by Ebinimi Joe Ansa, Nigeria, ELP 2013
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is laden with several rivers and creeks with a rich biodiversity of aquatic flora and fauna (http://img.wikinut.com/img/1m6isc.02-nttdf8/jpeg/0/Map-Niger-Delta.jpeg), and all funnel into the Atlantic Ocean. Naturally, the indigenous people are involved in fishing and subsistence farming activities. The region is also characterized by vast lands known as floodplains, which are of utmost importance for the survival and propagation of several fish species in the rainy/flood season as well as for the cultivation of crops during the dry season.
The people living in the Niger Delta region have used this floodplain environment to practice forms of traditional aquaculture activities, includingmanually dug-out ponds that are prepared between February and April (before the onset of the rainy/flood season).
As river levels rise, wild fish swim away from the main river channels into the flooded plains seeking more serene shelter, food, and breeding grounds. Some fish find a new habitat in these ponds and are trapped once the floods recede in the dry season. The pond owners then go to harvest their ponds before the onset of another flood, and the cycle starts all over again. Communities along river courses are involved in this activity and several ponds are prepared and harvested. Most of the fish are taken alive and fresh and processed for the market as well as family consumption. This is a means of livelihood for several families and this method of fishing is still thriving.
However, with increasing population size and urbanization, there is also increasing demand for food and fish. The subsistence way of crop farming and fishing cannot meet the demands of the people. The trend therefore is increasing activity of a more commercial way of farming as an alternative for increased fish production in the Niger Delta region. Unfortunately, there is a generation gap between the farming/fishing populations in communities in this oil rich region that has suffered environmental degradation and pollution from crude oil spills (http://coastalcare.org/2011/08/oil-pollution-in-niger-delta-environmental-assessment-of-ogoniland-report-unep/). There is an urgent need to change the way things are being done and also to sustain food production in the region despite these challenges.
The major challenge for sustained food production is that the youth are not interested in agriculture; most youth would prefer to do something more attractive than any kind of farming. For this reason, I have thought of a process which can get the youth interested and engaged in integrated agro-aquaculture (combination of fish farming with crop and livestock production) activities in the region. The idea is to start a School Youth Program that focuses on teaching the young ones of primary and secondary school age to imbibe farming as a way of life while also learning to maintain a clean environment and a healthy lifestyle. Children will learn how to maximally utilize space, conserve water resources, reuse and recycle waste products, and also produce fish, livestock, vegetables, and other crops.
Three model schools would be selected from each Local Government Area to participate in the Program tagged “Green and Living”. It is expected that 3000 children will benefit from this program over the first three years.
Each school would be allowed to develop a unique model. The children, under their teacher’s supervision, will arrive at a consensus on all activities and what they want to grow on their farm plot. Plot size will depend on land available within the school premises, but on average it would not be larger than 150 m2 per child. The simple model will include using waste water from the fish farm as an input for water supply and nutrients for crop production. While animal husbandry also supplies manure for crop production, processing (e.g. degutting of poultry) can also generate waste products that will serve as inputs or ingredients in the production of fish feeds.
Another challenge is that trees are fast disappearing from our schools and communities due to coastal erosion that occurs during the flood season. Trees are needed for our survival because they help purify our atmosphere by taking up carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing it. Trees also reduce air temperature and provide shelter and shade for other plants and animals. A model for the establishment and development of tree nurseries to be transplanted within schools and communities will be carried out under the GAL program. Local species of both fruit trees and ornamental plants would be grown. Apart from the seeds used in establishing the nursery, another component would be the use of waste nylon bags and plastic sachets which have become an eyesore littering our streets and water ways. These materials would be collected and re-used as containers for growing seedlings in the tree nursery.
Products from the GAL program would first and foremost be of direct benefit to the schools involved in the program. For instance, seedlings could be marketed to the public for economic benefits. Proceeds from the sale of (excess) products will be used to develop meaningful projects that would positively affect the lives of the children in each school. Besides, the plots automatically serve as an ecological laboratory for the study of agriculture and biology. Healthy living will also be promoted on the GAL program through organic farming and the use of local methods for growing indigenous crops and fish species.
In partnership with other agencies, annual competitions would be conducted as an incentive for exceptional programs and awards would be given under various categories of best performing schools. Children with outstanding performance will be offered scholarship up to the degree level. These events would be given adequate media coverage and it is hoped that the children will replicate what they have learnt at school in their homes and communities to keep the environment green and alive.