In investing roughly 500 million FCFA (USD 1 million) in a research and development project for its member countries in 2014, the overarching goal of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) was to understand the genetic composition of sheep, cattle, guinea fowl, tilapia, etc. as well as boost their production.
By so doing, WAEMU assumed the research results would contribute to the food and nutrition security of the people living its space and as a result reduce the burden of poverty and less about building social cohesion.
But as it turned out, one of the most consequential unintended impacts of the project ended up being the strengthening of social bonds among previously antagonistic tribes.
By bringing together fish farmers from previously hostile tribes, old rivalries were diffused, and old wounds healed.
“At the start, we worked in isolation and sometimes viewed one another as competitors. But with the creation of the innovation platforms, we have found out that we have a common interest and goal and learned to collaborate,” says 73-years-old Obrou Albert who is credited for introducing pisciculture in Zedi, a locality in Gagnoa Division in the Central East of Cote d’Ivoire.
In the implementation of the innovation platform, CORAF and its implementing partners notably the National Center for Agricultural Research (CNRA) established an innovation platform on the pisciculture value chain.
The main added value of the innovation platforms is that they bring together farmers to discuss and share knowledge on new fish farming practices such as inputs, building ponds, and infrastructure, planning, marketing, etc.
Before the crisis that hit Cote d’Ivoire following the 2010 presidential elections, most of the people in this community cohabitated together without any problems. But with the crisis, they started to split mostly along the lines of the ethnic groups found in the north and south of the country. Friends and people who previously worked together started to distrust one another.
“We were together and living peacefully for decades. But things changed during the crisis. Some of the people in my community started plotting against one another,” adds Obrou.
Cote d’Ivoire experienced a brutal civil crisis following the 2010 elections. Between December 2010 to April 2011, about 3000 people are reported to have been killed as a result of a stand-off over the winner of the presidential elections.
In Zedi, Bahompa, and Gagnoa in general, the community was also affected by the crises.
“The innovation platforms changes everything for us. Baoules, Bétés, Senofu, Malians, Guineans, and Burkinabes now work together thanks to the innovation platforms. We are all fish farmers. We have a common interest. Previously, I could not go to the farm of others without informing them. But we are now carrying out exchange visits, sometimes even in the absence of the owner of the farm. This speaks to the level at which we have regained trust in each other,” argues Obrou.
The Ivoirian government spent tremendous efforts trying to reconcile the country following the crises. But for the people in this area, they initiated and drove the reconciliation process without external support.
“That, people with a common business interest can come together as a result of an innovation put in place to discuss and advance a specific value chain is something that we should praise,” argues Dr. Cyrille Kouassi, the Coordinator of PROGEVAL in Cote d’Ivoire.
For the President of the pisciculture innovation platform, Mr. Boli Bi Alain, the restoration of trust among the people of the region remains one of his proudest achievements.