Fisheries in Africa: a gloomy situation?

Lake Malawi chambo

“Chambo”, freshly caught in Lake Malawi

For some 200 million Africans fish is the main source of animal protein. This is one third of the continent’s population.  10 million Africans, many of them artisans, are directly depended on fisheries for their livelihoods. On top of this, fish is one of Africa’s prime export products, contributing significantly to some of the national economies.

These facts alone should make evident that fisheries have a significant social and economic value. So, it is the more surprising, that scant attention is paid to how fisheries can push Africa’s agricultural development.

“But why is that?” That is the question I asked Msekiwa Matsimbe, Aquaculture and Fisheries Scientist, working with the NEPAD Regional Fish Node in Malawi. NEPAD is the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a body of the African Union aimed to eradicate poverty and create economic growth.

A growing appetite for fish

“What we see is that the supply of fish cannot longer meet the demand”, Msekiwa explains. “In the past three or four decades many factors have disturbed the balance. The population has grown and demand has also risen, from urban consumers, who are becoming richer and now can afford to buy more fish, as well as from developed rural communities.
Many marine and inland fisheries have been over-exploited, because of both local and foreign fishers; some inland fisheries have declined because of pollution and environmental degradation.”

These issues have been sidelined up until now, as fisheries were rarely incorporated in any of the main agricultural development programs and policies such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Attempts to change this have only started recently, but building the much needed capacities to acquire change will need time.

Running out of time

But how much time is there? To keep up with the present levels of consumption, as the population grows, fish harvest will have to increase. As there are only few possibilities to increase the harvest from Africa’s coastal fisheries, aquaculture seems to be left as the one plausible alternative.  While worldwide 35 percent of fish production already comes from aquaculture, in sub-Saharan Africa it’s only 3 percent.

Aquaculture in Domasi Zomba Malawi

Aquaculture in Domasi ( Zomba, Malawi)

“The slow development has been there for several reasons”, explains Matsimbe. “We are mainly lacking adequate technologies and human capacities for research. We lack advisory services in the development of relevant management strategies and policies. What we need here is strong North-South and South-South cooperation. We need better collaboration and draw lessons from leading aquaculture countries such as China.”

And certainly there is a great potential to learn from Asian countries, including China, on aquaculture and methods such as integrated fish farming systems. But looking around Africa will give you great examples too.

Ghana for instance has been promoting aquaculture actively for almost two decades. The government has been pushing the development of the sector by setting up institutions that are responsible for developing fisheries and aquaculture policy as well as directing and establishing research priorities; the objective there has been to produce enough fish to cover 60 percent of the protein intake of Ghanians.

Not as gloomy as it might seem

So maybe the situation for fisheries in Africa is not a gloomy as it might seem at a first glance. It is clear that the development of the aquaculture sector is an important aspect to improve the livelihoods of millions of Africans. But to achieve this certain conditions have to be fulfilled.

“There is huge potential. We see many farmers getting more and more interested in aquaculture”, Matsimbe tells me. “In some of the areas where we are having pilot projects, other farmers see how well aquaculture works and also want to get involved. This is great, but we also need to improve governance and management systems. We need to make sure the sector development is included in general agricultural development plans. Apart from aquaculture, we also need to better protect the capture fisheries to manage and maintain their contribution to livelihoods, and to protect coastal and freshwater environments…”

Blogpost by Anna Deinhard (IWMI), in cooperation with Msekiwa Matsimbe (NEPAD Regional Fish Node), two of the AASW social reporters
Pictures courtesy WorldFish (Patrick Dugan/Asafu Chijere)

9 thoughts on “Fisheries in Africa: a gloomy situation?

  1. We are very thanks for this exciting documents which highlite the trends of fisheries sector in Africa but there is paradox that despite the fact that africa have been endowed with abundance of fishries resources still fisheries communities are poor on top of that on those areas where few experties are in place they are not emporewed which is paramount to push foward development.

  2. Interesting article. In Cameroon according to statistics published by the government, the national annual fish production has been evaluated at 180.000 tonnes, though the demand is rated between 280.000 and 320.000 tonnes. For over ten years, fish production in Cameroon remained stagnant around 120.000 tonnes. The Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries recognizes that the production is low due to the lack of adequate fishing materials, modern techniques of fish production and conservation are not available. Not only are fishermen in Cameroon aged, but there is little interest by the youths in the sector.
    The minister revealed that the government has plans to develop projects that would in the future close the deficit gap. Some of these projects include: the project for the reduction of loss during fish capture, the promotion of fish ponds, the project to improve the state of fish health products .
    What about projects implements by your governments or organisations to solve the problem of fishery ?

  3. of course even on those areas where yet some of the fisheries exeperties are in place especially in aquaculture section they are not empowered to enhance accomplishment of ready scheduled projects which retard rapid development of the sector. From that scenario we should priotize the sector on the platform concerned to ensure highly resource allocation on the fisheries sector prior to push forwad rapid development of the sector. Am from Tanzania.

  4. The new CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish is working in Egypt, where fish is an important source of dietary protein, to improve aquaculture value chains and boost aquaculture productivity. Participatory risk analysis tools are being used to assess the safety of farmed tilapia and provide assurance to consumers that the fish is safe to eat. In 2012, over 600 farmers in Egypt were provided with packages of ‘best aquaculture management practices’ to help them improve productivity and provide assurance of product safety.

  5. Pingback: Fisheries in Africa: a gloomy situation? | Riso...

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