John Moehl

Regional Aquaculture Officer, Accra, Ghana




At the risk of being precocious, there appears to be a renaissance in aquaculture develop-ment in the Africa Region. After a noteworthy slump in the 1990s, we appear to be approaching the new millennium with a positive outlook for the region’s aquaculturists and would-be aquaculturists.

Much of the renewed interest can be attributed to FAO’s Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) which has identified aquaculture as an important activity in its diversification compo-nent. The SPFS places a strong emphasis on improved use of Africa’s important water resources. We have long known that good water managers make good fish farmers, so aquaculture is a natural fit within SPFS. Special Programme activities include aquaculture in Cameroon, the Niger, Mali, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia, to name a few.

FAO implemented projects in Kenya and the SADC Region are involved in a number of important activities and further funding for both is promising. Other aquaculture projects funded by UNDP, World Bank and a number of bi-lateral donors in such countries as Ghana, the Gambia, Rwanda, Zambia, Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire are testaments to growing interest in aqua-culture. The African Development Bank has provide a loan to Côte d’Ivoire (see section Projects and Other Activities in this issue) to develop private fish farms totalling 150 ha and plans to provide a similar loan to Gabon for revitalizing the fisheries sector, including aquaculture.

Many of the on-going projects focus on small-scale aquaculture production where a farmer will have a few ponds

africa.jpg (29511 byte)

integrated into a complex farming systems producing a variety of plant and animal products. These systems increase household food security and offer the potential for some additional income. Medium- to large-scale production is also increasing. In addition to farms in Nigeria and Zambia, a large-scale cage culture operation has begun in Zimbabwe and plans are under way to develop a shrimp farm in Gabon. Culture-based fisheries activities are also on the rise to enhance output from numerous dams in water-stressed areas of the SADC and Sahelian regions.

Across the region we can say that new aquaculture endeavours embrace some general themes:

• taking a holistic approach to aquaculture  development where fish culture is a part of a much larger agricultural mosaic;

• accepting that there is not only one preferred production system but a spectrum of systems, different ones suitable for  different categories of producer and circumstances;


• shifting from public to private sector support for inputs including a privatisation of government hatcheries and stations in favour of private fingerling suppliers;

• encouraging the formation of producer associations where farmers will have a louder voice for demanding services and be better able to address market issues;

• concentrating effort on high potential areas where there are the greatest probabilities for success;

• assisting with information exchange and networking since access to information and not the lack of the information itself is a major constraint to development;

• focusing assistance on institutional issues since weak institutions have proven to be more of a restraint than lack of technology.


Extension agencies are being rearranged across the region as Structural Adjustment Programmes are implemented. In nearly all cases the Training and Visit System (T&V) has been the extension strategy of choice within the new structures. Although its exact form changes from country to country, the basic organisation is the same: generalist extensionists at the grassroots level are supported by Subject Matter Specialists (SMS) located several levels higher in the hierarchical chain.

There are a number of permutations to this general structure. Agents may deal with farmer groups, contact farmers or individual producers. Extensionists most often are assigned to a relatively large geographic zone and travel between meetings or demonstration sites by motorcycles provided through donor assistance for the restructuring process. Frequently agents receive indemnities for fuel and maintenance as well as allowances for days spent in the field.

The fundamental premise of T&V is that farmers will advise extensionists of their needs in terms of technology and information. Agents will then provide this assistance if it falls within their technical competence. If the technical issues fall

outside their generalist background, they will notify the SMSs who will in turn provide the agents with technical training on the designated subject.

It is rare that the extensionists have specialized aquaculture qualifications; hence technical assistance on raising fish is provided directly or indirectly by the SMS. However, in the majority of systems SMSs specifically specialised in aquaculture are not foreseen, aquaculture being combined with the variety of activities covered by the animal production specialist.

The widespread adoption of T&V raises a number of important questions. Aside from the uncertainty of its long-term sustainability given high operating costs and diminishing national extension budgets, the ability of T&V to accommodate specialities such as aquaculture is unclear.

As this dilemma becomes more apparent, some countries are looking closely at modifications or alternatives to provide necessary specialised extension support to fish farmers. NGOs are being used in some sites to offer technical assistance for those disciplines not adequately incorporated into the generalist system. Other programmes are trying to focus technical support by overlaying natural endowments (e.g., water availability, soil quality, climate, etc.) and farmer priorities to identify high potential zones to which aquaculture specialists are assigned.

Another tactic has been to reply on fish farmer groups or associations. In several instances these groups have developed a critical mass to "pull" extension support to them. These organisations can operate through different mechanisms. Some groups nominate a member to attend technical sessions arranged at a central location by the extension service. The nominee then returns to inform the group of the new technical messages. Other groups contact aquaculture officers when they have need of their services, at times paying for the officer’s transport so he/she can visit the group to address their specific problems in a timely fashion.

The ultimate role of aquaculture extension within the context of a generalist extension service remains ambiguous. It appears probable that a national service dedicated solely to aquaculture extension is beyond the means of most national budgets. A compromise is necessary whereby those requiring it can receive technical assistance and aquaculture production can expand. This compromise will become more evident as different T&V systems evolve to service client needs.