The Republic of Cameron is situated at the bottom of the Gulf of Guinea in Central Africa, with its capital at Yaoundé. It lies between 2° and 3°N and between 9° and 16°E, covering an area of 475 000 square kilometres. This geographic extension gives the country wide-ranging geographical and ecological diversity.
Aquaculture, in the form of fish farming, was introduced into Cameroon in 1948. Since then, the country has been party to several bilateral projects and a variety of different programmes in this sector to encourage the adoption of this new form of fish culture. It has been done somewhat timidly, and the output has been modest.
Faced with the continuing decline in domestic fish catches and the growing volumes of frozen fish imported to meet the shortfall, the country set about reviving aquaculture in order to meet the strong demand as a result of the spiralling population and to curtail massive outflows of foreign exchange. The sector has therefore become a priority for the government which has just drawn up a strategic framework for sustainable aquaculture development, and is currently finalising the revision of the legal framework governing fisheries and aquaculture in Cameroon.
The climate and ecology are favourable and the country has great potential, particularly thanks to its 420 km of maritime coast, with mangrove forests and lagoons, the availability of agricultural and agro-industrial byproducts, the presence of an endogenous and varied fish population suitable for fish farming, and a very dense hydrographic network. Surveys suggest that annual potential aquaculture output could be between 2 300 et 20 000 tonnes.
In Cameroon, the only form of aquaculture being practised is in freshwater ponds (Satia, N.B.P., 1991). It has developed considerably in terms of culture techniques and the species cultivated.
The first ponds to be built in the country were dammed ponds that could not be completely emptied, running parallel to the valleys. In view of the difficulty of managing those ponds, the second series of ponds built after 1974 have been diversion ponds, all of whose production parameters are controllable.
From the ichthyological point of view, fish culture began in 1948 with tilapia followed by catfish. In 1969, the common carp was introduced followed by the African bonytongue (Heterotis niloticus). In 1990, the aquaculture fish stocks once again expanded, with the arrival of grass carps.
When fish farming was first introduced it only attracted the small farmers, but with the passage of time all sections of society have come to see it as a major activity in nutritional and financial terms.
Governments have gradually established 22 breeding centres, which are used for extension work. Today there are about 15 000 ponds producing 330 tonnes, worth 2 268 millions of CFA francs (US$4.71 million) in the 2003 cultural season, with an average yield of 400 kg/ha.
Several types of organisations provide supervision and extension services in the rural environment. They include both governmental institutions working under the aegis of specific ministerial departments, and faith-based organisations and NGOs.
Under the National Agricultural Extension and Research Programme (PNVRA), the Zonal Extension Agents (AVZ) are responsible for extension work among small farmers. There are 1 295 AVZs in the agro-ecological zones with high fish farming potential.
At the present time about 10 000 small farmers are engaged, part-time, in aquaculture. They have a primary and secondary school background; some of them have also been trained in agriculture colleges and in the Ecole des eaux et forêts at Mbalmayo and the Centre national de formation d'aquaculture at Foumban, while others are retired civil servants and teachers. Only ten percent of these fish farmers are women. The small percentage of women is mainly due to the traditional customs of Cameroon which do not allow women to inherit land.
Under Decree No. 92/186 of 1 September 1992 reorganising the administration of government in Cameroon, the country has 10 provinces, 58 departments, 269 arrondissements and 53 districts.
The main aquaculture production regions are basically in the Adamaoua, Centre, Est, Littoral, Ouest and Nord-ouest Provinces.
In all these regions, the fish are bred in diversion ponds and dammed ponds. However, in the absence of a reliable data collection system it is impossible to estimate fish production on a regional basis.
The species which contribute to the bulk of the national fish production are tilapia, North African catfish and common carp.
The tilapias is a sturdy species which is able to support extreme water temperatures and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Natural breeding occurs in virtually every type of water (Assiah, V.F.et al. 1996). There are several species in Cameroon, of which the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is the most attractive for fish farming purposes.
North African catfish belong to the siluriforme order. It is a bony fish, characterised among other things by a scaleless body and mandibular whiskers. It is an endemic species and is used in polyculture with tilapia, to reduce pond overloading. The most common species in Cameroon is Clarias gariepinus.
