Bosasa in fishy prawn project ????????????

2015-03-29 15:00

The company behind a multimillion-rand prawn farm on the West Rand supported by the Gauteng government has had a chequered past.

The proposed farm is the brainchild of the controversial Bosasa group, which happens to be under investigation for bribing senior correctional services employees to procure government tenders.

Bosasa also burnt its fingers before with a similar R9?billion aquaculture venture in the Eastern Cape called SeaArk Africa, which?was closed down in 2009.

Supposedly, the new venture seeks to use the same technology as SeaArk Africa, but Bosasa is keeping quiet about the exact nature of its new project.

The prawn farm already boasts the Gauteng government as a partner. In his budget speech earlier this year, Premier David Makhura said Gauteng would partner with the private sector to improve the aquaculture potential of the western corridor on the West Rand, particularly in regard to the breeding of prawns.

“This initiative will create a total of 6?512 jobs in the West Rand over three years,” he said.

Phindile Kunene, spokesperson for the MEC for economic development, environment, agriculture and rural development, insisted the Gauteng government had not provided any money for the project.

She said the western corridor – encompassing Mogale City, Randfontein, Kagiso, Lanseria and Maropeng – had been earmarked for agroprocessing and aquaculture.

“We aim to create conducive conditions for investment and exert an influence over the direction and quality of this investment in these different corridors,” she said.

“The prawn breeding project should be understood against this backdrop.” Kunene did not want to provide further details and referred City Press to Bosasa.

But there are questions about why the Gauteng government has become involved at such an early stage.

Critics say Bosasa has a close relationship with the ANC, with Bosasa’s offices in Mogale City hosting the Gauteng ANC’s lekgotla in 2011.

Bosasa is keeping information about the project under wraps. Its communications director, Papa Leshabane, did not respond to emailed questions and messages left on his cellphone.

But on its website, Bosasa gave a glimpse of the project that would be situated just down the road from its offices in Luipaardsvlei, Krugersdorp.

“The project is aptly named Bio-organics,” Bosasa wrote in a newsletter on the website. “Bosasa has a unique approach to aquaculture. Not only does it have the potential to contribute to [the] rural development plans of our nation, but it also promises to bring employment to these almost abandoned parts of the country.”

Kunene confirmed there was no environmental impact assessment (EIA) application for the project because “it is still in the early development stages”.

“The feasibility, scale, design and magnitude of the project will determine whether there is a need for an EIA,” she said.

SeaArk Africa in the Coega industrial development zone near Port Elizabeth was estimated to have been worth about R9?billion. Bosasa also claimed it would provide sustainable jobs for 11?800 people.

The project, touted as the world’s first environmentally friendly prawn farm, sparked furious objections from local environmentalists, including SA National Parks.

At the time, there were allegations that the Eastern Cape EIA had been fast-tracked because of Bosasa’s political connections.

SeaArk Africa closed down in 2009 after a turbulent three years trying to establish a prawn farm in the industrial development zone.

It was 100% owned by Bosasa Operations, but used the expertise of US experts for its research. It is unclear if it will employ the same technology on the West Rand.

The Mail & Guardian exposed SeaArk Africa in 2008 for having a convicted embezzler, American David Wills, as its international business associate and for lying about an alleged R70?million Saudi Arabian deal.

When SeaArk Africa closed down, Leshabane, as its spokesperson, blamed a lack of investment and Eskom for killing the venture.

“The proposed business model is extremely sensitive to power inputs and, based on recent increases and further expected escalations, we have no choice but to suspend our investment plans?...

“The project is no longer sustainable since Eskom announced its recent increases and further intended increases.”

It is unclear whether Bio-organics will be dogged by the same electricity problems or whether the prawn farm will be using more sustainable power sources in the wake of Eskom’s woes and anticipated electricity hikes.

There are also questions about the technology.

SeaArk Africa claimed it used a ground-breaking closed system to farm the popular Pacific white shrimp, which is highly susceptible to viral infections.

The infections have wiped out shrimp populations and indigenous prawn species are far from immune.

The SeaArk Africa system apparently eliminated such concerns.

SeaArk Africa patented the technology, with Wills cited as one of its inventors on the patent. He has since opened a replica of the South African farm in Texas.

In a water-stressed area far from the ocean, there are concerns about where the water will be sourced from to supply an aquaculture project of this scale. But Kunene insisted there was adequate water in the province.

“Gauteng has considered water-availability issues. There are more than 126 dams, ranging in size, [starting] from less than 2?hectares in Gauteng,” she said.

“While the primary objective for the construction of these dams was the provision of water for agricultural, industrial and domestic use, they have considerable potential for the development of inland fisheries.”

It’s a tricky business growing white shrimp

It is expected Bosasa will farm the popular Pacific white shrimp, which, with giant tiger prawns, account for about 80% of the crustaceans under cultivation.

But Pacific white shrimp are highly susceptible to viral infections, which have wiped out entire populations and can be transmitted to indigenous prawn species.

One of the biggest problems with commercial prawn farming in open ponds is the high risk of disease.

Bosasa’s technology apparently sidesteps these concerns by using a closed system.

The prawns are farmed in commercial bio-secure facilities that resemble large greenhouses.

Using computerised control systems to regulate water temperature and quality, and control the amount and type of algae present, the plants create perfect conditions for prawns to flourish and grow.

The prawns are fed high-quality diets with specific genetic selection and bioenergetic models employed to achieve steady production.

The technology is said to be responsible for creating very large prawns.

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