Ablawa Apoin Togbeu is not afraid to try new things, even when she doesn’t know how.
For many years, Mrs. Togbeu sold fresh fish in the port of Lomé, the capital city of Togo. She explains, “I used to fish on the sea from a canoe. But it made me nervous. I had too many losses. Now I use a ‘white man’s boat’ to catch my fish.”
In recent times, seagoing boats have been landing significantly fewer fish. So in 2011, Mrs. Togbeu decided to start a fish farm to guarantee her supply. Mrs. Togbeu set up the farm, named Canne à pêche, or “fishing rod,” in her home village of Sévagan, about thirty kilometres from Lomé.
Mrs. Togbeu had no training in fish farming, and her early efforts were strictly trial and error. She hired a tractor to dig four ponds on her farm, which cost about five million West African francs [US$8,200]. She says, “I had some savings, but also took a loan … I pay it off little by little, but I have not yet finished repaying it.”
It wasn’t easy. Mrs. Togbeu explains: “After digging the ponds, I had to work out where to get my fish. I brought fish from [a nearby] lake, but that didn’t work. I didn’t know that I had to feed the fish, so they died. Then, when I restocked the ponds, villagers came after dark to fish. So when I came to fish, I caught nothing.”
Mrs. Togbeu decided her enterprise needed a manager, and hired Koffi Tchiè. Mr. Tchiè lives on-site with his wife and three-year-old child. He says, “I’m the guardian, night and day. I make the fish food and feed the fish three times a day. My role is to ensure that nobody steals the fish from the ponds.”
Mr. Tchiè enjoys his work. He explains: “Before, I didn’t know you could raise fish like sheep … I’m glad I found this out, and perhaps one day I will have the courage to do it for myself.”
In 2014, Mrs. Togbeu attended a training workshop. During the workshop, she discovered the Projet d’Appui au Secteur Agricole, or PASA. The project taught participants how to feed their fish. She adds, “PASA also gave me … fry. I put 2,000 fry in one pond. Last year, I was able to fill two ponds, but the other two remained empty because I couldn’t find enough fry.”
PASA also supplies Mrs. Togbeu with subsidized fish food. She buys a 20-kilogram bag of pellets for 5,000 francs [US$8]. The bag costs three times as much in the market.
Mrs. Togbeu spends three to four days a week at the farm. She says: “Once I have stocked a pond with fry, I can catch them after six months, if they are well enough fed. I catch some fish from time to time to see if they have grown enough. Fish should be 500-600 grams in weight before they are fished out.”
Mrs. Togbeu sells some of her fish to women who smoke them. She also sells to hotels and restaurants in Lomé. She explains, “I sell a kilogram of fish to locals for 1,500 francs, but I can get [up to] 2,500 francs from the hotels in Lomé.”
She knows that fish farming is far from easy. Mrs. Togbeu says, “Everything is difficult. Feeding the fish three times a day is not easy. Finding the ingredients to make the feeds is not easy. However, where there is a will, there is a way.”
Her dream is to expand her farm over the coming years. She says, “My goal is to redesign the ponds I have, and to create others in which I can produce fingerlings [fry] for myself.”