The common carp (Cyprinus carpio) belongs to the ciprinid family imported from Israel in 1969. It has adapted well to the tropical climate in the Western Highlands area and reproduces naturally in ponds.
In a diversion pond made up of four dams and an evacuation system it is perfectly possible to control the production parameters, and agricultural waste is used as feed and fertiliser. It is easy to combine fish farming in diversion ponds with pig and poultry raising, because the livestock waste is used as fertiliser and leftover food is used to feed the fish. These ponds are built by the small farmers themselves as a means of diversifying their agricultural activities, providing them with fish protein in the rural environment for their families, and a means of improving their incomes by selling surpluses.
Normally, a bulldozer is needed to build dammed ponds which the average small farmer cannot afford. The ponds are built by constructing a dam in a river. The water then floods a certain area upstream of the dam. In addition to the fish already present in the river also other species are introduced for farming purposes. If there is no extra feed or fertiliser, the production of fish in these dammed ponds depends on the natural feed available, and falls sharply after the second year.
Due to the difficulties of managing dammed ponds, small farmers have gradually converted them into diversion ponds. Available statistics show that 90 percent of the ponds that have been built are diversion ponds, and produce 95 percent of total aquaculture production (Fisheries Directorate – Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Livestock Industries).
The National Agricultural Extension and Research Programme (PNVRA) has estimated the annual production of farmed fish at 330 tonnes (Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Livestock Industries - MINEPIA).
Fish farming occupies an area of about 250 ha.
Out of an estimated population of 10 000 fish farmers (PNVRA) 6 percent, or about 600, are female pond owners.
Annual aquaculture production in Cameroon in 2000-2003
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Cameroon according to FAO statistics:
Aquaculture production is solely for local consumption. Fresh farmed fish is very popular. With supply exceeding demand, fish is rarely processed but unsold fish is smoked.
Fish is often sold around the ponds. If sold by auction, the selling price is often above normal (10 to 30 percent higher). The fish farmers, or their family members, sell the fish.
When the fish harvest has not been announced locally it is taken to the market or to restaurants, and sold at normal prices [averaging 1 000 CFA francs (US$2.07) kg of tilapia and 1 500 CFA francs (US$3.11) per kg of catfish].
Fish is transported to the market in large aluminium or plastic recipients under crushed ice to keep it fresh. North African catfish is sold live, transported and sold in recipients filled with water. The water is changed regularly, depending on the ambient temperature.
The very low annual aquaculture output of 330 tonnes (PNVRA) accounts for less than one percent of GDP. The sector directly employs between 15 000 and 20 000 people and is a source of supplementary income for many rural families.
In Cameroon, fish is a major source of protein for most of the population. It accounts for about 40 percent of the protein intake of animal origin and 9.5 percent of total protein requirements.
For the poorer sections of the rural population, fish is one of the main sources of animal protein. To meet their needs, some small farmers farm tilapia alone, in the absence of catfish alevins. By overloading the ponds they can constantly catch fish of a certain size to feed their families. The farmers who succeed in properly managing this monoculture of tilapia can meet their needs and even sell some of their production, as a source of supplementary income.
Aquaculture in Cameroon is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Livestock Industries (MINEPIA). Through the Fisheries and Aquaculture Directorate, this ministry is responsible, inter alia, for:
Under its extension strategy, PNVRA focuses its work on promoters in different spheres, and particularly on the provision of support for:
In Cameroon, authorisation is required to establish aquaculture farms and to import and introduce live aquaculture species; a special authorisation is required to raise ornamental fishes. The Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Livestock Industries is responsible for enforcing this regulation through its central and external services.
Authorisation for establishing a fish farm shows whether the project promoter has title to the land on which the farm is to be built, such as a title deed or some other document giving rights of use.
Deviation of part of the waterway to supply the ponds must not prevent run-off or damage the wildlife, flora or water quality.
Authorisation to import and introduce live aquaculture species must be intended to preserve existing biodiversity and protect local species from epidemics.
Special authorisation to farm ornamental fishes is intended to safeguard these species by requiring the farmers to hold fish farms.
Aquaculture research priorities are laid down by MINEPIA which takes part in drafting the research programmes at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRAD). Governmental institutions (IRAD) carry out the research, while non-governmental organisations and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Programme apply the results for the benefit of the fish farmers.
