Ecological issues are threatening livelihoods in central Mali. This comes as indigenes contend with jihadists and armed groups. In the inner Niger delta, overfishing has depleted stocks.
The Sahara Desert is also encroaching on the green floodplains, and a deeply worrying situation for fisherfolks.
“The production has gone down and down. For example, in 2017, we had 35,000 tonnes. In 2018, it was 10,000 tonnes. In 2019, it was about 24,000 tonnes, while in 2020 we had 23,000 tonnes”, said Boukary Guindo, regional director of fishing in Mopti.
A vast area roughly the size of Switzerland, the inner Niger delta is a complex ecosystem comprising lakes and floodplains. It supports hundreds and thousands of fishermen, farmers and herders.
During flooding in the rainy season, only small boats can travel across the delta.
“The river in general is being engulfed by silting, everywhere, along its entire length. Areas of very high production are now cut off from the river. What is it due to? It is due to silting. It is the case of the lake Faguibine, in the circle of Goundam”, said Hamidou Touré, director, delta’s fisheries development office.
Locals said they can be shot at while travelling the waterways of the delta. Jihadists, they added sometimes block access to fishing grounds or demand taxes.
“There are no authorities around the river. The jihadists have created their own checkpoint. They come on motorcycles and stand in the shade of a tree with their rifles. When there is a boat passing by, they ask you to stop, if you don’t stop they will kill you”, a local resident said.
To address falling stocks challenges, authorities are promoting fish farms. That’s now accounting for about 10% of the delta’s production.
Modibo Traoré, who spent 30 years fishing the river, has taken this route.
“I stopped fishing in the river because there was not enough depth. So I decided to create a pond where I can produce fish myself, it’s easier than going fishing”, Traoré said.
For others, the environmental problems are extreme enough that they want to block fishing altogether. Some want ”to give the river a biological rest”.