Young Ivorians Fishing Big Profits out of Small Ponds
ABIDJAN, Apr 6 2012 (IPS) – Mathieu Djessan looks over the four-hectare expanse of fish ponds with satisfaction. The aquaculture enterprise the 29-year-old runs here near the town of Tiassalé in southern Côte d’Ivoire is quickly proving profitable.
“When we harvest them in May, it will be our third batch of fish in 13 months. We sold the first two lots to reach maturity between December 2011 and February 2012: 5,500 carp and 4,900 catfish. Despite major losses of fry – juvenile fish – we pocketed more than five million francs CFA (around 10,000 dollars),” Djessan told IPS.
Djessan manages three fish ponds along with three friends, here 120 kilometres northwest of the Ivorian commercial capital, Abidjan. Each pond holds 6,000 carp and catfish, growing fat on rice bran.
The four partners started the project with money they scraped together between them, combined with 4,000 dollars borrowed from several private benefactors. They say they’ve already repaid their debt.
“We needed to find something to do to make ends meet,” said Chantal Aya, 26, one of Djessan’s project partners. “So we chose to invest in what looked like a promising sector, not just in this region but also in the north, centre and west of the country which often lack fish.”
Even here in the south, much closer to the ocean, over the past two years fish has seldom been available in the markets in places like Tiassalé and Sikensi. When there has been fish, brought in from Abidjan, it was too expensive for most people.
“Carp which normally costs 1,000 CFA (two dollars) was selling for nearly 2,500 CFA here,” Eugènie Logbo, a fish monger at the Tiassalé motor park or transit hub, told IPS.
Logbo’s two large tables are covered with carp. “These don’t come from Abidjan, they’re from the aquaculture ponds right around here. For two or three months now, there’s been a steady supply of fish from the ponds, and the price has become affordable. The cost of a half-kilo carp has fallen back to 1,500 CFA.”
At Bonoua, on the edge of the Aby Lagoon southeast of Abidjan, Williams Yao Brou has built two ponds covering 2.5 hectares. At the moment they’re filled with 3,800 newly-hatched fish.
Through the whole of last year he sold nearly 3,500 fish, but he expects to sell all the fish now maturing in his ponds within the next three months.
“A maintenance problem cost me 300 hatchlings, but I don’t think that will happen again,” said Yao Brou. He says he earns around 6,000 dollars per production cycle.
“This business has become more exciting as other young people start coming to me for training, and to help me… This will allow us to produce enough to make up for the occasional shortages of fish,” he told IPS.
He learned aquaculture techniques in the early 2000s, when he worked at a massive complex of ponds that were built in 1996 at Mahapleu, in the west of the country. That project, set up with finance from the African Development Bank, was abandoned in 2007 for lack of investment in the upkeep of the ponds.
In addition to supplying fishmongers at the local market, the young aquaculturists are looking for new outlets for their output. “Selling fish at the market or at motor parks won’t yield quick profits. We want to find restaurants to supply directly, so we can shift our fish faster,” said Aya, formerly a management student in Abidjan. Unable to find a job in the city, she opted for self-employment in aquaculture.
“Generally, the problem is finding start-up funds,” Yao Brou told IPS. “But young people nowadays understand the need to share their ideas and projects, and together find some small seed capital to get started.”
According to Dramé Sékongo, an agricultural engineer in Tiassalé, aquaculture requires only minimal equipment, money and know-how. “What Ivorian farmers are starting to do – especially the youth – is digging ponds in low-lying areas, alongside rice fields, to earn a bit of money. But some government support would help a bit,” he told IPS.
In March, Côte d’Ivoire and the International Fund for Agricultural Development signed a 22.5 million dollar agreement to finance a project supporting agriculture and commercialisation in three northern regions – Bouaké, Korhogo and Bondoukou.
According to an IFAD press release, the project’s goal is to help improve food security and boost incomes for small producers, particularly rural youth and women.
Co-financed by the Ivorian government, this project will be carried out by the Agriculture Ministry and IFAD expects it will bring direct and indirect benefits to more than 25,000 poor rural families.