the industry.

He spent several years searching for the meal that fattens fish in less than a year. He also had to decode the water, which, as a result of the extraordinary erosion that eats away an area that never falls below 1,400 meters in elevation, is profoundly altered at the conclusion of the dry season: level, temperature, and oxygen. The farmer now produces 800 tons each year, which he sells for little more than four euros per kilo.

The country's two fish farms continue to provide just a minor contribution to the country's modest economy, which has a GDP of €2 billion. According to the national development agency (LNDC), a new dam would have a "significant growth potential" of 680,000 people by 2020.

"Pure white gold"
Lesotho has spent the last 30 years constructing Babylonian dams, the centerpiece of which is Katse, as well as a sophisticated network of subterranean tunnels as part of an agreement with South Africa: Lesotho has transformed its most precious resource, water, called "white gold," into a commercial product. 

"We sell water to South Africa, but we don't have water in our own homes," rages Joshua Sefali, the head of the community of Lejone, a settlement on the coast where stone and thatch cottages frequently lack water and power.

Thousands of hectares have been flooded to make way for the large projects. In exchange for compensation, some families have lost their houses and farms. Machaka Khalala, 31, is stamping by the side of the road with his hat pulled down over his head. Hundreds of people are patiently waiting in the cold with buckets. One of the fish farms provides leftovers once a week. "Bones and heads," she says. Her corn and spinach field had been swamped. She was compensated with 170 euros. She now survives by selling "fat cakes," or traditional doughnuts, on the street for employees' breakfast.



© Photo Credits : Tom's catch