Inland Fisheries

Fisheries in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa – “Fish come with the rains”. Building resilience for fisheries-dependent livelihoods to enhance food security and nutrition in the drylands

Livelihoods, decent work & resilience

Dryland areas cover more than half of sub-Saharan Africa and are home to nearly 50 percent of its populations, who depend on agriculture (including livestock, crops and fisheries) as their main livelihood strategy. Sporadic and irregular rainfall patterns are the most important environmental driver for these regions and water, in particular surface water, is the primary element of scarcity in drylands. Generally, dryland water bodies are unstable and strongly pulsed ecosystems owing to intermittent and largely unpredictable precipitation.

Such systems are characterized by very productive and highly resilient, small opportunistic fish species with “boom and bust” fluctuation adapted to strong environmental disturbances, and are therefore difficult to overfish. As a result of high productivity, they can sustain very high yields in years of good rains, but being largely short-lived they also respond rapidly to environmental changes in hydrological regimes, which means that alternating periods of low productivity are inevitable. The focus of this review is to both document the general resilience of many fish resources to climatic variability − including their underestimation in livelihood importance, particularly in protracted crisis situations − and to enhance the potential supply of fish from dryland areas through improved use of the available water bodies, and in particular small reservoirs.

The important role that small water bodies play in supplying essential micronutrients and protein to rural communities has largely been overlooked since the termination of the FAO/ALCOM (Aquaculture for Local Community Development) programme in 1998, although they are more productive on a per unit area basis than the large lakes and reservoirs and, when pooled, constitute a much larger area of water. Most of the fish production, however, is consumed locally and goes unrecorded in official catch statistics. By refocusing attention on the fish productivity of small water bodies and reservoirs in drylands, and in particular by integrating fisheries with developments in water harvesting, irrigation and improved water storage facilities, the potential to increase the role played by fish in the diets of dryland people, and to provide improved livelihood opportunities is great.

The overall conclusion is that the potential for increasing fish production in dryland areas is significant, that the resources are highly resilient and productive, but that the general and increased unpredictability of the rainfall required to sustain surface water bodies creates uncertainties in annual production. That must be counteracted by an adaptive and diversified livelihood strategy