22.03.2021. The fish is huge, its dimensions giving it the appearance of a predator: « We call it nina in Lingala. It's the electric fish, » the lady explains. Electric catfish (scientific name Malapterurus electricus) are a freshwater fish, commonly found in many African rivers and lakes, including those of the Congo basin.
Femme des champs, des rivières, femme du grand fleuve
Ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi…
The lady has just concluded a deal with one of the fishermen she met on the banks of river Kandeko. After Lengoué, Kandeko is the second most important river in the Ngombé forest.
It is not every day that one has the chance to observe a direct sale from producer to consumer. The fisherman offers to hold the pole while we take some pictures: « It’s heavy! » he observes. « At the Ngombé market, » she says, « it sells for 1’000 CFA francs per kilo (about 1,5 EUR per kilo) ». The fish is about 1.5 metres long and weighs about 15 kilos.
In the Ngombé region, the forest is the mother of the inhabitants, and the forest alone. It is the forest that provides much-needed protein, essential for survival, through hunting and fishing.
In larger villages, such as Ngombé, freshwater fish is preferred to imported fish and meat. « Well, it is ugly, but then it is quite popular, it has so much taste, » the lady tells us. And as a side dish? « We serve it with tomato sauce, accompanied by peanut paste. »
According to FAO, Africa's wetlands provide a significant contribution to consumption, averaging 19 kg of fish per person per year, supporting the livelihoods of the 61.8 million people who make a direct living from fishing and aquaculture.
Here, hunting is not exactly a leisure activity: its purpose is to provide for the household. Hunting, like fishing, is about seeing without being seen: an extremely precise amount of knowledge is required.
Nothing is left to chance and the communities modulate their techniques according to the seasons. The rhythm of the rains influences the activities, the low water season being the most favourable. The food security and even the survival of the communities that depend on fishing is therefore deeply intertwined with rainfall and climate evolution. The fruiting of a tree attracts birds or wild boar, while low water allows animals in the swamps to be reached. In the Ngombé forest, INTERHOLCO has put about 280,000 ha of wetlands under permanent protection, where the forest and water mix.
The environmental importance of wetland ecosystems is well documented. However, the importance of fishing has long been underestimated, both for food and for community activities. As with hunting, the communities have a rich and specialised vocabulary: each species is known and named. The communities' capacity to adapt is reflected in the technologies they use.
Some fishermen build 'dams' in which traps are set up to catch fish. Others put the fish to sleep by dispersing plant liquids in the watercourse. Alongside these traditional methods, there are more familiar methods such as nets and hooks.
The threats to fishing areas are mainly related to different forms of pollution. Deforestation plays a role, as it changes the aquatic environment and destabilises fish breeding grounds. Implementing FSC principles and criteria helps to avoid deforestation. The World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch software is proof of this: according to its satellite images, in 2019 0% net deforestation took place in North Congo, more precisely in the Sangha department where the Ngombé forest is located.
Here, the road we were travelling on next to the Kandeko is only a forest track. This track, which is not tarred but is made of dirt, is, however, compact enough not to erode during the rainy season. The techniques used by INTERHOLCO's teams ensure that the water level is not altered so as not to endanger the rivers or their wildlife. Proof: the communities continue to find fish there.
For the woman, buying fish at the source means giving her children quality protein, while avoiding buying meat from illegal poaching. It also means being able to sell it at a higher price at the market in Ngombé, located 25 km away.
Protecting the forest thus means protecting the food security of the local population, estimated at 16’000 people. In this case, it also means protecting women's ability to generate income.
Photos © INTERHOLCO.
INTERHOLCO offers Sustainable Hardwood 'Made in Africa' as a responsible solution to promote better living conditions (construction with wood), reduce climate change, and increase social justice. As FSC-certified producer specialized in producing and trading logs, sawn timber, glued laminated scantlings and other products, INTERHOLCO manages the entire chain, from forest to customers since 1962. Harvesting wood selectively, INTERHOLCO protects 1.1 million hectares of natural forest from permanent conversion to agricultural land, giving 16’000 local inhabitants access to quality basic services and keeping the habitat of thousands of gorillas and elephants.
Communications contact INTERHOLCO
Tullia Baldassarri Höger von Högersthal
INTERHOLCO AG, Schutzengelstr. 36, 6340 Baar, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 (0)41 767 03 82