Nelly Bassily | August 25, 2008
At the Lubumbashi zoo in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, tucked behind a tiger enclosure, you’ll find the Centre for Aquaculture Research. It’s a small cluster of ponds for breeding stock – mostly tilapia and catfish. And it’s at the centre of efforts to rebuild the region’s fish farming industry.
Jules Luwamba is the head researcher at the centre. He explains that there were 8,000 fishponds operating in the region prior to the civil war. During the war, more than half were abandoned. The goal of the centre is to restore all of the fishponds and keep them running.
About 30 kilometres from the city of Lubumbashi are some of the fish farms that the Centre for Aquaculture Research supports. In the small town of Kipushi, 150 women have dug rearing ponds, which they now operate. They purchase tilapia fry and raise them to a size of 600 grams. Tilapia is a favourite Congolese food, so the fisherwomen have no trouble finding buyers in their village. All of these women are rebuilding their lives following the civil war, which ended in 2003. Most are widows, resettled refugees, and former combatants. Through fish farming, they earn enough to support their families.
But there are still not nearly enough locally raised fish to meet demand. Last February alone, the province of Haut-Katanga imported more than 2,000 tonnes of dried, smoked, and salt-cured fish.
As the country recovers from war, there are many obstacles for fish farmers to overcome. Fish theft is common. In Quartier Congo, on the outskirts of Lubumbashi, so many fish were stolen from fish farms that seven farm associations abandoned their aquaculture ponds in favour of vegetable beds. Poor roads also make it difficult for some to get their fish to market.
Still, the potential of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s fish industry has attracted the attention of local and international development organizations. The World Bank is supporting the coastal villages of Moanda and Nsiamfumu to restore once vibrant fish markets. Last year, 60 leaders from Congolese fisher associations attended a World Bank sponsored training program. They learned new fishing techniques, as well as methods to preserve fish with smoke and salt. The association members were also trained to organize local fishers and preserve fish stocks.
Assani Bin Assani is president of a fishers’ group known as the Association for the Development of Fishing and Youth Training. He said: “we need this type of training because our life depends on fishing.”