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New opportunities? Aquaculture for developing urban markets

Earthen pond systems in Dar es Salaam area, Tanzania (University of Sterling)
Earthen pond systems in Dar es Salaam area, Tanzania
University of Sterling

In urban and peri-urban African centres, such as Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Kampala or Cape Town, there is evidence of emerging aquaculture activity using various systems and environments. In these and other conurbations, planners, entrepreneurs and workers alike have recognised the potential of aquaculture to serve expanding markets. As shown in recent work partnering the DFID Aquaculture and Fish Genetics Research Programme (AFGRP), WorldFish Center (WFC) and national research teams, this change is essentially market-driven rather than the result of traditional forms of technical promotion, which have rarely succeeded in stimulating growth. Subject to conducive investment conditions, knowledge of local resources and markets, the prospect of growth in aquatic food across sub-Saharan Africa might now become more realistic, with positive impacts on employment and income for producers and food access for consumers. There are particular implications in addressing poverty issues, with potential to produce long-term opportunities for poor urban and peri-urban communities.

In recent years these opportunities have been taken up by a growing group of educated or skilled people, who have access to required resources. However, such developments are not without their challenges. Affordable finance, collateral, land security and theft are still fundamental constraints and could be critical in limiting opportunities for the poorer and landless groups. To explore the nature of change in aquaculture, its growth in urban/peri-urban areas, and the implications for addressing regional development goals, the DFID AFGRP with the WorldFish Center carried out a series of studies during 2004-05, together with partners in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Cameroon and Malawi.

The current status of urban and peri-urban aquaculture production

Findings from these studies revealed how important market-induced changes were becoming, and what this might mean to promoting aquaculture. Fish is one of the main traded commodities in cities such as Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Lagos and their peri-urban areas. Currently, most of the fish comes from capture fisheries, particularly in coastal settlements, while aquaculture is responsible for a small proportion of supply. However, in each area aquaculture was present, almost always at small-scale levels, but adapting to local circumstances. The production, which is mainly for subsistence, is generally low (10kg/100m2/yr), and most of the farmed fish is sold at the pond side, mostly to neighbours and friends. New market opportunities have stimulated development, however, with signs of increasing input and expansion. Thus in Nigeria small-scale fish farming accounts for over 70 per cent of aquaculture production, evolving from traditional to semi-intensive production. Preliminary analysis showed increasing numbers of producers in states like Lagos, due to strong demand and increasing awareness of fish profitability.

In urban areas culture practices ranged from the homestead, lower input, earth pond systems with Tilapia sp. (mostly Oreochromis niloticus or with Heterotis niloticus) in polyculture, to intensive units more commonly with monocultured African catfish (Clarias gariepinus). With rising prices for fish and local technical support, farmers are beginning to adopt concrete/fibre tanks with flow-through or water recirculation systems (WRS), and simple technologies using pumice and beer crates as filter modules. Other approaches involve integrated farming linking fish ponds with poultry rearing, By contrast, in the Western Cape Province in South Africa, targeting higher value export species such as abalone or trout has only recently shifted to looking at local market opportunities.

In Lagos, as in Kampala or Dar es Salaam, most market areas are not specialised for sale of fish, the fish section comprising a small part of the major market. In Cape Town the situation is different; in South Africa fishing companies have developed the infrastructure to sell retail, while other markets have been set up by small-scale fishers and informal traders. In all areas studied, trading places generally lacked legislative control and amenities such as water supply and cold storage facilities, though in some local municipalities e.g. Grabouw in South Africa, new facilities for fish trade have been set up.

Developing the environment for aquaculture

Undoubtedly, increasing urban demand for live and fresh fish is generating renewed interest in aquaculture in many African countries. With potentially a more assured supply of fish from aquaculture and better prospects of maintaining quality, opportunities may grow for smallholders in surrounding rural areas. Evidence from related WorldFish studies in Cameroon have confirmed this impact and emphasised the particular advantages of production within the immediate vicinity of urban markets, where low transport costs, input choices and competition among buyers offer clearly better returns for small-scale producers.

If aquaculture is to meet local demand, producers will have to consider their comparative advantage and engage in a strategy for promoting public acceptance of aquaculture products, while containing production costs to compete effectively with wild caught fish and other protein sources. However, current expectations are for fish prices to rise. In the longer term, increased production may lower prices, making fish more affordable.

The current policy environment is generally favourable for aquaculture development though many countries lack specific guidelines, mandates at local government level are contradictory, and financial mechanisms are lacking. Given the apparent market-driven change, there is an emerging need to sensitise agencies towards creating a positive development climate for producers and consumers alike, while ensuring that resources production and quality standards are appropriately safeguarded. In recognition of these trends, and to provide a positive response, the 2005 NEPAD 'Fish for All' summit in Abuja, Nigeria developed an initial strategy framework.

Written by: Giorgia Monti & Krishen Rana, University of Stirling and Simon Heck, WorldFish Center

Date published: November 2005


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