Village fishpond saves forest wildlife

Mario Malomo is excited and anxious as he joins more than a dozen of his committee members who have taken up positions around the Tembe Piste community fishpond.

As head of the local committee that manages the newly created fishpond, his arrival signals the beginning of business. This is going to be the first harvest, and a crowd of about 100 villagers has gathered, some with baskets, ready to buy.

How many fish will be found beneath the murky water? Is the quantity going to be worth the trouble? Excitement reaches a fever pitch as five women open the pond outlet to let the water flow.

The first catch of the day is a 2kg tilapia. Two hours later, about 350kg of fish have been caught. This is the first time such a massive quantity of fresh fish is available for the roughly 300 people of the forest dependent village. Many agree the next harvest will be even more fruitful.

More than 50 people involved in the fish pond project went home with part of the harvest, while the rest was sold for about $400 and the money set aside for future investments in their village infrastructure, such as for a corn mill, a well for drinking water, and a first aid center.

The Tembe village fishpond is part of a WWF initiative that gives local communities and the indigenous Baka people that live around three national parks in Southeast Cameroon a new source of protein and revenue.

The project will produce at least 10 tons of fish per year by creating several new ponds, similar to the one in Tembe.

WWF hopes the new fishponds also will help quell the poaching crisis that is rampant in most of the Congo Basin to supply the bushmeat trade. Attempts have been made to deal with the issue at the source –anti-poaching patrols around protected areas and logging concessions, for example – and at the consumer level through education and awareness campaigns. But additional strategies are needed.

“Experience shows that improved law enforcement can drive the hunting and trade further underground if local people have no available alternative sources of protein,” says Louis Ngono, WWF Community Officer for the Jengi Programme. “Similarly, if no alternative is found, awareness campaigns may have limited impact, especially when targeting the rural poor,” he adds.

Hunters kill at least 36 species of animals around the Lobeke National Park alone, which is one of the three parks that encompass the WWF pond initiative. WWF is working to put in place longer-term, sustainable and innovative solutions that will reduce the consumption and trade in meat from wild species without compromising the health and livelihoods of forest communities.

The project is a joint effort with Cameroon’s Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry and other local organizations. Not only will this initiative meet the protein needs of local residents, but sales are expected to generate income that will fulfill key social needs for the communities.