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It’s World Day to Combat Desertification: Have you thought about fisheries today?

Photo:©FAO
Taking advantage of the floodplain fisheries in northern Cameroon, near the border with Chad

Each year, 17 June marks World Day to Combat Desertification. In most of the policy discussions surrounding the event, fisheries is absent from solutions being proposed to bolster the resilience and meet the food security needs of the 390 million people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa’s dryland regions.

As a new study shows, it is crucial that we position fisheries firmly in these discussions as an important component of an integrated livelihoods approach for vulnerable populations in these areas. This is particularly important for dryland areas, where agricultural production is extremely low.

According to Felix Marttin, FAO Fishery Resources Officer , “Rainfall in African dryland areas is unpredictable, but when it does arrive, it floods large areas that become incredibly rich in fish resources. Unfortunately, the length of time these makeshift ponds and streams last is short and extremely unpredictable, making it important to invest in better post-harvest processes and storage.

Dried, the small fish found in these temporary flood plains can be stored for long periods of time – even years – if properly processed and stored.

These tiny fish are eaten whole, and are an excellent source of proteins, vitamins, and micronutrients.”

The new publication, Fisheries in the drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa. “Fish come with the rains” explores the potential for increasing fish production in dryland areas, thereby taking advantage of these highly resilient and productive – though unpredictable – fisheries resources to the benefit of vulnerable populations.

According to Florence Poulain, FAO Fisheries Officer, fisheries experts still have much to learn about these dryland fish that are highly adaptive to the harsh conditions of these regions.

“These small fish species are highly productive, resilient and have adapted to this fluctuating environment. We believe that they hide upstream when the water dries or stay where the water is still available, so their prduction booms when it rains.”

See the full interview here:


This interesting study brings attention to an area of work which requires greater attention. Coupled with other livelihoods strategies for vulnerable populations in Sub-Saharan Africa’s drylands, fish can play a significant role in providing essential  animal protein and micro-nutrients to food insecure communities, particularly if the fish can be stored for periods when food is limited. Additionally, fisheries can play an important role in building diversified livelihoods for vulnerable communities living in the fifty percent of land comprised of drylands in Sub-Saharan Africa.

But it isn’t just fisheries that is commonly overlooked in the drylands. Forestry policies in these regions are often an afterthought. FAO has already written  about how foresters and fishers are teaming up to improve the management of both sectors in the Congo, and work that cuts across sectors provides an opportunity to  be highly effective in helping to bolster food security in vulnerable regions while diversifying livelihoods. 

Nora Berrahmouni, FAO Drylands Forestry Officer, says “Desertification can be addressed only if we work with and engage in a comprehensive and integrated manner all sectors at the same time. For example well managed and restored dryland forests, agroforestry systems and rangelands will have a positive impact in protecting water bodies and increasing fisheries production, while providing a diverse range of socio-economic options and livelihoods to local communities and producers in the drylands”.

Fishing in the drylands may sound like a paradox, but it should be considered as an important strategy to build stronger livelihoods for the 390 million Africans living in these sub-Saharan African dryland regions.

We look forward to highlighting this important issue during this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification, and to better integrate fisheries issues into future drylands work. To see the related press release, click here

A fisherman throws his net in Arikouka basin in Tera, Niger
The dry Sahelian semidesertic region around Tera, Niger. The proteins, vitamins, and micronutrients consumed in fish captured during the rainy seasons can make a major difference to the lives of these vulnerable rural communities, particularly if the fish can be dried and properly stored to be consumed throughout the year.
In Uganda, a woman dries silver fish on top of her hut near the Butyaba landing site.
Fishing in the drylands may sound like a paradox, but it should be considered as an important strategy to build stronger livelihoods for the 390 million Sub-Saharan Africans living in these areas.
Although not in a dryland area, even in areas with substantial water resources, such as the Congo, villagers are used to ‘boom’ periods in which fisheries resources multiply for short periods during the rainy season. his backwater in the rainforest surrounding the Sangha river fills up with water and fish during the rainy season, when the river overflows. The fishers create simple ponds by building small dykes, then use baskets to empty the ponds one by one to catch the fish during the dry season: fish à la corbeille.

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