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SENEGAL: Fish Farming Breathes New Life Into Rural Economy

DAKAR, Jul 22 2011 (IPS) - July signals the start of three months of intense activity for residents of the seven villages around the small dam at Sébi Ponty. The dam was stocked with tilapia in 2006, and aquaculture is proving to be a vital economic activity for youth in the area.

July signals the beginning of three months of intense activity for residents of the seven villages around the small dam at Sébi Ponty. The dam was stocked with tilapia in 2006, and aquaculture is proving to be a vital economic activity for youth in the area.

Approaching the water, one hears the the young workers singing while they pull powerfully on their fishing nets. As they draw the nets tight, gleaming fish leap to escape the tightening mesh, to the delight of a host of children watching on the banks.

In October, fishing in the dam will be forbidden for two or three months to allow stocks to reproduce before another period of harvest from December to February.

The dam – 500 metres long, 400 metres wide and around four metres deep – was stocked with 17 tonnes of tilapia hatchlings five years ago. According to the ANA (Senegal’s National Aquaculture Agency), it now yields 50 kilogrammes of fish per day during the twice-yearly fishing season. The operation is handled by a cooperative enterprise involving 300 local youth.

One of those pulling in the nets, 20-year-old Pape Ndaw, says that since the dam’s rehabilitation in 2006 by the local department of agricultural engineering, many families have come to depend on the fishery.

“In addition to aquaculture, this pond also serves diverse agriculture and livestock activities in the area,” Ndaw told IPS. “I earn more than 120,000 CFA francs (around 270 dollars) per month when there’s a good catch. I’m supporting my elderly parents as well as my own young family.”

Ndaw said the work at the dam is his only employment. “But during the off-season of two or three months in order when the fish are allowed to reproduce, I keep myself busy with poultry at the house.”

Anita Diagne Diouf, 30, says the fishery offers real alternatives to the area’s young people who often respond to the high cost of living by joining an exodus towards the capital, Dakar.

“We [the women] are the vendors of fish products… We share the income and get the same amount as the men,” Diouf told IPS. “During the off-season, when the men work with animals or repairing nets ahead of the new fishing season, we turn to winnowing grain and doing maintenance on the livestock pens.”

Aquaculture, according to Awa Guèye, the official representative of the youth employed at the pond, first of all meets the food needs of families, and secondly provides a source of income.

“Previously, women were forced to go as far as Rufisque, more than 20 kilometres from Sébi Ponty, to get fish to cook,” she told IPS.

According to experts at the ANA, however, the dam has several obstacles to overcome, including training for users, improved availability of equipment for the fishing cooperative, and better access to credit. But the chief challenge is the co-existence of various users.

The president of the dam’s management committee, Amadou Camara, explains that in addition to fish, the pond plays an important role in horticulture and livestock rearing.

“The market gardeners use water from the dam. The herders bring their animals here to drink, especially during the dry season. This often creates tension between us, the managers of the dam, and the herders or farmers,” he said.

One worrying sign of poor coordination amongst users is that the dam is filling with sand. Mamadou Ngom heads an ANA unit focused on popularising and improving the value of dams like Sébi Ponty’s, and he says siltation could threaten the dam’s role as an economic pillar for this area.

“This problem is caused by overexploitation of the water; the market gardeners in the area have to stop pumping water for irrigation,” Ngom told IPS.

“Add to this the lack of fishing gear, of proper conservation of the fish, and of access to finance for the operators… The fishing cooperative needs canoes, nets, and screens to prevent the fish escaping, especially during the flood period,” he said.

Babacar Ndao, the national minister with responsibility for small-scale water reservoirs, says the government will soon begin dredging sand from the dam. “We are aware that the dam is a multipurpose one, used at once by gardeners, herders, subsistence farmers and aquaculturists, hence the urgency of clearing it out in order to sustain it,” he says.

Ndao says that the practice of drip irrigation, which helps farmers make more efficient use water, will be introduced with development assistance from Israel.

“Further, the government will launch a programme to improve the equipment and reinforce training of the various classes of users.” he added.

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