Farmers of the Sea – Sea Cucumber Farming as an Alternative to Fishing
Tampolove, Southwest Madagascar
Many developing countries are facing interconnected challenges of poor health, unmet family needs, gender inequality, food insecurity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change. One such country is Madagascar, where 92% of the population lives on less than US$2 per day. Semi-nomadic fishing communities along the southwest coast are some of the poorest and most isolated in the country; almost wholly reliant on the marine environment for food, income, transport and cultural identity. In recent years, they have observed declining fish catches, owing largely to pressure related to market-driven exploitation, as well as increasing subsistence demands from the growing coastal population.
In response to this decline in catch, initiatives to diversify livelihoods and as such reduce fishing pressure have been taken by many of the communities with the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). One such alternative income that has been explored in the region is sea cucumber farming.
In an effort to protect marine biodiversity and sustain traditional fisheries along the southwest coast of Madagascar, Blue Ventures, an international non-governmental organization, worked with local communities to establish a locally managed marine area (LMMA); networks encompassing temporary fishery closures; permanent marine reserves, and designated aquaculture zones. The LMMA is called Velondriake, which means, “to live with the sea”, and it covers more than 750 km of marine, coastal, and terrestrial habitats. To increase resilience and the recovery potential of the coral reefs and mangrove areas to climate change and anthropogenic pressures, various forms of fisheries restrictions, such as banning destructive fishing methods and introducing permanent no-take zones, have been developed. These were agreed upon by local stakeholders through community meetings attended by representatives elected from each village.
The community based sea-cucumber farms in southwest Madagascar were developed by Blue Ventures, in partnership with other NGOs, The Royal Norwegian Society for Development (Norges Vel), and a local company that manages a sea cucumber hatchery in Toliara and developed the hatchery methods. Toliara is the main town in southwest Madagascar and the fifth largest city in Madagascar. The aim of the project is to provide an alternative and supplementary income to fishing and thereby increase food security and resilience to climate change.
Blue Ventures began pilot holothurian mariculture in March 2007 with the Women’s Association of Andavadoaka. The trials provided the opportunity to test materials and pen design, as well as begin to collect biological data on growth rates and stocking densities. In September 2009, two local NGOs, Blue Ventures and Trans’Mad Development secured grant funding from the Regional Programme for the Sustainable Management of the Coastal Zones of the Countries of the Indian Ocean Countries (ReCoMaP). Funding was used to establish sea cucumber farming as an alternative livelihood for local communities in southwest Madagascar. Both organizations collaborated with a sea cucumber hatchery in Toliara to carry out village-based mariculture of juvenile Holothuria scabra in six villages to commercial size. Depending on season, site and food availability, individuals reached harvest size in 6-12 months. A feasibility study was carried out in 2009 to assess extension of the activity and increasing the commercial focus, profitability and value captured by the producers/farmers. Since 2010, the project has expanded to over 40 farms concentrated in 2 main sites where growth and conditions have been most suitable. The main site in Velondriake is based in the village of Tampolove.
When the farm was first established in Tampolove, the community was consulted by Blue Ventures, and social surveys were carried out to establish potential farm families. By this time a bond of trust already existed between the community of Tampolove and Blue Ventures, who had been working in the community for several years to establish Velondriake.
The sea cucumber farm in Tampolove employs 38 farming teams and over 170 individuals. Each team manages one pen and over 50% of both team leaders and members are women. Earnings from the farm are split between all the individuals in each farming team. A school farming team was also established, consisting of students, teachers, and parents and profits go towards tuition fees for the children in the community.
How Successful Has it Been?
The first sale of sea cucumbers took place in 2009 and net income has been increasing each year, although a decrease in income was seen in 2013 when cyclone Haruna caused large-scale loss of sea cucumbers. Increases in income can be attributed to: new techniques to improve juvenile survival rates (eg. the introduction of nursery pens), increase in the technical abilities of farmers, and introduction of guards to reduce theft. Following the implementation of these new techniques juvenile survivorship rose from 46% in February 2009 to a peak of 76.9% in August 2011.
Despite significant improvements in the farms’ management, work is continuing to maximize the output of farms to ensure that the farms are profitable once external funding is removed. In order to help achieve this, a new training program to improve financial and business management skills is being provided by a local NGO, Centre d’Information Technique et Economique (CITE).
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Establishing alternative livelihoods can be challenging as it requires collaboration between partners with different skills. Results are rarely published due to many aquaculture projects being part of the private sector, and as such experiences and lessons learned are rarely shared. Blue Ventures has tried to overcome this by sharing their experiences through a range of media and products:
- A sea cucumber farming handbook has been produced, with support from ReCoMap.
- Work is in progress to establish a stakeholder platform for sharing knowledge on aquaculture in southwest Madagascar.
- In December 2013 Blue Ventures in partnership with the University of Dar es Salaam hosted a landmark workshop on community-based aquaculture in the Western Indian Ocean.
- Blue Ventures is a member and supporting partner of Community Based Aquaculture in the WIO, an informal regional network.
Key lessons learned and recommendations from the project include:
- Continued aquaculture support through local technicians is important
- Strong relationships between the private sector and communities are important for success
- Built in progressive models of payments, learning, etc. are necessary. For many fishers this is their first time running what is essentially a small business
- Establish a trial period to determine socioeconomic and ecological conditions suitable for the project
Blue Ventures’ aquaculture programme is supported by Norges Vel, an international NGO with expertise in tropical mariculture development.
Indian Ocean Trepang: a sea cucumber hatchery and aquaculture business that works with communities to provide juveniles for community production
Copefrito: a local seafood export company with a commitment to the sustainable management of Madagascar’s marine resources
The Velondriake Association: the management body of the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA)
Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines: the marine science and fisheries research institute of the University of Toliara
National fisheries and aquaculture authorities: support the project through the development of a supportive legal framework for aquaculture
CITE (Centre d’Information Technique et Economique): Malagasy NGO providing practical small business training to entrepreneurs
Written by: Ida Vincent