Burkina Faso: Artisanal fishing, a low-valued bread-winner

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Artisanal fishing plays a significant role in the socio-economic development of Burkina Faso. On the Bagré and Loumbila dams, dozens of rural youth live on this activity. But despite the economic spinoffs, the players in the sector are involved in a “low-valued” profession under tough conditions. Here are a few stories!

By Mahamadi Sebogo

It is 8: 15 a.m. at the Goyinga pier of the Bagré dam, located 240 km from Ouagadougou, in the Centre-Est region. On this May morning, a scorching day dawns at the horizon. After dodging the trap snares of the labyrinth for nearly forty minutes, we reach the banks of the dam in Goyinga, one of the surrounding villages. At the same time, a fisherman aboard a wooden artisanal canoe paddles heading for the pier.

Souleymane Bandaogo, who has fully turned thirty, is polygamous and the father of four children. He returns from the open waters where he has been since 4 a.m. to remove fish from the fishing nets he cast the day before. In the compartments of his makeshift pirogue, there is a paddle, some fish, his stacked net, some white stones. His harvest does not seem to be that of the great days. His morning catch, consisting of carp and catfish, is about 6 kg. Like him, there are a dozen fishermen also returning from their early morning fishing trip aboard canoes of the same type.

Once out of the water, Mr. Bandaogo and his colleagues leave their fishing gear near the dam and head for a tree located at about 100 metres from the shore. This place is their resting quarter, or their dormitory to be precise. “We sleep here; when it rains, we use tarpaulins for cover,” says a voice in the group. At this place of ″residence″ of the fishermen, nets, bags, mats, pots, dishes, pants, shirts and other clothing are found either lying untidily on the ground or hung. The scene alone is a testimony to human life on the site.

“I feed my family through fishing”

After putting on other clothes, these Sahelian “mariners” head for the fish weighing centre, a few hundred metres away, where fishmongers from central Bagré and the surrounding villages are expecting them. A small house, with a terrace and a sheet-metal shed, serves as a “shopping centre” for fish. The atmosphere and ingredients of a small market prevail there. On the one hand, fishermen and wholesalers chat in small groups of two, three, and four. On the other hand, the women weigh the fish using scales, under the gaze of the owner of the catch. Not far away, under a shaded shea tree, young girls are minding their small businesses of mangoes, peanuts, juice, ice water packaged in plastic-bags, etc.

A fisherman with fifteen years’ experience at the Bagré dam, Souleymane Bandaogo makes a living mainly from his activity.

Mr. Bandaogo has been immersed in this universe for the past fifteen years. “I am a farmer, but fishing is my main activity. I meet my family’s needs thanks to the income I make from fishing,” he says. He took over the fishing profession from his parents who exercised it on the waters of the Nakanbé River for more than 50 years. The young fisherman’s daily catches on this water body weigh between 5 and 20 kg. His fish are sold to fishmongers at CFA 750 francs (USD 1.31) or CFA 1,000 francs (USD 1.74) per kg, depending on the size and the type of the fish.

Like Souleymane Bandaogo, Moustapha Diabo has also been working as a fisherman for the past fifteen years. Dropping out of elementary grade four, Mr. Diabo spent the rest of his childhood on the waters of Bagré with his older brothers, learning how to fish. Today, at the age of 29, this fishing trade brings in the bulk of his income, estimated between CFA 2,000 francs (USD 3.49) and CFA 12,000 francs (USD 20.93) daily. “It is difficult to live in the village without a source of income. But thanks to fishing, I manage to take care of my wife and two children on my own, “he said. In Bagré, as well as at the Loumbila dam located nearly 20 km from Ouagadougou, fishing is the livelihood of dozens of rural young people.

CFA 5,000 (USD 8.72) to CFA 50,000 (USD 87.20) as daily revenue

Lassané Ouédraogo, married and father of four, draws most of his family’s livelihood from this lake. Three times a day, on his handcrafted wooden canoe equipped with his fishing nets, Mr. Ouédraogo braves the waters to engage in fish “hunt”, when the waters are teeming of fish. “We return to the dam at 6 a.m. and go out around 8 a.m. Then we go back at 10 a.m. and return around 12 p.m. Finally, we fish from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” he reports. He confides that he makes between CFA 5,000 (USD 8.72) and 50,000 (USD 87.20) from his daily fish sale. In 2019, the benefits from his activity allowed him to buy two sheep and a second-hand motorcycle at CFA 200,000 (USD 348.79).

