Burkina Faso, 24 September 2002 -- This village deep in the dry
savannah of West Africa, bordered by ripe fields of millet and
sorghum, has a new natural resource: a lake.
The water body formed behind an earth-and-concrete dam
built with village muscle power and material help from a church
group. A permanent source of water meant farmers could cultivate
larger fields of grain and vegetables. They also had a chance to
catch the tilapia, catfish and other fish that occur naturally
in the lake. The time had come not only to learn to fish, but
also to manage the new resource so it would provide fish for
years to come.
Fisheries Livelihoods Programme was there to help. Financed by
the United Kingdom, the programme is dedicated to improving
coastal and inland fisheries, which contribute to the
livelihoods of 7 million poor people in 25 countries in West and
Central Africa. During four-to-five-day training sessions,
participants learn to think in a more sophisticated, holistic
way about all the community's "livelihoods
assets" -- skills, infrastructure, savings and so on --
for planning purposes. The goal is to let people, in partnership
with government, co-manage their own resources.
Sandogo's dam is only one of an impressive
network of 2 100 dams in the country, built in low areas to
harvest rain runoff for use during the cropping season. The
dams have been built one by one with international assistance
over the years since the devastating 1970-73 Sahelian drought
Managing fish -- and
In Sandogo, the FAO
programme contributed US$16 000 and the community US$4 000
towards the cost of boats, nets, scales, smoking ovens and
training. The villagers formed a fisheries group, now composed
of 87 men and 23 women, who meet regularly to discuss management
Getting started in the fishing
business proved to be quite an adventure.
"It was hard to learn how to fish,"
says Gabriel Sawadogo, introduced as the most successful fisher
in the village. "For example, I had to first learn how
to swim or else there is a risk of drowning if you tip the
boat." In true cooperative fashion, villagers who knew
how to swim taught non-swimmers how to stay afloat.
Then there are the crocodiles. "A child lost
his foot in an attack a while ago," says Tibo Zongo,
group president. "And the crocodiles take our fish.
Sometimes they damage our nets as they try to eat the fish that
are already caught."
the Ministry of Fisheries engineer who oversees the project,
adds that, to bring the population under control, the community
might be able to get an exemption from wildlife legislation that
protects the crocodiles.
"We've had some heated debates on the
issue," he says. "In our culture, crocodiles
are considered sacred. The villagers are now discussing whether
the crocodiles in the reservoir, which are a new population that
came down the river and into the lake, can be treated
differently from the animals found on the other side of the
village, where they have always lived," he says.
Earning money during the dry
Mr Zongo proudly shows the
group's catch records for the first five months of
operation: several thousand kilos. Villagers, who still mainly
rely on farming, can catch enough fish to smoke and sell in the
nearby capital city, Ouagadougou, and to augment their
occurs during the dry season, when the fish are concentrated in
a smaller amount of water and are easier to catch. Farmers, who
in this season often need to sell grain from their precious
stores for cash, are happy for the fish as an extra source of
revenue. The grain can now be kept as a form of insurance for
sale when emergencies arise, such as sickness in the family.
Aline Zongo recalls how village women, who
are responsible for processing the fish, used to treat the few
fish caught in the river. "They ended up more grilled
than smoked," she says. "Nowwe know how to
smokethe fish properly. All in all, we are pretty pleased with
the project. There is more money for our needs, for food and for
Fisheries Livelihood Programme works with local people to
exploit Burkina Faso's water bodies. "We could
have brought in professional fishers and harvested the lakes in
a big way. But that wouldn't have done anything for the
local community," concludes Mr Zerbo.