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Alongside the mighty Niger River, fewer fish and extra jihadists

Ousmane Djebare Djenepo, carrying sun shades and a straightforward smile, stands upright to indicate off the mighty Niger River which is flowing round his conventional wood canoe, or pirogue.

A fisherman on his pirogue on the Niger River in Mopti, Mali, on March 17, 2021 Pictures: AFP

The 76-year-old Malian is one in every of tens of 1000’s of fishermen who make a residing from the river and the verdant wetlands which encompass it.

However Djenepo’s smile hides unease.

“Earlier than, the river was deep and the fishing seasons lengthy,” says Djenepo, head of the federation of fishermen of the Niger River’s interior delta. 

“Now there are far fewer fish, and the river has too many issues.”

Ecological points are threatening livelihoods within the space in central Mali, at the same time as inhabitants need to cope with jihadists and armed teams. 

Islamist militants launched a brutal insurgency in Mali in 2012 which has killed 1000’s and displaced a whole lot of 1000’s extra. 

However within the interior Niger delta, overfishing has depleted shares, and the Sahara desert can be encroaching on the inexperienced floodplains. 

Boukary Guindo, the federal government’s fisheries director for the area, mentioned the state of affairs for fishermen has gone “from dangerous to worse.”

An unlimited space roughly the dimensions of Switzerland, the interior Niger delta is a fancy ecosystem comprising lakes and floodplains, which helps a whole lot and 1000’s of fishermen, farmers and herders.

Throughout flooding within the wet season, solely pirogues can journey throughout the delta. 

However when the waters recede, fish-filled swimming pools are left behind, alongside enormous fields of hippo grass that entice cattle from throughout the semi-arid Sahel.

Hamidou Toure, director of the delta’s fisheries improvement workplace, mentioned that the Sahara has been “engulfing” the Niger River for years. 

New sandbanks minimize off previously productive areas of the delta, he mentioned, with fish not left behind.

‘Fish from the sky’ 

A number of dams constructed for the reason that Nineteen Seventies have additionally modified the course of the third-longest river on the African continent. And rains are much less frequent, which has slowed its stream. 

The consequence has been a blurring of boundaries between seasons, weakening the standard shared administration of the delta’s assets, in response to Ibrahima Sankare, from the help group Delta Survie. 

“When the grass is there, it is for the pastoralists; when the water is there, for the Bozos; when the land is there, for the farmers,” he mentioned, explaining the customary system. 

Bozos are an ethnic group in Mali that historically practices fishing.

Sankara added that everybody has “abused” the system, which was first established within the nineteenth century below the ethnic Fulani-led Macina empire.

For fishermen, nonetheless, catching no matter comes alongside is a matter of survival.

Boukary Guindo, the fisheries director, mentioned fishermen typically catch spawners, which may decimate shares.

“Our cousins the Bozos assume that fish fall from the sky,” he added, with a rueful smile.

Guindo’s job entails encouraging fishermen to make use of nets that spare smaller fish, permitting shares to respawn. 

Nevertheless, central Mali’s rampant insecurity prevents fieldwork.

Since Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists infiltrated the area in 2015, it has grow to be one of many Sahel battle’s bloodiest battlegrounds, the place the federal government exerts little management.

Not nourishes us 

Some Bozo fishermen advised AFP that they are often shot at whereas travelling the waterways of the delta, and jihadists typically block entry to fishing grounds or demand taxes.

Critical assaults may happen and have prompted many locals to go away the area.

In a hut on the outskirts of the regional capital Mopti, Rokia recounted how militants in 2018 kidnapped the boys in her household. 

Gunmen had demanded that her household’s 5 pirogues – with 23 individuals aboard together with her husband, two sons and two brothers – pull up by the riverbank, she mentioned.

Rokia – whose first title AFP has withheld for her security – pleaded with the militants, to no avail. 

“We by no means noticed them once more,” she mentioned, by way of sobs.

Now based mostly in Mopti, the remaining members of her household not fish.

A fisherman on his pirogue on the Niger River in Mopti, Mali, on March 17, 2021 Photos: AFP

A fisherman on his pirogue on the Niger River in Mopti, Mali, on March 17, 2021

‘Organic relaxation’ 

In response to falling shares, authorities are selling fish farms, which now account for about 10 p.c of the delta’s manufacturing.

Modibo Traore, who spent 30 years fishing the river, has taken this route. “You’ll be able to catch solely huge fish if you would like, it is simpler,” he says.

For others, the environmental issues are excessive sufficient that they need to block fishing altogether.

Guindo, the fisheries director, mentioned he needs all fishing to cease briefly, “to provide the river a organic relaxation.”

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