In a country where fish serves as the primary source of protein for most families, the Western Region is responsible for a disproportionate amount, providing more than 30% of the national catch. However, as overfishing and exclusion zones around oil installations take their toll, the people here must increasingly find a land based alternative to artisanal fishing.
In August 2016, the Western Region Coastal Foundation launched an aquaculture pilot, partnering with four fish farming associations in Ellembelle and Jomoro districts to upgrade their existing operations. WRCF also worked with a wide range of suppliers and technical experts to bolster the associations’ skills and profits.
In the Muslim enclave of Kambungli in Ellembelle district, the Al-hamdallah Fish Farmers Association have taken the lessons of the pilot project to heart and engaged in a flurry of fish-pond digging.
Aminata was one of more than 150 farmers who took part in the WRCF training courses. Although Ghanaian, she grew up primarily in the neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire and it wasn’t until the outbreak of violence six years ago that she finally returned to Ghana. Her parents were still living in Kambungli and Aminata settled with them. She opened a seamstress business, and in time, met and married her husband.
“It was my husband that brought me to aquaculture,” Aminata explained. “When I came back to Ghana, I was working as a seamstress. My fiancé was a taxi driver, but previously he’d had a fishpond and raised fish.”
NEW TECHNIQUES AND STRATEGIES FOR INCREASED INCOMES
When Aminata heard that WRCF would be running aquaculture courses, she immediately knew this was a venture she wanted to use to support her family. Her husband had given up aquaculture, but not before the profits from selling fish had enabled him to buy his taxi car. He was already a member of the Al-hamdallah association, and Aminata quickly arranged to join him and his partners at the training sessions.
WRCF worked with the Fisheries Commission and Water Research Institute to write the training manuals. Aminata and the other participants went through a number of classes which covered topics such as accounting and management, better water flow and water treatment, and the installation of netting and concrete water outlets (known as monks) to safeguard against flooding and fish loss in the rainy season.
Many of the issues addressed by the training were the same ones that had led Aminata’s husband to give up his pond.
Before the intervention, many fish farmers were unable to make aquaculture financially viable. They were using low quality feed and fingerlings (baby fish), which resulted in high mortality rates, and they were only selling fish once or twice a year. The vast majority of farmers were previously just eating the fish themselves.
Although fish farming has the potential to increase incomes, improve food security, and provide a buffer from environmental risks, existing ventures were not being run successfully. WRCF has introduced basic business practices, and run training sessions for the fish farmers to teach them how to build better ponds, manage water quality, keep mortality rates low, and sell fish on quickly for a profit.
RUNNING HER OWN BUSINESS IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY
Brimming with determination and new skills, Aminata quickly set to restoring the abandoned pond. Today the pond is once again cleaned out, and Aminata has added new improvements, like plumbing for water circulation, that she learned about during the courses WRCF ran in partnership with the Water Research Institute.
In Ghana, fish farming is traditionally considered ‘men’s work’ while women tend to focus on areas like fish selling and preparing fish. Unlike many women in her community, because Aminata’s husband often works away from home, she is the primary manager of their fishpond.
The thing that comes across the strongest speaking to Aminata is her energy and willingness to work hard. Even eight months pregnant, Aminata is continuing with her vision, and hopes to get her financing together to buy the fish and continue her project soon after her new baby arrives.
"I knew that if I worked hard at the pond, I could achieve everything I wanted. I told everyone – my sisters, everyone – if you can come, and make a pond, you can succeed. Even if you don’t have the money, you can come and buy fish, and sell them on, and make money that way. If you’re willing to work hard, you will succeed."
Since August 2016, WRCF has been working with 130 fish farmers from four associations in the Ellembelle and Jomoro districts. Working with a consortium of partners, we have trained fish farmers to upgrade their capacity and advised on best practice to ensure sustainable business models for the future. In addition to the aquaculture pilot, WRCF designs, implements, and provides technical expertise for projects that aim to increase skills for employment, growth and jobs, resilient communities, women’s economic empowerment, and community engagement.