Aquaculture & Agriculture, piloting twin alternatives to the Artisanal Oil Industry in Bayelsa State.


In 2018, SDN engaged remote communities, heavily involved in the artisanal oil industry – and marked by the associated violence, corruption, and environmental problems of this illicit practice. SDN piloted options with these communities for alternative livelihood options, to reduce participation in the artisanal oil industry – and the problems that come with it. This was only possible through utilising SDN’s unique access from a reputation and network of contacts built up over 15 years, and with aid from the UK government.

Based on research carried out by SDN in 2017, into the most viable livelihoods to pursue in the creeks (the remote marshy areas of the Niger Delta) of Bayelsa state, SDN focused on starting a community aquaculture business and rice-growing agriculture business. Already, the project has demonstrated that alternative livelihood options can keep ex-participants out of the artisanal oil industry, as well as prevent community members from entering the industry in the first place. Furthermore, the increasing interest in the pilot livelihood projects from surrounding communities indicates the potential to scale up and replicate these livelihood options, given the initial investment in training and infrastructure. SDN will go on to engage with potential investors, NGOs, and agencies of the Nigerian government, for future partnership work to replicate and scale up the progress accomplished under the pilot project

The need:

A 2018 report by SDN, More Money, More Problems, identified substantial growth in the artisanal oil industry in Bayelsa between 2012 and 2017. During this period, the average annual salary of an artisanal refiner had more than doubled, luring many into the illegal, unsafe, and environmentally damaging industry due to the lack of alternative employment options in the region. However, increased efficiency within the artisanal oil industry meant that it actually employed 75% fewer workers in 2016 compared with 2012, further underscoring the need to generate alternative livelihood options.

Exploring solutions:


Although male-dominated, women tend to be heavily involved in the marketing and sale of artisanally refined products. This project selected participants from surrounding communities, focusing on women at risk of participating in the artisanal oil industry, who had some experience in aquaculture. 40 participants in total, of which 24 were women, were trained, supplied with ‘fingerlings’ (juvenile fish), nets, processors to produce/catch fish, and given advice to sell processed fish at markets within, and outside, the community. Part of the training involved using a new technology called the ‘choco oven’ in the processing of fresh water fish in the region. The ‘choco oven’ is healthier, safer, and environmentally friendlier compared to the local drying/processing technology.

Check out our aquaculture guide to setting up your own commercial fishery >

Rice-cultivation agriculture

This project involved 12 ex-participants of the artisanal oil industry, drawn from the local communities, and at risk of returning to the illicit industry without livelihood alternatives. Two of these beneficiaries were women, reflecting the smaller but significant proportion of women involved in the industry. The beneficiaries were employed, trained in cultivating rice, and given the task of comparing the performance of four varieties of rice (FARO, 40, 60 and 61), as well as different methods of planting. This data will be invaluable to inform the design of further rice-cultivation in the area. Although many of the participants earned less cultivating rice in this project, than they could have done within the artisanal oil industry, they preferred the legality, security, and safety of this livelihood, according to an SDN interview of participants.


Part of the purpose of piloting a project is to identify what challenges there might be to particular idea, plan, or project. 2018 was marked by particularly bad flooding around August. As a result, areas of the cultivated rice were destroyed, limiting the ability to compare rice varieties though some useful data was still acquired and the training still benefitted participants. Similarly, flooding led to the deaths of several hundred fingerlings in the aquaculture pilot, with other fish escaping into the creeks. The training and infrastructure remain a useful asset in the community though, and fish stocks can be rebuilt. These challenges have highlighted a vulnerability, and the need to build flood-proofing into the design of future projects of this nature.

Finally, and inherent in the aim of the project, the activities were located in areas of security risks which created additional challenges of access to support them and to monitor and evaluate their progress.

Next steps:

SDN will fully evaluate both the aquaculture and rice-cultivation agriculture projects, with input from direct and indirect beneficiaries. This will in turn inform SDN’s further engagement with potential investors, NGOs, and agencies of the Nigerian government, presenting a guidance manual for future partnership work to replicate and scale up the progress accomplished under the pilot project. This business case will be presented alongside the results of other livelihood options SDN has piloted in the areas of cassava processing in Ogoniland, digital technology in Port Harcourt, community-block rice farming in Delta State, and the distribution of business self-starter packs to ex-cultists in Gokana. SDN hopes that, collectively, the results of these livelihood projects will provide an evidence base for civil society organisations to advocate for improved investment in livelihood options in the Niger Delta.

Published: 06.03.2019

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