This article is based on the report "Supporting Aquaculture Development: Aquatic Farming Systems Information Network. A report prepared for the Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service, FAO Fisheries Department, by A.G. Coche and J. Collins in collaboration with A. Ziehi. FAO. 1997. 18p+5 annexes (in press).


André G. Coche1 and Mario Pedini2

1 Consultant,
2Senior Adviser
(Aquaculture Development)
Fishery Resources Division


FAO, in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa and the European Commission (DG XII), launched in 1992 a Regional Study on Aquaculture Development and Research in sub-Saharan Africa, in the context of the Strategy for International Fisheries Research (SIFR). Details of the study were presented by the second author in an earlier issue of FAN (Pedini 1994). The resulting synthesis of information presented in 12 national reviews on development and research needs provided the basis for proposing an indicative action plan for aquaculture research in sub-Saharan Africa (Coche et al 1994; Coche 1994). The action plan was discussed with representatives of the countries at the Second Session of the Working Party on Aquaculture of the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA) which was held in Harare, Zimbabwe, in September 1993, and subsequently at the main Session of the CIFA which endorsed the proposed plan.

The action plan was aimed to alleviate constraints identified in the regional study through collaborative regional research. The plan included eight regional research programmes which were identified and ranked in order of priority (Table 1), plus a supporting regional information programme to serve the eight research programmes. The analysis carried out in the study indicated that documentation of aquaculture research and access to aquaculture information in Africa were inadequate, limiting the scope, quality and utility of aquaculture research activities. Information collection, storage and dissemination through networking was considered essential for future development of aquaculture in Africa and thus became a top priority programme of the action plan.


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The overall objective of the information programme was the collection, storage and dissemination of aquaculture information at closely linked centres established in anglophone and francophone Africa. The idea was to have two information lead centres which would represent the two main official languages of Africa, English and French, that would be located in different geographic regions. The two lead centres would be linked to one another and to a network of satellite centres in various countries. The information programme would directly strengthen existing capabilities and literature collections at the selected centres of the network, and would establish links to exchange information with the major international information centres on aquaculture located in Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

The formulation mission

Unfortunately, support from donors involved in the SIFR process has not materialized since the meeting of the Second Working Party on Aquaculture of the CIFA. Therefore, in 1996, the Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service of the FAO Fisheries Department decided to start the implementation of the action plan with the resources available to it. A formulation mission to sub-Saharan Africa was organized, with financial support from the FAO Partnership Programme and a UNDP TSS-1 project for formulation of SIFR - related projects, to establish the Aquatic Farming Systems Information Network for Africa.

Sites Visited (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Countries visited by the mission


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Guiding Principles and Objectives

The mission was planned with the following guiding principles in mind:
coverage of as many of the five sub-Saharan agro-ecological regions as possible;
coverage of both francophone and anglophone regions;
emphasis on existing institutions;
emphasis on existing databases;
interest in information related to aquatic farming systems, aquaculture research and development aspects;
central focus on fish production through small to medium-scale freshwater aquaculture and the management of small water bodies.
access to information related to all other components of the production system, such as producers, vegetal/animal crops, and external factors influencing development in general.

The specific objectives of the mission were:
to visit some of the existing institutions previously identified as potential contributors to an information network on aquatic farming systems;
to ascertain existing interest and willingness to participate in the network;
to evaluate the resources (infrastructure, trained staff, equipment, collections and networking activities) available at each of these institutions as a potential contribution to the information network;
to identify possible ways for activating the proposed information network at the regional (sub-Saharan) level;
to formulate a project to support the establishment of the network.

In October-November 1996, a mission of three experts (Dr. A.G. Coche, Mission Leader and retired FAO Officer; J. Collins, FAO staff and A. Ziehi of IDESSA
(Institut des Savanes, Côte d'Ivoire) visited the following institutions:

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Côte d'Ivoire:
- Centre de Recherches Océanologiques and future
   RECOSCIX-CEA, in Abidjan;
- IDESSA, in Bouaké;
- West African Rice Development Association, in Bouaké;
- INFOPECHE, in Abidjan;

- Institut du Sahel/RESADOC, in Bamako;
- Ministère du Développement Rural et de l'Environ-nement, in    Bamako;
- Institut d' Economie Rurale, in Bamako;

- University of Ibadan, in Ibadan;

- Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, in Mombasa;
- RECOSCIX-WIO Project (Belgium/IOC), in Mombasa;

- Bunda College of Agriculture, in Bunda near Lilongwe;
- SADC/IFS Documentation Centre, in Lilongwe;

- ALCOM Programme, in Harare;
- Department of National Parks and Wildlife
Management, in Harare;
- Ministry of Agriculture, Central Library, in Harare;

South Africa:
- J.L.B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology, in Grahamstown,
Eastern Cape;
- Rhodes University, in Grahamstown.

Mission findings

In most of the countries, there is a continuing loss of institutional memory due to the fast turnover of responsible personnel and frequent administrative reorganizations coupled with the absence of a central repository for information on aquatic farming systems at national or sub-regional level. Documentation of past research programmes and development project activities become rapidly inaccessible to most researchers and developers. It may even disappear from the country after a few years only.
The differences between the individual libraries, even within countries, are substantial in terms of facilities, collections and access to information. However, some general comparisons can be made between the

libraries in the geographical sub-regions and between the francophone and anglophone countries. Most notable is the advantageous position of those libraries in Eastern and Southern Africa in terms of:

size of current collection and availability of a budget in order to maintain acquisitions;
library facilities and equipment;
level of professional education and training of library staff;
significant donor funding for information activities.

