BY MELA GHEBREMEDHIN | SHABAIT
“Since I started eating fish regularly, my health has improved, even my blood pressure has gone down!” says Ghenet, who lives in Kakebda village, Dubarwa sub-zone. Ghenet is one of the farmers’ communities that have been introduced to inland freshwater fisheries and fish consumption in June 2018.
“I was not aware that we had all these fish in our dam… just right by our village”, said Beraki, who lives near the Semomo dam located 3 km away from Adi Quala town in Southern region. Like Ghenet, Beraki took part in a program of awareness-raising and contribution to improve nutrition and food security through fish farming in targeted villages near water reservoirs.
The project in inland fisheries that Beraki and Ghenet took part in is a component of the broader 7-year long program in the promotion of inland fisheries in Eritrea implemented by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) under the Fisheries Resources Management Program (FReMP) funded by a grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the financial contribution of the Government of Eritrea as well as additional financing from the Government of Germany.
The program development objective under FReMP is to increase income and improve nutrition for targeted beneficiaries in rural areas and sustainable management of natural resources in addition to enhancing the utilization of underutilized marine and inland fisheries resources by establishing fisheries enterprises throughout the fish value chain.
“Thanks to the training provided, I am now able to catch fish and bring varieties of food to my children who are now always looking forward impatiently to eating fish”, said Beraki.
He took a month-long training under the supervision of Mr. Isaias Fisseha and Alamin Ahmed, who are respectively a planner and a coordinator for FReMP in Southern region.
The training consists of swimming, paddling fishing, cooking, processing and marketing. In each targeted area in all inland Regions (Anseba, Southern, Gash Barka, and Central) groups were formed with an average of nine women and nine men under the supervision of the local administration and FReMP focal point at regional level.
The local communities have managed to catch fish since October 2018 on a regular basis. In Kakebda and Semomo dams, the farmers were able to catch 106 kg of fish in less than three days.
“We catch a lot of fish very quickly and share the amount evenly and we call our neighbours to show them how to cook and share the meal together”, said Hanna, one of the beneficiaries from Semomo, who learned three methods of fish cooking and is planning to learn more recipes through the program.
The project is at its initial phase where local communities are learning about the benefits of eating fish in terms of food security and nutrition but also its marketing potential leading to income-generating activities.
When the IFAD team met with the communities in May 2019, the beneficiaries expressed their readiness to move into marketing and to target the local market in their nearest towns. In Gash Barka region, inland fish farmers have actually started to sell locally to small restaurants and hotels nearby as a starting point. This generates income for the inland fishers’ cooperative in addition to promoting nutrition security for local communities.
The women who are trained in cooking, marketing and processing also shared their willingness to learn how to fish. When asked if they wanted to learn how to fish, they responded with a strong “yes” in unison and Hanna has already joined her male counterparts when they go fishing. The program ensures that women-headed households and vulnerable groups are given priorities in terms of access to the training. The waiting list to attend the future FReMP training is filling up quickly, said Isaias, planner for FReMP in Southern Region.
The participation of the community in raising awareness is bearing fruit and many are witnessing the opportunities behind inland fisheries in terms of food security, nutrition as well as market potential. Thus, in addition to the development of marine fisheries production and post-harvest systems, IFAD is partnering with the Government of Eritrea to enhance the awareness and development of inland fisheries throughout the country by providing training and materials such as fish-nets and paddling boats so that the farmers can engage, in the long term, in business planning and management to achieve self-sufficiency and have income diversification for rural communities.
In the near future, the project aims at establishing an umbrella cooperative for national distribution and marketing of small pelagic fisheries and promoting further the consumption of fisheries products to improve nutrition and provide cold chain methods as well as transportation facilities to rural communities.
Following the completion of the Fisheries Development Project (FDP) in 2016, FReMP is the second project to be accomplished by 2023. The inland fisheries and aquaculture sector present another investment area to increase fish production, incomes and nutrition particularly in rural inland regions. The project is supporting the Ministry of Marine Resources to ensure that marine resources are used sustainably by adopting the precautionary approach by exercising prudent foresight to avoid untenable situations.
Thus in regards to coastal areas, the project targets communities living in island and along the coastline of Northern and Southern Red Sea regions in the construction of fish markets, fish drying facilities, coastal ecosystem management, including mangrove plantation and conservation in addition to women participation and empowerment through the introduction to fish-net mending and processing.
The Government of Eritrea and partner agencies, including IFAD under its second on-going project, the National Agricultural Project (NAP), under the Ministry of Agriculture, has built water retention dams such as the check dams of Gerbichuk in Anseba region and Mai Tekela in Southern region.
For instance, at the water reservoir in Semomo, under NAP, the Ministry of Agriculture has implemented a drip irrigation system managed by the farmers’ groups. The installation of the drip irrigation system has allowed farmers to cultivate double cropping. Farmers have witnessed a 10 – 70% increase in their income.
The water dams in inland Eritrea have sufficient water volumes and ideal conditions for fisheries, where 70 out of more than 330 reservoirs have been stocked with different fish species including tilapia, common carp and catfish.
As most inland fish farmers are initially agricultural farmers, they are now provided with additional skills to diversify their income in addition to improve their health and the health of their communities particularly of women and children.
It is projected that about 100 tonnes of fish per year will be produced from the water reservoirs supported by FReMP as the 70 stocked dams in the country can produce approximately 350 tonnes of fish per year.
Inland fisheries are potentially vulnerable to the deterioration of ecosystems in the watersheds above the reservoirs where the program is assisting in developing climate resilient conservation plans that will have the additional benefits of improving crop and livestock production and, thus, nutrition and income.