In the ebb and flow of the Indian Ocean’s salty waters, a quiet revolution has been taking place, one centered around an unassuming sea creature —the mussel. These shellfish, equally at home in fresh and salt water, have captured the hearts and taste buds of many, earning their place as a culinary delight. In the records of global food production, 2018 marked a significant milestone when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) unveiled a staggering statistic: a breathtaking 2.2 million tons of mussels were being harvested worldwide. What’s even more astonishing is that nearly 94% of this harvest didn’t come from the wild but from aquaculture.
Aquaculture, often likened to “farming in water,” has rapidly risen in prominence, becoming one of the fastest-growing forms of food production on our planet. Its allure extends beyond merely producing food for local communities and markets, as it bolsters food security and fosters economic prosperity. At its core, aquaculture offers a lifeline to our natural habitats, allowing wild species and their ecosystems to breathe, regenerate, and thrive.
In the idyllic Kanyaka (formerly Inhaca) Island cradled off the shores of Maputo in Mozambique, a remarkable visionary project is taking shape. The project, led by the National Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (IDEPA) and supported by the UNEP-Nairobi Convention SAPPHIRE Project is determined to popularize mussel aquaculture on the island. How? By establishing a resilient and sustainable community-led mussel aquaculture production system, with a focus on harnessing the potential of the indigenous Perna Pernamussel species, abundantly found in Mozambican waters.
In a candid conversation with the Director of Serviço Distrital de Actividades Económicas (SDAE) Mr. Felisberto Maria Milando, it became evident that Kanyaka Island’s essence is intricately entwined with its ocean resources, particularly the fisheries and tourism sectors. With a population of approximately 60,000 residents scattered across three villages—Inguane, Ribjene, and Nhanquene—the island’s fortunes have conventionally been tethered to coastal treasures. However, the Director lamented that in recent times, the once-thriving fish stocks have dwindled, casting a shadow over the island’s economic potential.
Yet, it is against this backdrop of challenge and change that the mussel aquaculture project emerges as a beacon of hope. This innovative endeavor not only offers an alternative avenue for cultivating mussels but also provides a fresh source of income for the island’s inhabitants. It is a demonstration of resilience and adaptation.
But this project is more than just an aquaculture practice; it exhibits commitment to community-driven change. Mr. Francísco Manguele, the Director of Central Services for the Development of Fisheries and Aquaculture, passionately affirms, “This project is collaborating with thirty-five families on the island and seeks to provide a sustainable alternative to traditional fisheries while boosting the local food supply.” In a tangible display of dedication, Mr. Manguele goes on to emphasize the crucial role played by local authorities, who actively monitor the project site’s activities, ensuring its success.
The journey from wild mussel seeds to cultivated bounty is an intricate one. Mussel seeds are gathered from the wild and then transported to the project’s carefully designed culture system. To date, the project has accomplished the impressive feat of constructing six longlines, each measuring 25 meters and adorned with 300 growing bags. These bags can hold two kilograms of mussels each and are suspended from the longlines, gently bobbing in harmony with the ocean. Once the larvae settle from the water column, mussels generally remain in one place for their entire lifetime and feed on plankton from the surrounding water.
Speaking to the project’s sustainability, Ms. Paula Santana Afonso, the General Director of IDEPA, reveals that the project implementation team is keen on transferring mussel aquaculture skills to the local community, to ensure longevity beyond this project. She mentions that IDEPA is aware of and is planning for additional training to be offered to the mussel farmers on best processing, packaging, and marketing practices; to complete the value chain. Dr. Tim Andrew, SAPPHIRE Project Coordinator, shares this vision, seeing the project as a potential model for neighboring countries in the region interested in embracing community-based aquaculture.
About the SAPPHIRE Project
Funded by the GEF, implemented by UNDP, and executed by the Nairobi Convention, the SAPPHIRE project promotes policy and institutional reform to help improve the management of the Western Indian Ocean LMEs. It builds capacity among governments, communities, partners, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector in sustainable resource management and ocean governance. The demonstration project fits under component 2 of the SAPPHIRE programme: stress reduction through community engagement and empowerment in sustainable resources management.