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.