Rates of malnutrition are high in Sierra Leone with 22 per cent of the population suffering from its effects and 29 per cent of children under five stunted.
The highest rates of stunting are found in the inland district of Tonkolili where it is predominantly caused by prolonged food deprivation and cultural practices that deny the feeding of protein to children.
The health benefits of introducing more fish into diets are well understood. It contains micronutrients, minerals and essential fatty acids that are crucial during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life.
Currently, fish provides 80 per cent of the country’s protein intake. However inland communities such as Tonkolili, isolated from the country’s main source of protein do not see such high levels of consumption.
Inland communities can only buy fresh fish from the vendors that visit infrequently from the country’s coastal region. The vendors’ days-long journey often leaves fish in poor condition.
To provide communities with sustainable access to fish, WorldFish is working with both government and NGO partners in Tonkolili to build community-run fishponds. These fishponds are created in inland valley swamps that have long been left fallow, but provide an ideal ecosystem, that will hold water even in the dry season, for community-level and individual agriculture.
In addition to farming fish, communities receive training on how to integrate vegetables by growing vitamin-rich indigenous crops such as sweet potato and cassava on the banks of the fishpond. This encourages families to eat a wider range of foods, adding vital nutrients such as vitamin A often missing from local diets. Rice, the country’s staple crop, is also grown along the fishpond, where the water is shared and fish fertilize the rice.
New beginnings for aquaculture in Sierra Leone
Efforts to develop inland aquaculture in Sierra Leone are not new. There have been multiple attempts at inland aquaculture since the 1960s, but without sustainable business models in place, all were eventually phased out.
For example, the once-thriving Makali hatchery was destroyed by warring rebel groups during the civil war and funds to rehabilitate it was stalled by the diversion of government efforts to peacekeeping.
Now, WorldFish is helping turn it into a once-again functioning hatchery and research center that will examine the most genetically viable species for Tonkolili fish ponds as well as providing seed.