Czech experts help build fish-breeding ponds in Africa

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" - says a famous Chinese proverb. But the second part of the saying may no longer be true due to a worldwide decline in fish stocks. So it may be more appropriate to say that you will feed a man for a lifetime if you teach him to breed fish. And precisely that is the aim of an international experiment going on in East Africa in which Czech experts are participating.

Up to 20 million people in the Lake Victoria basin depend on the East African Wetlands and their number keeps growing. But due to extensive farming, shoreline vegetation is being destroyed and the wetlands are becoming degraded. In addition, over-fishing in Lake Victoria has seriously reduced its fish populations. A project, bringing together Dutch, British and Czech experts, as well as their colleagues from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is trying to help both local fishermen and farmers.

The Czech contribution to the project is based on the centuries-old tradition of breeding freshwater fish in artificial lakes in the Czech Lands. The head of the team is landscape ecology expert Jan Pokorny.

"The initial idea was to try and excavate small ponds on the floodplains in the dry season. They would then be filled with water during the flood cycle and trap fish as the flooding recedes. During the following dry season, people would feed the fish if necessary. In this way water would be retained and the fish could be cropped."

Altogether 24 ponds have been dug in the experiment - four ponds in each of the six villages selected for the project in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Besides helping to feed the local people, the fingerponds - as they are known - should help protect the landscape and its biodiversity, as another member of the Czech team, Richard Faina, explains.

"The fingerponds should prevent the banks from being dried up by human activity, such as harvesting papyrus plants on the shores and then planting field crops instead. The fingerponds will help retain water outside the lake. They are called fingerponds because they spread like fingers into the wetlands with little fields in between where seasonal crops can be grown."

According to the Czech team, four years of tests have proved that the original idea is feasible. It requires almost no initial investment and easy maintenance afterwards. Now it is up to the local authorities and people whether they will adopt this cheap and simple technology as an additional food-source.