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Fish Farming Project Helps CAR Refugees Feed Themselves

FILE - Refugees from Central Africa sit in the eastern Cameroonian village of Gado Badzere, near the city of Garoua-Boulai, not far from the border with Central Africa, March 13, 2014.

The United Nations says humanitarian needs in refugee camps in Cameroon are increasing, exceeding the means available to take care of the growing number of refugees. But some of the refugees have empowered themselves by making use of resources around them to earn a living for their families. At Gado refugee camp in eastern Cameroon, 200 refugee women have developed a fish pond by a river and are supplying fish not only to people in need in the camp but to surrounding villages.

More than a hundred women sing here on the side of a river at Gado near the United Nations refugee camp. It is a day of harvest and many refugees have come to buy. Among the fish farmers is 31-year-old Christine Mboula, a Central African Refugee who has been living in the camp for two years. Her laughs are indicative of how happy she is to raise money from the sale of the fish and then carry some of her catch home for her family.

Mboula says she has come to the river to collect and sell fish so as to help her family. She says the activity has kept them going.

Christine says she had been jobless and poor and could not take care of her three children. She lost her husband in the fighting in C.A.R. and relied on food aid from the United Nations, which she says was never enough.

Boniface Nyado, head of the World Food Program office in the eastern Cameroon town of Bertoua says the inland fish aquaculture program was started in the area in June 2017 by the World Food Program to attend to the needs of C.A.R. refugees and their host communities.

He says they initiated the project when they noticed that the locality had high fishing potential and at the same time there was insufficient food and a deficit in protein needed by the host communities and refugees. He says they brought groups of 200 refugees and host community members who work in the fishing area for six months, harvest and sell the fish and then create their own fish ponds to help them raise revenue and protein.

The refugees and host community members receive business training, emphasizing savings and loan best practices, technical support that includes how to produce low-cost fish food pellets, and other innovative ideas from the World Food Program.

The host communities are involved in efforts to stop any potential conflict that may arise from using water and other resources.

The W.F.P. says the savings and loan program in Gado is part of a new response to the massive displacement of people from C.A.R. to Cameroon and the effects it has on host communities.

Barely 1,000 C.A.R. refugees were here at Gado at the beginning of 2017. Today, close to 25,000 people are seeking refuge and trying to survive as tensions in the central African state continue.

Allegra Baiocchi, resident coordinator of the UN system in Cameroon says the aquaculture program was initiated to support the refugees and empower them rather than have them be dependent on resources that are overstretched and slow to come.

"Our response is underfunded. We need to remember the refugees population and the impact this has on the host communities and we need to do more," she said. "Overall, the humanitarian response in Cameroon is 40 percent funded. When it comes to refugees, that figure comes down to 20 percent. There is not more we can do with 20 percent of the funding. After three years, what the people are asking us is to give them more long term support. To start putting them on the path of recovery and of development."

The United Nations raised only $148 million of the 390 million dollars it needed up to the end of last September. The UN says by January, the needs of the refugees will increase to 498 million dollars.

C.A.R. plunged into turmoil in 2013 when the government of the majority Christian nation was overthrown by Muslim rebels, setting off a wave of sectarian fighting.

Christians, fearing reprisal attacks from the Muslim ex-rebels who controlled Central African Republic, fled for safety.

At least two-point-two million are finding it difficult to feed themselves and in May of this year, the U.N. refugee agency said that there were more than 500,000 internally displaced persons in the country.