Within the sub-region there are substantially better library resources in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the only countries with full Internet connectivity and access to external electronic information. Here also are the only libraries actually subscribing to current CD ROM databases.

Despite the relative disadvantages of those libraries in Western and Sahelian francophone countries, with respect to the above parameters, there are many important information and documentation activities undertaken by all the libraries visited in the entire region. These include :

active participation in coordination of national and, often, regional or international information networks;
organization, management and retrieval of information using PC-based software (Micro CDS/ISIS is used in all the countries visited, except in South Africa);
provision of information services to a broad user community, including external users, in the subject areas relevant to development and research in aquatic farming systems. In most cases the libraries have direct access to agricultural CD ROMs (mainly donor-supplied), but even those libraries without CD ROMs are availing of search facilities at other institutions on behalf of users; 
participation in regional or international training programmes, often with donor support; many libraries are now involved in providing training.

In general, the differences in the physical facilities and budgets of the libraries are enormous, but the types of activities and information services have many features in common. It is also a common experience that the libraries, even the wealthier ones, rely more and more on access to external information sources and on the sharing of resources. Budgetary constraints and the increasing amount of information available at ever increasing cost, particularly in a subject area with the

breadth of aquatic farming systems, make it impossible for libraries to acquire all of the relevant publications necessary to satisfy user demand.

The lack of access to the results and findings of research between the different sub-regions and between the anglophone and francophone countries is a major obstacle to development. The barrier separating the anglophone and francophone regions is a consequence of not only linguistic problems but also the distribution pattern of information. Research and development activities and problems in one sub-region are mostly ignored in the other, and ignorance of information older than 20 years in the   language is practically total among young researchers and developers. Other factors contribute to poor access to information:

development of aquaculture/aquatic farming systems is at a relatively early stage;
there is a lack of information flow between institutions;
research results are mainly published as grey literature, and are not being collected/disseminated by readily available information systems, if at all.

Without exception, there exists a keen and genuine interest in the establishment of a specialized network promoting information exchange on research programmes/results and development projects/approaches related to aquaculture and all related matters.

The Aquatic Farming System Information Network for Africa

Taking into account the above findings, and the need to support the priority research programmes that make up the aquaculture research action plan for sub-Saharan Africa (see first section of this article), as well as to facilitate future aquaculture development activities in general, the mission recommended the establishment of a regional network between those institutions in sub-Saharan Africa with programmes and information resources relevant to aquatic farming systems. In order to be effective and sustainable, this information network should:

be based on existing francophone and anglophone institutions;
be built on existing networking experience;
be geographically diversified, involving as many of the five agro-ecological sub-regions as possible;


provide its information on an exchange basis as far as possible;
actively promote regular personal contacts between its staff members;
be equipped with reliable, simple equipment, easily serviced locally;
be able to rely on efficient communication facilities;
have a multidisciplinary approach to information, addressing the production system as a whole.

It is proposed that the Aquatic Farming Systems Information Network for Africa be initially composed of two coordinating lead centres (Côte d'Ivoire & Malawi) and eight satellite centres, of which three are francophones (Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Sahel) and five are anglophones (Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, ALCOM/SADC, South Africa). The network could be progressively expanded within Africa as other libraries join in. Links with information centres and networks in Asia, Europe and North America could also be envisaged at that time.

The main objectives of the network should be to:

stimulate the collection and organization of information relevant to aquatic farming systems at sub-regional level;
improve access to and dissemination of existing information resources;
harmonize the tools and methodologies for sharing this information throughout the region;
train and share the expertise of professional staff by means of courses, workshops, meetings and bulletins; 
ensure that the results of research and development activities are incorporated into international as well as regional information systems;
ensure that repositories of relevant publications are available in the sub-regions;

produce bibliographic outputs which will benefit users in the whole region.

Technical and financial assistance is being identified to initially strengthen the proposed francophone coordination centre and to initiate regional networking activities on aquatic farming systems information in sub-Saharan Africa as outlined in the mission's project proposal. The project proposed by the mission to establish the network is made up of four phases with a total duration of eighteen months, and will be based at IDESSA. The first phase, to strengthen existing resources, will appoint a project coordinator and provide advance training at FAO headquarters, as well as purchase and install equipment and organize the IDESSA Lead Center.

The second phase will be a workshop for network members in which the network will be formally constituted. This workshop, which is to be convened at Bunda College of Agriculture (the anglophone Lead Center) near Lilongwe, Malawi, will also review the inventories of information relevant to aquatic systems research/development , establish personal contacts between all members of the network , decide on coverage and network objectives, activities and output which should be reflected in the Constitution of the Network Document, consolidate a multidisciplinary Union Catalogue of relevant periodical holdings (current/ non current) in the whole region, and initiate the production of a Directory of Information Resources on Aquatic Farming Systems in the region.

The third phase of the project will be the implementation of the activities agreed at the workshop by network participants, while the fourth phase will summarize the results obtained, prepare plans for the future and elaborate proposal for further assistance if required.


1. Pedini, M. 1994. FAO and the Strategy for International Fisheries Research (SIFR): The aquaculture component. FAO Aquaculture Newsletter (Fan), April 1994, No. 6:7-10.
2. Coche, A.G., B. Haight and M. Vincke. 1994. Aquaculture development and research in sub-Saharan Africa. Synthesis of national reviews and indicative action plan for research. CIFA Technical Paper No. 23. Rome, FAO. 1994. 151 p.
3. Coche, A.G. (ed). 1994. Aquaculture development and research in sub-Saharan Africa. National reviews. CIFA Technical Paper No. 23, Suppl. Rome, FAO. 1994. 397 P.