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close this book SPORE No. 21 - January 1989
View the document Pisciculture : a growth industry?
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Pisciculture : a growth industry?

Pisciculture has not been developed in any major way in Africa. A few ponds have been constructed in some savannah lands, cages have been set up in rivers, enclosures have been built to try and exploit the potential of the lagoons but, at present, the production of "farmed" fish has not risen above the 50,000 tonne mark. This is not much as a fraction of the 45 million tonnes of fish caught in Africa. But these first, tentative efforts show signs of considerable future Potential.

In Benin, in the shallow waters of Lake Nokoue, the fishermen build circular enclosures from tens to hundreds of centimetres in diameter, just as their fathers did before them. These are the famous "acadjas" of the West African coast. The lake-dwellers, who are pisciculturists in the true sense of the word, place all kinds of vegetable matter inside these enclosures, including leaves and branches. The fish flock into these traps, which form a giant hoop-net offering them food and shelter. The branches provide an ideal environment where the fish can hide, for reproduction and egg-laying and the vegetable matter provides food as it decomposes. Once a year the fishermen harvest the fruit of their year's labour - to the beat of the drums, which gives a sort of carnival atmosphere. The time they spend beside their acadjas is well worthwhile - up to five tonnes of fish per hectare can be caught in the nets.

These Lake Nokoue fishermen probably don't realize that they are just about the only fisherfolk of the entire African continent to be carrying on a tradition of pisciculture: the Benin acadjas are the nearest thing to true fish farms to be found in Africa. There are, of course, many skilful and competent fishermen in countries such as Mali but fishing is not the same thing as fish-farming: the production figures prove that. At best, traditional fishing can catch a few hundred kilos/ha, but usually it is much less. But the yields of pisciculture are measured in tonnes per hectare.

Unlike the traditions of pisciculture in China or other parts of Asia, which are so ancient that the ponds have become part of the landscape, the rearing of fish in Africa is a relatively recent import. It was probably the Belgians who developed it first in Zaire to solve food shortages during the Second World War. The idea was sufficiently successful that the innovation was tried in neighbouring countries where some ponds were dug in the next few years.

But the experiment flopped - either from lack of experience or lack of skill. The ponds were often poorly built and too far from the villages to be properly maintained and supervised, and their limitations soon became apparent. Successful pisciculture depends on a basic understanding of pond construction and maintenance, vigilance on water levels (permanent freshwater creeks are not too plentiful - especially in the Sudan), knowledge of the fish to be reared, their peculiarities, needs and weaknesses.

For this reason, specialist organizations such as FAO or CIRAD CTFT (Centre Technique Forestier Tropical) of the Canadian CRDI (Centre de Recherches pour le Developpement International) have set up important research programmes, notably on rearing structures and also on which fish are best suited to aquaculture. Several projects which put into practice the different methods thought suitable for African pisciculture have been set up and are now producing fish.