The Gambia continues to face escalating food and nutrition deficits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). As in most African countries, improved agriculture practices ensure food security, while agriculture itself is a prime source of income generation and poverty reduction for many rural households living below the poverty line.
Aquaculture, or fish-farming, is another source of employment that contributes to food security and nutrition. The Food and Agriculture Sector Development Project (FASDEP) in The Gambia, which was financed by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) Trust Funds with implementation supervised by the African Development Bank (AfDB), is geared towards contributing to improved nutritional standards in rural areas, creating employment and generating supplementary income in rural communities, through fish pond farming schemes. Zacharia Senghore, the "captain of fishermen", as he is called locally in The Gambia, is one dedicated fish farmer, who owns seven consecutive monoculture tilapia fish ponds, each measuring 200 square metres, in the village of Lamin.
Senghore was inspired by a documentary film of others implementing a fish-farming project. "I said if others did it, I know that I can also do it," he said. Determined, he started by building his own fish ponds benefiting from the freshwater flows of the Gambia River and feeding fish by himself. Later, he called on his son Malick, 22. Unfortunately after few months he noticed that the fish started dying, and he was not able to identify the reasons. "Later on, every three days one fingerling died in the grow-out ponds. I asked myself what have I done wrong?"
Nonetheless, Senghore persisted and was able to seek assistance from FASDEP. He was introduced to the project after he wrote a letter to the Government requesting support. Soon he was contacted by the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), which was involved in the selection of associations and communities to benefit from the project. The result: With FASDEP's support, Senghore benefited from the construction of two of his seven ponds. Support from the project was a breakthrough for Senghore: "I didn't have experience. FASDEP showed me how to feed fish, constructed two ponds and gave me 1,500 tilapia fingerlings and fish nets," he said. .
Apart from individuals, FASDEP largely supports community-based pond fish-farming. Since 2015, FASDEP has supported the construction and provision of start-up gear for 45 fish ponds: 40 of which were community-based, three for schools, and two for individuals. Overall, the project will support 200 ponds. For each of the 45 fish ponds, the beneficiaries were provided with 1,500 tilapia fingerlings, foodstuff (999 one-kilogram bags), 20 nets for harvesting mature fish, 20 scoop nets, 15 fishing ropes, 1,200 floats, eight spools and lead weights (120 kg). The expected yields from one fish pond of 20 square metres, with an average mortality of 10%, a growth period of six months, and an average harvest weight of 500 grams per fish, is 675 kilograms of tilapia. With current market prices, this would bring about US $217 profit per fish pond, taking into account construction and maintenance costs.
Training for sustainability
Several communities and associations in The Gambia have expressed interest in fish-farming through applications to the office of the Regional Director for Agriculture in their regions. FASDEP prioritized training and capacity building for farmers who lack knowledge of pond management, maintenance and technical processes related to fish-farming. Training farmers in aquaculture activities aims not only to strengthen their capacities, improve their productivity and income, but also to transfer knowledge for the sustainability of aquaculture activities. Senghore is a case in point. "This year, I was invited to the training by FASDEP. I left my son here, when I came back I told him, the training I got there, we will try to apply here, but next time if there is any training you will go and learn," he said. The training targeted 35 farmers from villages with constructed fish ponds in Lower River, Central River and the West Coast regions of The Gambia. The overall objective of the training was to build the capacity of fish-farming committee members on feed preparation, management and production of fingerlings, water quality, fish health and diseases, record-keeping and all issues related to pond harvesting.
Lamin Fish Pond of Mr Senghore
Senghore's fish ponds are well-known in his village. "People come to see me. It was a dream and I am happy because my job is being recognized." His fish are now mature and ready for harvest. With the support of FASDEP, Senghore will now be able to harvest every month, and make a living for his family from the seven fish ponds he owns. He still needs to be supported by the project to expand, build more ponds and maintain a good environment for the fish (water quality, adequate size of ponds for targeted fish size, techniques, etc.). This will help him to increase profitability, enhance effectiveness and sustainability of his business. "By expanding ponds, we will create employment for others," he said.
Senghore has overcome a number of challenges and with the support of FASDEP. He is building a better life for himself and his son Malick. "The only person supporting me is my son. We usually come here at 6 in the morning until 7 in the evening. Sometimes I spend the night here. He didn't have the chance to go to the university. I said: 'Come, here is your university,'" said Senghore.
Senghore has a strong belief that his son will be able to continue working, learning and investing in aquaculture activities: "Tomorrow, when people come, my son will be the person who takes care of them, because now I am an old man and he is young."
Success, but also challenges
In spite of the progress made in aquaculture activities, the project beneficiaries are concerned about a number of challenges, including the poor harvest of fish due to uneasily recognized mortalities; poor stocking, as many of the fish that die do not actually come up to the surface; and of the vulnerability of fingerlings to predators in the grow-out ponds.
Thirty five kilograms of tilapia was harvested in Pakaliba village with an average weight of 300 grams, while in Baro Kunda and Sutukung villages, the average weight was 280 grams. One hundred and fifteen kilograms of fish was recorded in the school of Janjanbureh, with the average weight of 250 grams. For better harvest, farmers still need the support of FASDEP to protect their fish from wild animals (lizards, water birds, clawless otters, etc.), through fencing of their fish ponds. The beneficiaries were expecting improved income and benefits from the second harvest planned for November 2016.
After three years of implementation, the project has come up with recommendations to increase the income of fish farmers and enhance food security. The project intends to work out strategies to enhance profitability of the constructed fish ponds, which could be achieved through improved technical backstopping, supervision and market linkages. The experience with FASDEP also shows that the large number of people in the associations is considered an impediment to the growth of income, the management of the fish ponds and the project's sustainability. For the remaining period of the project, FASDEP will be targeting associations with few members and/or committed individuals with experience in aquaculture. The success will be then easy to scale up and expand to other villages within The Gambia.