Despite the country’s economic potential, many in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remain desperately poor. After many years of conflict and instability 69% of the DRC’s population lives in poverty . Economic opportunities, like capitalising on the strong demand for fish, are much needed.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has embarked on an innovative Private Sector Development (PSD) programme in the country. This programme seeks to ‘improve the incomes of the poor’ in an extremely complex, conflict-affected environment. It works with private sector stakeholders to provide well-functioning markets and deliver a business environment that fosters economic opportunities for poor people.
The aquaculture sector in DRC is largely informal and integrated with other income-generating activities, yet it lacks the necessary organisation and investment to significantly increase production. Production constitutes only a small fraction (around 1.3%) of total fish production. Almost all production is consumed within the country and supplemented with increasing volumes of Chinese and African (Egypt, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda) imported fish. Understanding the market system opportunities and constraints will help stakeholders in the aquaculture sector to increase their supply into this market. In turn, this will help to reduce poverty and improve food security and nutrition among the poor.
A team of aquaculture experts from Imani Development recently assessed the potential for developing the fish farming sector in the DRC . This was done through a rapid review of the aquaculture industry in collaboration with the Decision Support Unit (DSU) which supports DFID’s DRC private sector development programme.
Using a tried and tested market systems approach, the team set about analysing the relationship between the aquaculture market system and the asset base of the local economic context. This involved conducting field visits and interviews across South Kivu, North Kivu, Kinshasa and Tanganyika, seeking to understand the structure and product flows of the aquaculture value chain in the DRC, their geographical distribution, the supply and demand dynamics at play, and the relationship to wild catch fisheries.
A number of different production models were identified, including ponds within a smallholder farming system, commercialised larger scale pond aquaculture, cage aquaculture within a wild fisheries system, and fully commercialised cage aquaculture. The fish produced through these different systems enter the market through traditional channels such as small-scale women traders and commercial distributors.
Mapping out the key actors in the sector and their roles and relationships was crucial to understanding how the aquaculture market system functions, where existing capacity lies and where targeted support might catalyse the development of the sector. There are both large small-scale and larger players functioning within the value chain, but these do not work on discrete levels. For example, whilst small-scale farmers and women traders could be considered relatively minor actors, they play a significant and fairly consistent role in the structure and function of the market system. Furthermore, when integrated into cooperatives, fisher associations and trader associations, the reach and influence of these smaller players is extended.
CASE STUDY: BUKAVU FISHER ASSOCIATION
One of the main things that stood out from the trip was visiting the Bukavu Fisher Association. Some 300 fishers in total, a sub-group of 40 has set up some small cages for fish farming on the lake. They have the boat handling skills and the willingness to innovate that makes for good aquaculture, though often fishers find it hard to adapt to the ‘farming’ aspect of aquaculture. A friendly but also very focused group, they have spent the past few years problem-solving and refining their operational model.
The group has obtained a licence for the site from SENAQUA (the National Service for Aquaculture), invested in cages, training and travel, and has imported ‘seed and feed’ from nearby countries, building on a good feed supply (from Novatek in Zambia – not too huge a distance from South Kivu). They have ambitions to expand their operations to other interested sub-groups in the association, then across to partner associations on other lakes. Their commercial drive and teamwork suggest they will be successful, though it has not been easy, and they have had to learn along the way by trial and error. Nevertheless, they have the right ‘fundamentals’ of good feed, willingness to invest, and a diverse skills base.
Their market is a steady off-take of product to supply local houses and businesses. The vast market for fish in Bukavu and across urban DRC means that as long as they are competitive, they have scope for continued growth.
The Bukavu fishers share similarities with lobstermen in Maine and Scotland who are diversifying into seaweed and shellfish. Globally, aquaculture is a mix of big firms operating at vast scale, but also small commercial players who are aggregating their production power and organisational strength to find scale efficiencies by working together.
The assignment was inspiring in many ways – seeing the innovation taking place by different actors, and the huge potential for the sector in future. However, there is much to do in supporting both the public and private sector market infrastructure. Others in nearby countries, particularly Zambia, are making strides in full scale commercialisation of aquaculture and point to a positive commercial future, which will translate into pro-poor economic benefit for the country.
Dr Isla Farley is a Consultant at Imani Development with experience in corporate responsibility & sustainability, cross-sector development partnerships, and food security. She provided desk research and logistical support to the field research team.
Isla holds a PhD and MSc in Corporate Social Responsibility from Nottingham University Business School and a BA in Development Studies from the University of Sussex. You are welcome to get in touch with Isla on email@example.com with any comments or enquiries.
 Evaluation of DFID DRC’s Private Sector Development programme. [Online] Available at: https://www.opml.co.uk/projects/evaluation-dfid-drc-private-sector-development [Accessed 23rd July 2019].
 Short-term research support: Rapid Assessment of the Aquaculture Sector in the DRC. [Online] Available at: https://www.opml.co.uk/files/Publications/a1281-managing-decision-support-unit-verification-evaluation-private-sector-development-programme/full-research-paper-rapid-assessment-of-the-aquaculture-sector-in-the-drc.pdf?noredirect=1 [Accessed 20th July 2019].