In Africa, aquaculture has developed only recently and so far has made only a small contribution to economic development and food security. We review developments and identify constraints to the expansion of aquaculture in economic and rural development at the continental, national and farm levels. Past development initiatives failed to achieve sustainable increases in production. In contrast, a growing number of smallholder farmers in many countries have been adopting and adapting pond aquaculture to their existing farming systems and slowly increasing their production efficiency. An evolutionary approach that builds on a fusion of local and outside participation in technology development and transfer appears more likely to produce fish production systems that are more productive and more environmentally and socially sustainable in the long term.