Lesotho: Fishing for work in Lesotho (IRIN)

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Tsotleho Befole is a 24-year-old man from Lesotho who travelled to South Africa twice in the past year to find work. But neither trip was successful.

Many migrate to neighbouring South Africa to search for work in the mines. Jobs are scarce in Lesotho, with an estimated third or more of the population unemployed. The peak of this migration was in the late 1980s, when about 125,000 Basotho worked in South African mines.

Mr. Befole points his finger towards a fish farm at the Katse Dam, part of the $16 billion US, 30-year Lesotho Highlands Water Project. He says, “The only work is down there.” The dam is beginning to offer an unexpected benefit: jobs.

Mabusetsa Lenka is head of the water, justice and environment programs at a national NGO called Transformation Resource Centre. He says that when Katse Dam was built, longer-term employment opportunities were not considered. The potential economic benefits from tourism or improving farming practices with local irrigation were ignored.

However, says Mr. Lenka, “Right now, something that is being tried is fisheries. This could be a viable employment opportunity.”

Mpiko Ncholu is a 49-year-old man who makes his living catching yellowfish, a bony fish with little commercial value beyond local consumption. He says, “On my best day, I caught 60 fish and sold them for 700 maluti ($90 US).” On bad days, he catches nothing.

Mr. Ncholu’s meagre catch with hook-and-line fishing contrasts starkly with the output of Katse Fish Farms, also known as KFF. The company was the first to introduce aquaculture to Katse Dam. Employing more than 30 staff, KFF produces 300 tonnes of rainbow trout each year. The company aims to boost production to 1200 tonnes by 2017, and expects that higher production will mean more jobs.

Jobs are available for people without a fishing background. Jabari Kadafi is a former taxi driver who now works for KFF, earning a monthly salary of 1,500 maluti, or $164 US. This is a good income in Lesotho and allows him to support his three children.

A second fisheries company, Highlands Trout, has created 62 jobs. The company has established processing facilities to gut and fillet fish. There are plans to smoke and cure the trout, which would further increase job opportunities for local people.

Chief Mamphole Molapo presides over eight highland villages. She says the dam is a mixed blessing. There are some jobs and roads, but dam waters have drowned the trees on which the people relied for fuel and timber. Chief Molapo says, “When we want wood, we have to put our hand in our pockets. There are shops now and some benefits from tourism, but then there is a lot [of] crime.”

An agreement between KFF and the community stipulates that about one-half of one per cent of the value of KFF’s production be deposited in a community trust. The trust is managed by a steering committee, which includes representatives from the local community and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The first initiative the trust supported was the rehabilitation of the local drinking water system.

As well as jobs, local people have received another bonus from the fish farms: a new type of fish to eat. Through the agreement, the community receives fish after each bimonthly harvest. Chief Malapo says this is a benefit because the local people, especially the elderly, prefer eating trout to yellowfish. She says, “The elderly have no teeth, so they can’t eat yellowfish because they are too bony.”