Farming Fish for a Food Secure Future in Algeria’s Sahrawi Refugee Camps

In Algeria’s southwestern Tindouf province, refugees from Western Sahara are working to develop a tilapia farm in N’khaila, one of the region’s five camps. The project aims to provide local sources of protein intake, while also building skills and increasing the economic autonomy of Sahrawi refugees, especially women and youth.

Initially launched in 2018, the project is nearing the end of its final phase. The project’s first phase focused on carrying out field analyses, civil engineering work, and purchasing and installing the necessary equipment. This final stage aims to strengthen the technical knowledge and management capacities of the staff and train participants to manage one micro fish-farm project in each of the region’s five camps.

The fish farm is a collaboration between the Sahrawi Agricultural Training and Experimentation Center (CEFA), the French non-governmental organization Triangle Génération Humanitaire (TGH), and the World Food Programme (WFP). The project also secured funding from Andorra and the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM).

“These refugees are in five camps in the harsh and isolated desert environment of western Algeria, where opportunities for self-reliance are limited, forcing them to depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival,” Abderezak Bouhaceine, Partnerships, Communication & Reporting Officer for WFP Algeria, tells Food Tank.

Despite more than 30 years of WFP’s uninterrupted aid, the humanitarian organization reports that 30 percent of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria are food insecure and 58 percent are at risk of food insecurity. The prevalence of malnutrition and anemia are also especially high among women and children, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports — a result of the limited composition of food baskets distributed in the refugee camps.

Several U.N. member states have described Western Sahara as Africa’s last colony. In exchange for continued access to Western Sahara’s rich fisheries and a share of the profits from a lucrative phosphates mine, the territory’s former colonizer, Spain, sold the sparsely-populated territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. The political conflict between the Kingdom of Morocco and Western Sahara’s Polisario Front over Sahrawi self-determination remains unresolved. Over the past 47 years, the conflict has caused an influx of refugees to Algeria, which currently hosts approximately 173,600 Sharawi refugees in the Tindouf region, according to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

To address these challenges of nutrition, agency, and empowerment among Sahrawi refugees, WFP decided to increase access to fresh and protein-rich food and help create sustainable livelihoods through “the world’s first fish farm in a refugee camp,” Bouhaceine tells Food Tank.

The tilapia farm project involves 15 refugee technical staff, four of whom are women. Each member of the staff received training in controlling and monitoring the full eight-month breeding cycle, allowing them to master the breeding cycle of fish farming.

“In Sahrawi society, refugee women are active participants in public life. They manage both public and domestic responsibilities, which shows their empowerment,” Bouhaceine tells Food Tank.

According to WFP, the fish farm in N’khaila recently marked its first harvest, which yielded 1.4 tons of tilapia. Of this quantity, 80 percent will be sold for distribution in hospitals and will also be integrated into food baskets. WFP’s partner, TGH, will distribute the remaining 20 percent to people with disabilities in specialized education centers in the camps.

By the time of the final harvest under WFP funding in early 2022, the project is expected to produce around seven tons of tilapia. In order to further launch fish farming at the community level in the region’s other refugee camps, 20 young Sahrawi refugees received training in fish farming techniques. This capacity building aspect of the project aims to expand livelihood opportunities for Sahrawi refugees and provide a reliable source of iron-rich fresh fish.

To ensure long-term food security and stable production and distribution of tilapia to refugee communities, donors and partners of the project are in the process of supplying future micro-projects with the necessary equipment and training. Five individuals are also participating in additional courses that will teach them to manage one micro-fish farm in each of Tindouf’s five camps. The ultimate goal is for Sahrawi refugees to manage the fish farms themselves, increasing food security and economic autonomy.

Ahcene Oulmane, head of the fish farming pilot project for TGH, says that the organization plans to discuss “the possibility of making the built farm a real aquaculture training center for young Sahrawis.”

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Phot courtesy of Creab Mcselvin, Unsplash

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