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Senegal: Tilapia producers seek new sources of fish fry and food

Abdoulaye Diop sits on the edge of his fish tank in the middle of a bare and fading orchard. Silent and feeling lost, he looks to the sky as if searching for answers.

He says, “This is my life, a waste of effort… All this is a real mess.”

Abandoned fish tanks, an empty pond, streaks of rust on the concrete, and not a drop of water in the tanks. The place is dilapidated.

Abdoulaye Diop is 70 years old. A retired shopkeeper, he took up fish farming three years ago after a six-month training in France. A government subsidy gave him access to a site to raise tilapia in Mboro village, two hours from Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Ocean fisheries are declining, which makes fish farming an attractive alternative for countries like Senegal. A 2014 study estimated that each Senegalese eats an average of 26 kilograms of fish per year.

Mr. Diop built three tanks of 15 cubic metres each, drilled a borehole, and installed a solar pump to supply the fish tanks and irrigate the fruit trees.

In 2016, Senegal’s national aquaculture association gave Mr. Diop tilapia fry for his three tanks. Every four months he produced 400 kg of fish, which he sold at the village market and to wholesalers. In eight months, he earned about a million CFA francs, or US$1900.

The aquaculture association is a public agency that donates fry to beginner and small-scale fish farmers. Many don’t have the means to buy fry, or don’t have the technical capacity to produce their own.

Encouraged, Mr. Diop invested part of his income in building a second borehole and a 150 square metre pond.

“I was happy… and right away I prepared and fertilized the pond and my tanks to be ready for the fry,” he says bitterly. But in the end, he did not receive the fry. Administrative problems at the aquaculture association stalled fry production and distribution.

Without fry, Mr. Diop stopped his production. The borehole is out of service. The batteries connected to the solar panels broke down due to lack of maintenance.

He says: “I wanted to be self-sufficient in water and electricity, [and] to reduce production costs in order to make the project profitable quickly. But now, with the lack of fry and without water or electricity, I can’t continue farming fish. I’m at my wits’ end.”

Mamadou Seck is an accomplished poultry farmer in his 60s. In 2014, he launched an aquaculture operation on his 32-hectare farm in Ndiar, in the Thiès region two hours from Dakar.

He raises mostly tilapia in a 3,000-cubic-metre tank, and produces 1,500 kg per four-month production cycle, for an average annual income of five million CFA francs (US$9,400).

This morning, he’s taking over for an employee and feeding the fish himself.

But Mr. Seck has another problem: his supply of fish food.

He says: “Look, when I throw the food in, it goes right down to the bottom of the water instead of floating. That’s a sign that it’s not good quality. And when it sinks, it also affects the water quality and that’s not good for the fish.”

When fish food settles to the bottom of the tank, the fish don’t eat enough. So Mr. Seck has to use more, which is a major expense.

He feeds his fish every morning and evening, between 10 and 15 kilograms of food a day. A kilo of imported, good quality fish food costs 700 CFA francs (US$1.30). So he spends up to 315,000 CFA francs (about US$600) per month on fish food.

To save money, he often buys feed made locally by the aquaculture association. It costs 500 CFA francs per kilo (about US$1), but the quality isn’t as good as the imported food, and it doesn’t float.

The association doesn’t have an extruder, a tool that makes fish food buoyant, which is better for tilapia because they feed at the surface.

Mr. Seck is building a fish food plant that will produce up to 5,000 tonnes per year. He says that should be enough to supply all of Senegal’s fish farmers.

He also had problems with his supply of fish fry. So he is building a hatchery on his farm with technical support from the national aquaculture association.

Abdoulaye Djiba teaches at the University of Dakar and specializes in tilapia production and the manufacturing of fish food. He says that sustainable development of the aquaculture sector depends on the regulation and availability of fish food. He adds: “It’s impossible to develop aquaculture without solving the problem of fish food. I had developed a fish food made only of local products such as millet flour and groundnut cake. But the challenge is to make it float.”Mr. Djiba encourages private companies to invest in aquaculture, which he says is a big opportunity.

Photo: Mamadou Seck