More than a hundred women are singing on the riverbank near the Gado refugee camp in eastern Cameroon. It is harvest day and many refugees are here at the fish pond to buy fish. Among the fish sellers is Christine Mboula, a 31-year-old mother from the Central African Republic. She has been living in the camp for two years. She says she will sell some of her catch and take the rest home for her family.
Two hundred women refugees from the United Nations camp manage this fish pond by the river. They supply fish not only to people in the camp but also to surrounding villages.
Mrs. Mboula says the fish farm has kept her family going. She used to be unemployed and unable to provide for her three children. Her husband died in the fighting back home. In the camp, she and her children relied on food aid from the United Nations, which she says was never enough.
The Central African Republic plunged into turmoil in 2013 when an armed group overthrew the government, setting off a wave of fighting. Hundreds of thousands of people fled for safety.
Boniface Nyado is head of the World Food Program or WFP in the eastern Cameroon town of Bertoua. He says the WFP started the aquaculture program in June 2017 to help Central African refugees and their host communities become more self-sufficient.
He says the WFP noticed that the area had high potential for fish production and, at the same time, both local residents and refugees needed more food, especially protein. Mr. Nyado says the WFP brought 200 refugees and local residents together to work on the fish project for six months. They invited the host communities to participate in order to minimize any potential conflicts between the two groups over water and other resources.
After the six-month training, the refugees and local residents constructed their own fish ponds to raise revenue and nutritious food.
The WFP teaches the refugees and local residents technical skills such as how to produce low-cost fish food. They also teach business practices, such as savings and loans.
A year ago, barely 1,000 Central African refugees lived at the Gado camp. By October 2017, there were 25,000.
Allegra Baiocchi is resident coordinator of the UN system in Cameroon. She says the aquaculture program supports and empowers the refugees so they are less dependent on overstretched UN resources that are slow to reach them.
She explains: “Our response is underfunded. We need to remember the refugee population and the impact this has on the host communities and we need to do more…. After three years, the people are asking us to give them more long-term support—to start putting them on the path of recovery and of development.”
The UN says at least 540,000 Central Africans have sought refuge in Cameroon and neighbouring countries as tensions continue in the Central African Republic. Another 690,000 are displaced within the borders of their own country.
This story was adapted from an article titled “Fish Farming Project Helps CAR Refugees Feed Themselves” published by Voice of America. To read the original article, please see: https://www.voanews.com/a/fish-farming-car-refugees/4163672.html
File photo from VOA: Refugees in eastern Cameroon