THE Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) has not only created one of the greatest water engineering works to facilitate water transfer to neighbouring South Africa, but it has also inspired lucrative commercial fish farming activities in the highlands of Lesotho.
Two foreign supported companies, Highlands Trout and Katse Fish Farms (KFF) have set up commercial fishing farms on the reservoir of Katse Dam, which is believed to be Africa’s second largest dam.
The two fishing operations have a combined annual production capacity estimated at 1.3 million tonnes of Rainbow Trout, which is mainly produced for the export market, with a small percentage of the product consumed locally.
Being an export commodity, trout is believed to generate a significant amount of export revenue for Lesotho, although it was not immediately clear as to how much is generated.
According to Mahlomola Sitsane- the Hatchery Manager at Highlands Trout, the company currently produces about 750 tonnes of trout per year.
He said the establishment of the company, which employs more than 80 Basotho recruited from villages around the farm, was primarily influenced by the high demand for Rainbow Trout in Japan, coupled with suitable habitat conditions in the highlands of Lesotho, where trout occurs naturally.
These conditions include fresh water, low temperatures and adequate amounts of oxygen in the water.
Explaining the operations at the farm, Mr Sitsane said imported trout eggs are hatched and grown through different stages until they are ready for the market.
When the young fish reach a certain size, they are transported to nursery cages or farms in the dam and later into grow-out cages. They are then fed on a high-protein pellet diet imported primarily from France and South Africa to a lesser extent. The fish can take up to 18 months to be ready for the market, with each weighing about two kilogrammes
Environmental care is critical in ensuring that operations do not negatively affect the quality of water as well as the surrounding area.
“If we fail to comply with this requirement, we risk losing the permission to operate in the dam because the water is a product on its way to South Africa and therefore the quality should not be compromised,” Mr Sitsane told Business Journal, adding they regularly have to regularly relocate their fish farms (cages) to minimise the build-up of fish droppings in one area.
He further explained that to minimise water pollution, dead fish are collected from the bottom of the dam for use in the production of organic manure.
Mr Sitsane said one of the major challenges affecting their production include high temperatures and at times too much wind, which disturbs water thereby distressing the fish. When this happens, the rate of growth and development of the fish may be affected.
Mofeli Leoma, the farm manager at KFF, said their product was exported to the Western Cape, South Africa, from where it was distributed to different retailers including the organic food stores in that country.
The farm currently produces about 600 tonnes of trout fish per year.
Mr Leoma also explained that the local communities were benefitting from the project.
“Apart from providing employment to over 30 people working on the farm, the farm also sets aside part of its profits (about 1.5 percent) for community developmental projects of their choice,” he said.
He added a trust fund was established for the management of savings to be used for community development projects, through administration by a community-based steering committee.
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which is facilitating the Trout fish farming projects is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
This project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
Phase One of the LHWP, consisting the Katse and Mohale dams, the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels, was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004. Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase Two activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation, power lines and telecommunication, and others) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.
The hydropower component of Phase II, which is currently under further feasibility studies, may include a pumped storage scheme, conventional hydropower such as the expansion of the ‘Muela infrastructure or new greenfield sites.
Its exact form will be determined on completion of the further feasibility studies underway while Phase Two is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2024.