Participatory research is practised on the farms involving the Zonal Extension Agents (AVZ), fish farmers and researchers. The results are applied in a demonstration pond belonging to one of the group's fish farmers with the participation of all the other members, and subsequently replicate them on their own farms.
The Oceanographic Research Centre at Limbé and its annex at Foumban, under the responsibility of IRAD, also undertake agricultural research in Cameroon. Entrance requirements are a Biology degree or an aquaculture engineering diploma.
Training is provided at the National Aquaculture Centre (aquaculture station) at Foumban, established in 1974 which was subsequently converted into the National Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Training Centre (fisheries option) in 1986. Each year this school trains 50-60 instructors at probationary and baccalauréat levels.
The Water and Forestry School (Ecole des eaux et forêts), at Mbalmayo (since 1975) and the Forestry Department of the Institut National d'Etude Rural (INER), Centre universitaire, at Dschang (since 1977) and a number of agricultural colleges also provide elementary courses in aquaculture for baccalauréat and probationary level aquaculture instructors.
Before 2000 the government had played the part of investor by financing the promotion and extension of aquaculture, the entrepreneur by building production facilities, and managed the aquaculture sector by laying down production prices. The adoption of the National Governance Programme in 2000 changed national economic policy. This Programme required the government to gradually disengage from the production sector and to deregulate economic life. Under it, the government became a promoter, regulator, and even an arbitrator, while civil society was given the role of developing the economy.
In its new role as facilitator, with the assistance of FAO the government drew up a strategic framework for the sustainable development of aquaculture. This framework set out the roles of government, the private sector and research in the development of aquaculture. On the basis of this framework, Cameroon will draft the aquaculture development strategies enabling it to mount a development plan for the whole sector.
Moreover, the ongoing revision of the legal framework for fisheries and aquaculture is designed to contribute to the drafting of a raft of legislation to drive the emergence of economically viable and socially acceptable aquaculture, able to guarantee environmental conservation and safeguard the principal interests of the leading players in this sector.
With regard to extension work, aquaculture supervisors responsible for overseeing the small farmers lacked the working tools they needed (scales, fishing nets, rulers...etc.) and vehicles. The aquaculturalists were therefore left to their own devices and they, in turn, abandoned the aquaculture ponds. With the incorporation of these aquaculture instructors into the National Agricultural Extension And Research Programme, equipped with more working facilities, the supervision of the fish farmers should become much more effective.
As for production techniques, experience showed that dammed ponds were difficult to manage because it was not possible to control the production parameters and because they could be completely emptied. Furthermore, output was only good in the first year, after which production declined. These dammed ponds were gradually converted into deviation ponds which emptied completely, and in which the production parameters could be perfectly controlled. To improve yields from these deviation ponds the fish farmers build a pigsty or a poultry pen on the edge of the pond or standing on pilotis, in order to use the animal waste as natural fertiliser. In the northern regions, the temporary pools of water are enclosed, and the small farmers feed the fish until harvest time.
Annual average production, commonly put at 50 tonnes in the absence of a statistical data collection system, is currently deemed to be 330 tonnes thanks to the presence of the Zonal Extension Agents (AVZ) who guarantee a minimum level of supervision of the fish farmers. Agriculture could make considerable progress in future with the continuation of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Programme (PNVRA) and by stepping up the aquaculture training of the AVZs.
National aquaculture production does not take account of output from the temporary pools or the ponds owned by dignitaries and businessmen who practise fish farming as a prestige occupation, to which the extension agents do not have access. This kind of aquaculture is now spreading widely because everyone belonging to this social class would like to show off their importance through their pond and the quantity of fish they produce.
During the past few years a craze has developed for aquaculture. It has been encouraged every year as a result of the training of young fish farmers by the Ministry responsible for aquaculture.
Following the fall in industrial fisheries catches on the Cameroon coast some shipowners are thinking of becoming agriculturalists, of which PEX CAMEROUN is one example.
Farmed fish is very popular with the people, but production is far too small to meet the ever-increasing demand.
The main interaction between aquaculture and the environment is the deforestation of the bottomlands to build aquaculture ponds. In some bottomlands aquaculture is practised in association with vegetable farming and pig or chicken rearing.
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