Senegal aims for an economic boom in oyster farming

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  • By Emmanuel Parisse / AFP, JOAL-FADIOUTH, Senegal

The mangroves near Joal-Fadiouth, a fishing village in southern Senegal, teem with oysters, but treasure hunting for shells among the gnarled tree roots in the brackish water is a lot of work.

Thousands of people – the vast majority of whom are women – live off oysters in Senegal, usually at a modest and informal level.

However, experts say the tropical West African state has huge prospects for increasing oyster production to much higher levels.

Photo: AFP

“Oyster production is below its potential,” said Boubacar Banda Diop, head of the oyster sector at Senegal’s Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy.

The possible harvest, in terms of protein and money, could be high, say the oyster champions.

About 40 percent of Senegal’s population of 17 million live below the poverty line, according to a World Bank metric. In a country where fish is a traditional staple, the country also suffers from overfishing and food insecurity.

In 2017, farmers picked around 15,600 tons of oysters from the mangroves of Senegal, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). They also harvested around 400 tonnes from the oyster beds.

By comparison, the world’s largest oyster producer, China, harvests around 3.5 million tonnes a year, according to French research institute Ifremer.

The Senegalese government has a development plan for the oyster industry, while the FAO and the EU are offering ideas for farming techniques and programs to improve production.

A small company in the Somone lagoon south of Dakar has already started implementing some of the project’s recommendations.

“We have doubled our production capacity compared to last year, from 3 to 6 tons per year,” company boss Khadim Tine told reporters.

However, such successes are rare – and the hurdles for those wanting to make the leap from small-scale to industrial farming are daunting.

Mamadou Bakhoum, the head of a village association in southern Senegal, said high water salinity caused by climate change meant there were fewer oysters than before.

However, “if people get serious about it, the potential for oyster farming to grow is huge,” he said.

Increasing the productivity of oyster farming while protecting Senegal’s mangroves poses another environmental challenge. The habitat includes plants and shrubs growing in shallow semi-saline waters, protecting against coastal erosion and nurturing a complex and invaluable ecosystem. Mangroves are already increasingly threatened in Senegal, as elsewhere.

Abdou Karim Sall, president of the marine protected area of ​​Joal-Fadiouth, aims to help farmers grow oysters without damaging the mangroves. Wooden trestles are placed in the swamp with wires suspended between supports just above the waterline. Spat – chains of oyster larvae that develop in the shells – then begin to grow on the wires.

Sall said the method protects the mangrove, but also allows farmers to produce more oysters and earn more money.

Local non-governmental organizations in Joal-Fadiouth have helped several women oyster farmers to start using the technique.

Selling fresh oysters – as opposed to cooked, as is customary in Senegal – could also boost farmers’ incomes. Industry figures indicate that a dozen fresh Senegalese oysters sell for the equivalent of 7 to 9 euros ($7.57 to $9.73).

It’s a price that puts fresh oysters out of reach for many in the country – wealthy tourists would be the target market for a booming industry. To address this, the issues would be cold storage, transport infrastructure and sanitation standards.

Expansion of oyster farming activity on an industrial scale requires water quality monitoring systems, as oyster farms are prone to contamination. For water quality alone, a budget of around 305,000 euros would be needed for the first decade, the ministry said – a big ask in a developing country.

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