Ouédraogo is not the only beneficiary of the dam’s fishery resources. The group of fishermen from Loumbila is 37 members strong, including 30 young people. “More than 80 fishermen operate on this dam, but not all of them are part of our group“, claims Mady Ilboudo, the group’s Chairman, who counts 40 years in the fisheries industry. In his opinion, the fishermen make a lot of money with this activity. “We draw huge benefits from the fisheries. Only God can assess what we get from fish products, “he enthuses.

Related activities have been developed around fishing, generating income for rural women. Zaliatou Saré sells fried fish in the village called V8-rive droite. Every morning, she travels the 7 km that separate her village from the fresh fish market of Goyinga. Depending on the availability of fish, she buys between 5 and 15 kg each day. This Friday, May 8, she is around in Goyinga, sitting on her big-engine motorcycle with her child on the back. With a 30-litre yellow can open on one side and tied to the back of her motorcycle as a fish basin, she is waiting for the catches of her ″ fisherman ″. Daily, she makes an average profit of CFA 1,500 francs (USD 2.62); which allows her to cover her daily expenses. “With this much, I take care of my child and cover my personal needs as a woman,” she says, smiling.

A means to address unemployment

The players claim that fishing contributes to improving their living conditions. According to Philippe Sawadogo, a fisheries engineer, director of fisheries at the Ministry of Animal and Fish Resources (MRAH), the activity plays a significant role in the national economy. With a GDP share estimated at 0.41% in 2009, it contributes to food security, poverty alleviation, and job creation. For Hamadé Ouédraogo, the regional director of animal and fish resources of the Central Plateau, fishing can help to address unemployment among rural youth, provided that the sector receives particular attention. He cites the number of fishermen in the region, 3,033 people including a hundred in Loumbila, who “live more or less from this activity” as evidence.

Fishermen are aware of the place that fishing holds in the economy, although their profession is still not given adequate consideration. Coming out of the water, Moustapha Diabo gives us a kind of lecture on macroeconomics. “We do a job that is not valued. But we are aware that our small daily outputs are taken into account in the national figures, in the national output, as we are asked every day to report the weight of our catches and how much we earn daily. We know that the government uses these figures,” asserts the rural young man.

Moustapha and his comrades believe that the Bagré dam has a huge fisheries potential. However, they lack the appropriate fishing equipment. “There are fish in the dam. Our problem is that we lack adequate equipment and large-mesh-sized fishing nets to catch big fish“, alarms Souleymane Bandaogo with an accusing glance. This prompts Mr. Bandaogo and his peers to make frequent use of unlawful fishing nets. “Often, we have problems with rangers because they have found out that we use illegal mesh size. Over the last two years, though, they have been less strict with us”, testifies Diabo, a fellow fisherman.

The prospect of the dam silting up worries Asseta Daboné, Chairwoman of Bagré’s fish processors.

Fishing legislation bans the use of nets with a mesh size lower than 35 millimetres. The aim is to ensure the reproduction of fish resource by preventing small fish and fry from being caught, claims Sawadogo. To this end, fishermen have been calling upon the government to help them acquire quality fishing gear that meets set standards. Canoes, long lines, cast nets, fish traps, gillnets are the equipment used in artisanal fisheries.

An Endangered Resource

Asseta Daboné is the Chairwoman of Bagré’s fish processors. In addition to the lack of equipment to preserve fresh fish for processing, she is worried about the dam water silting up, which poses a threat to the resource. “Farming is banned on the banks of the dam. Yet, not everyone respects this ban. At this rate, the water will decrease, along with the fish and our production capacity,” she warns.

In Loumbila, silting is coupled with other concerns that are detrimental to the sustainability of fish resources. “Here, fishing goes on all year round. This does not allow the fish to consistently reproduce”, deplores the Chairman of the Loumbila fishermen. Besides, some fishermen hit the waters with sticks to forcibly dislodge the fish and direct them to their nets. All of which, he says, threatens the survival of the species.

The development of such illegal practices as market gardening on the dam’s bed is attributable to the environmental agencies which do not ensure proper compliance with the regulations, according to Ilboudo. “Among us here, we are trying to raise awareness but it is still not obvious. As you know, handling young people today is no easy thing to do,“ says the sixty-plus-year-old man.

The director of animal and fish resources of the Central Plateau recognizes that the issues raised by the players are real and obvious. However, he concedes that the lack of financial resources does not allow his department to effectively intervene on the ground. But beyond money, the situation is much more complicated at the administrative level. “We manage fish resources, but the living environment of the fish is the responsibility of the ministry of water. Enforcement is ensured by the water and forests department in charge of the environment, green economy and climate change,” he reminds, looking helpless in the face of this institutional weakness.

The project was supported by REJOPRA, Network of Journalists for Responsible and Sustainable Fisheries in Africa.

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