by Antoine Rougier, Aquaculture Project Coordinator, Madagascar
With a growing cycle of 8 to 12 months, Holothuria scabra or sea cucumber farming requires of those involved willingness and much patience until they can finally reap the fruits of their labour. A slightly unusual concept for southwest Madagascar, where people generally live a subsistence life style, catching fish to meet their daily food needs. Especially considering that this long period is not without risk; there is the threat of predation (of the sea cucumbers) during the first months, and then the constant risk of theft once the sandfish (the common name for this sea cucumber species) have reached the sellable size, logical given their high value – in excess of MGA 5000/piece (US $2.5) in villages where the average daily wage is less than $2 per day.
These risks were identified during the project’s preliminary stages, and have seriously threatened the sustainability of the activity. But, instead of giving up, the project beneficiaries in Tampolove and the Blue Ventures staff have confronted these problems head on and tried to implement solutions.
The year 2011 saw many changes in the management of the villages’ farms, with the introduction of new practices and tools, including:
- Better preparation of the juvenile deliveries by the farmers, and the introduction of protected nurseries to isolate them from predators during their first months.
- The construction of a watchtower in the middle of the pens, to facilitate night guarding
- Increased communication and interaction between the Blue Ventures staff and the farmers, and more proactive management.
The results of these improvements have already been observed in 2011, with a significant increase in juvenile survival rates compared to previous years. But these improvements have now had a significant impact in terms of production with the results of the first sale of 2012 highlighting the commitment of the farmers in 2011.
On the 21st and 22nd of February 2012, the farmers of Tampolove were able to sell 1775 adult H. scabra to our local partner in the project. This sale represents a net income of MGA 3,351,000 (US $1676) for the village, with an average of MGA 280,000 (US $140) per team.
This sale, the largest since the start of village-based sea-cucumber farming project in the southwest of Madagascar, is positive for many reasons:
- Almost all the farmers have now covered 100% of the costs of the last delivery of juveniles, a major step forward for the sustainability of the project and the farmers’ independence from donors.
- A demonstration that the new technical and social approaches established by the farmers with the support of Blue Ventures were on the right track.
- An invaluable promotion of the project within the local community, already attracting new potential farmers.
Although this is a big step forward in the development of this activity, now is not the time for the farmers of Tampolove and the Blue Ventures team to relax. It’s the time to work hard in order to make these figures the norm and also to confirm the positive numbers for the next sales, observed by Blue Ventures and the farmers during the bi-monthly monitoring.
In 2011, the farmers sold 2066 sea cucumbers and we can already say that this number will be greatly exceeded in 2012 as 1775 were sold in the last sale alone! With 3 to 4 more sales expected during the rest of 2012, without a doubt Tampolove’s farmers have now ushered community-based sea-cucumber aquaculture into a new and exciting era.