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Exploring the adaptive capacity of fisheries in Africa


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Exploring the adaptive capacity of fisheries in Africa

uteteDr Beaven Utete is a climate researcher and environmentalist based at Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe, and a CIRCLE Visiting Fellow at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. The Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) fellowship is an African Academy of Sciences (AAS) programme that aims to develop the skills and research results of African early career researchers in the field of climate change. CIRCLE is implemented through AESA (the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa), a funding, agenda setting and programme implementing platform of the African Academy of Sciences and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD). CIRCLE is supported by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).


Increasing demand for water and associated ecosystem services is draining freshwater rivers and aquifers, while pollution and changing climate patterns are threatening the quality of aquatic resources of peri-urban lakes in impoverished and low-income African countries. Deterioration of water quality and loss of aquatic biodiversity threaten the livelihoods of small-scale fishing-dependent communities where people live on less than US$1 per day.

Lakes Asejire and Eleyele in Nigeria, and Chivero and Manyame in Zimbabwe, are the lifeline of fishing-dependent metropolitan communities in Ibadan, Nigeria and Harare, Zimbabwe. These peri-urban lakes (straddling both urban and rural land) directly or indirectly supply potable water and support fishing, agriculture, aquaculture, recreation and religious activities. Threats to water supply have received much attention but relatively little is known about concomitant changes in water quality and the resulting impacts on fisheries and other resources in these peri-urban lake systems.

Documented quantitative and qualitative data on the vulnerability of livelihoods dependent on fishing in Nigeria and Zimbabwe are lacking and there is no standardized wetland and fisheries framework for peri-urban lakes in either country, complicating governance of these important resources. Consequently, these fishing-dependent communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change and poverty, as well as institutional, socioeconomic and political challenges.

This project is inspired by the vulnerability of small-scale inland freshwater fisheries, which tend to be excluded from national and state budgets in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. The study explores the food security, resilience and adaptive capacity of fisheries and fishing-dependent communities in peri-urban lake systems, which, when combined, represent 32 million fishers worldwide and a significant proportion of the global fish catch.

Description of the study

The study used a set of models that looks for trends, and patterns among multiple variables to quantify and as well as explain relations in a qualitative and simple manner. The thematic clusters that were examined include:

1. Water quality, demand and supply issues;

2. Fisheries resources;

3. Climate change;

4. Small-scale fishing communities;

5. Water and catchment governance.                      

Actual measurements of water quality, supply and demand were obtained from the relevant government agencies based on reports of fishers and fisheries. Climate data such as rainfall amounts, atmospheric temperature, humidity, wind speed, evapotranspiration, and cloud cover were derived from Earth Observation Systems. Moreover, the researchers made site visits to the two fishing communities in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

 Outcome of the study

Our approach sought to integrate the complexities affecting livelihoods of fishing-dependent communities. Results for Zimbabwe have been published; the comparable results for Nigeria are in preparation. The ultimate objective was to produce a generic template which can account for the many direct and indirect factors that impact small-scale fishers in impoverished African communities. Success is dependent on gaining the cooperation of policy makers in Nigeria and Zimbabwe based on the potential benefits of including small-scale fisheries in national budgets to sustain livelihoods and economies. Budgetary and policy support are required for functions such as fisheries extension services, establishment and regulation of fishing outlets and markets, post-harvest technology acquisition, recapitalisation of boats, nets and landing docks, upgrading shared resources such as landing facilities, creating efficiencies in the supply value chain, and strengthening institutional support for sustaining fishing communities livelihoods.  


To enhance adaptive capacity in poor, small-scale fishing communities, an integrated, multidisciplinary approach is required, based on thorough data collection and research assessment to create a comprehensive, sustainable fisheries framework.


  • This study has demonstrated the necessity of creating a sustainable fisheries framework using a multidisciplinary approach in the small-scale fisheries sector. Such an approach will inform planning, management, and evaluation of small-scale fisheries to improve and maintain health outcomes at a population level. Such a framework can be implemented by project staff and local stakeholders in the fisheries industry in developing nations.
  • A rudimentary sustainable fishery framework has been developed for peri-urban lakes in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, though it has not been adopted. In both countries, these frameworks are part of academic discourse, with the potential to inform policy around issues of small-scale fisheries at a global scale.
  • This research suggests the need for comparative, evidence-based analysis of frameworks which account for local variables across countries. This study, compared two such frameworks in different countries, and indicated that small-scale fisheries are poorly funded and capitalised, and their institutional and government jurisdictions are unclear, leading to conflict, confusion and a bureaucratic red tape which interferes with the healthy development of fisheries.
  • Fishing is an important contributor to food security and sustainable livelihoods in both countries. Small-scale fisheries there still marginalise female and youth involvement in actual fishing, typically relegating these disempowered stakeholders to cleaning and gutting, post-harvest smoking of catfish (mainly in Nigeria) and marketing/selling. This is an area where government intervention can help address equity in ownership in fishing cooperatives, particularly for women.
  • The inadequacy of the supply value chain, especially at less mechanised points such as transport and selling, disadvantages small-scale fishers in both countries, who are forced to produce more than large-scale fisheries to maintain price competition. Strategic intervention by governments to form fish marketing cooperatives can help address this inequity. In both Nigeria and Zimbabwe, industrial value-add is limited to post-harvesting smoking of some fish species. This is an example of an aspect of the market with the potential for innovation in fish preservation and other value-addition techniques, such as sun-assisted herbal drying, solar powered fish drying, fish tissue fermentation, and fish meal and silage manufacture, which are not accessible to poorly resourced small-scale fishing communities. 
  • Recommendations have been made to the central governments of Nigeria and Zimbabwe to strengthen institutional capacity for the development and inclusion of small-scale fisheries in mainstream economies.
  • This research has resulted in academic collaboration and research networking opportunities. It also suggests the potential to adopt a mental health approach, whereby the mental health or state of fishers is assessed, and the implications of geographical location, culture and nutrition are assessed. Researchers studying fisheries must be conversant with modern and holistic approaches, and collaborate as global teams, to help sustain small-scale fisheries in the face of change.