A need to raise awareness on alternative protein resources within rural South African communities has inspired Morena Khashane (32) to build a two-hectare aquaculture initiative. Khashane hopes aquaponic farming will be the “saving grace to counter the high prices of protein in Mzansi”.
According to the National Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, farmed fish is said to be one of the most resource-efficient animal proteins in the world and is slowly rising to the ranks as the leading source of sustenance for many South African households.
This drove Khashane to start his own aquaculture farm in Mahikeng in the North West province in 2017. His business, Aquamor Fish Farms, produces tilapia, and has garnered the fish farmer a multitude of awards including the Youth in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (YAFF) 2019 Farmer of the Year award.
The Free State-born agriculturalist says he first developed a love for the multifaceted agricultural industry at the age of 14, when he started his intermediate schooling at Seotlong Agricultural and Hotel School in Phutaditjaba.
It was at this school, situated on the banks of the Mphukojwane stream, where Khashane cultivated his passion for the agricultural industry. The award-winning farmer believes that had it not been for the knowledge he soaked up from his teacher, Mr Alvin Nhlapho, he would never have reached the success he has attained today.
“Every day I looked forward to attending his classes. He played a very important role in my journey. It is almost like I was breastfed by Mr Nhlapo to have the knowledge of agriculture that I have and still use,” he eagerly says.
Khashane cites Nhlapo’s teachings as the driver that led him to pursue his tertiary qualifications in aquaculture and policy management at Stellenbosch University.
His continued pursuit of knowledge landed him in China, where he spent a year studying fish farming and distribution. It was here where Khashane realised that “aquaculture is the fastest growing sector globally, because natural fish stock resources are depleting, and the human population is fast increasing.”
Armed with a decade’s worth of experience in the aquaculture industry, Khashane went on to start his tilapia farming business two years ago. He says Aquamor Fish Farms is dedicated to achieving food security in rural and township communities by supplying the continued demand for sustainable proteins.
Khashane says his journey has not been without challenges. He endured constant criticism from naysayers who called his venture a “pie in the sky.”
“My family didn’t believe in my dream at first, some of my business partners also used to discourage me. But I made it happen. 2020 and beyond is going to be an awesome year for aquaculture in South Africa and this will be good for my company in terms of plans for expansion.”
Khashane warns that the business risk can sometimes outweigh the reward in fish farming. He says since he started Aquamor Fish Farms he has lost two batches of tilapia on two separate occasions.
“In aquaculture when you lose fish you start again,” he says enthusiastically. “It is a very risky business, but I had to start again, I owed it to myself.”
Through persistence and passion Khashane believes any agricultural venture is possible. “I survived a huge loss, I have cried many tears, but I told myself, ‘Morena, you have to do this.’ Many people believed in me, many people still believe in me. But most importantly I also believed in myself and I cannot disappoint myself, so giving up was not an option.”
The young farmer has since laid down roots in the North West. Aquamor Fish Farms sits on a 2-hectare space on the Rooigrond plot between Lichtenburg and Mahikeng. As tilapia is a warm freshwater fish species, Khashane explains that the North West is ideal for farming it.
He adds that his farm is strategically situated centrally to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) trade corridor. “We are aware that South Africa traditionally is not a fish-eating nation, however there is a good market in SADC, we needed to be closer to the corridor.”
As a self-funded venture, Khashane firmly believes that there is no reason why aquaculture cannot cascade through to rural villages and townships in South Africa.
He says that with careful attention to the processes, especially the hygiene aspect of fish farming, it might one day challenge chicken as the country’s leading source of high quality protein. “Fish is better than chicken and is a good source of protein. It will play a very important role in especially the rural area where our people need a good source of proteins.”
Khashane sells his product to the informal market. He believes that “people in the townships and the rural areas have a right to easily accessible alternative proteins as well”. He further explains that being exposed to the infinite opportunities in agriculture early on in life fuelled his passion to farm with fish.
His business ventures have also inspired an additional conquest. With the help of contacts he has made through his journey, Khashane heads up a consulting firm he calls Thlapi Management Consulting.
“We saw there was a huge need to transfer our own skills and knowledge to assist aspiring black fish farmers to get into the industry, we also do skills development for fish farming.”
Khashane has hopes to leave a viable business to his eight-year-old son Morena Aobakwe. “He will take the empire to the next level, I am just laying the foundation,” Khashane concludes.