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Woman organising to improve livelihoods

Women make up over 80 per cent of the Gambia's post-harvest operators (© FAO/Djibril Sy)
Women make up over 80 per cent of the Gambia's post-harvest operators
© FAO/Djibril Sy

With high year-round temperatures and a limited supply of ice and cold storage facilities at landing sites in the Gambia, a large proportion of fish caught by artisanal fishermen is smoked or dried. Women make up over 80 per cent of the country's post-harvest operators (PHO) - who dry and smoke the fish - but they often lack the finances, training and processing facilities to reduce post-harvest losses and improve the quality of the fish they produce.

By organising women into groups and providing them with training, resources and credit, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), through the Post Harvest Fisheries Pilot Project of the Sustainable Fisheries Livelihood Programme (SFLP), has enabled post-harvest processors in ten communities to participate more effectively in decision-making processes and improve the efficiency and sustainability of their businesses.

Improving livelihoods

After forming ten community-based fishery organisations (CBO), the members received training in more effective and hygienic handling, processing and storage techniques, which has enabled them to preserve and sell more fish. For example, fresh fish are now transferred to baskets with ice after landing instead of being dumped on the beach. Improved awareness about environmental health issues has also resulted in monthly beach cleaning exercises in collaboration with local authorities in all ten communities. "With this training I am now in a better position to adopt simple business principles and maximise my profit," explains one PHO from Kartong.

Women have received training in more effective and hygienic handling, processing and storage techniques (© Bernard Pollack/Nourishing the Planet)
Women have received training in more effective and hygienic handling, processing and storage techniques
© Bernard Pollack/Nourishing the Planet

The renovation of eight in addition to the construction of two new fish smoking houses and drying racks has increased productivity, reduced post-harvest losses and improved the quality of the fish produced. "The women now produce good quality fish and they can smoke a higher quantity in a shorter period with less fuel using the new smoke houses," adds project manager, Sirra Njai.

Specifically targeting women, a pilot credit scheme was established in collaboration with the National Association of Cooperative Credit Union of the Gambia (NACCUG). Created as a revolving fund, a grant of US$50,000 was given to the national micro-finance institution to provide credit to members of the ten CBOs at an interest rate of ten per cent per year. "This finance scheme has reduced one of the most important factors causing vulnerability in these communities," Njai adds.

Before receiving any credit, the women were given business management training to develop their entrepreneurial skills and encourage them to sensibly invest the money. "They are now able to buy fish without having to take credit from fishermen or middlemen," Njai enthuses. "This has improved and expanded their businesses and increased their incomes." Over 440 women benefitted from the scheme during the project, but with high rates of repayment many women continue to benefit.

Empowering women

After training, women are able to participate more effectively in decision-making processes (© FAO)
After training, women are able to participate more effectively in decision-making processes
© FAO

To empower PHOs and increase their participation in decision-making and policy processes, the ten CBOs formed four Apex associations at local government level with support from the project, before establishing the National Fisheries Post-Harvest Operators Platform in 2006. Designed to inform, engage with and influence policy at the national level, the Platform has signed agreements with the government, NGOs, micro-finance institutions and other partners to receive technical support and access to market information.

The Platform also participated in the formation of the 2007 Fisheries Act, which recognises the importance of artisanal fisheries to the economy, and ensured that post-harvest issues were included in the country's poverty reduction strategy paper. "Post-harvest operators are now able to inform, engage and influence policy at the macro level. This is a land mark," States Njai

"Organisation is very important," Njai explains, "because now they are able to talk with the local government authorities and influence local development plans in their division." At a local level, the CBOs have established their own bylaws, which are recognised and enforced by local councils. Improper fish handling practices or purchasing juvenile fish from the fishermen therefore results in a fine for PHOs who do not abide by the rules.

Good practice

Post-harvest operators are fined if they purchase juvenile fish from fishermen (© Bernard Pollack/Nourishing the Planet)
Post-harvest operators are fined if they purchase juvenile fish from fishermen
© Bernard Pollack/Nourishing the Planet

Due to the success of the pilot project, FAO provided funds to enable the Platform to extend their activities to two additional coastal communities. By providing training on handling, processing and storage techniques, business management and organisational skills, PHOs in both communities were able to become legitimate members of the Platform in order to benefit from services provided by the Platform, such as guidance and coaching to strengthen their CBOs. However, Njai believes that there is still a need for further support to consolidate and strengthen the progress the members have made.

Meanwhile, the pilot project has been selected by FAO as an example of good practice in a soon to be published study which shows how strengthening rural institutions can enable smallscale producers to participate in policymaking and gain access to markets, services, and training. "To promote gender equity, rural employment and food security, a commendable way forward would be to support expansion to more countries and build up continent level Apex groups to influence policy and planning at sub-regional or regional levels," concludes Yvette Diei Ouadi, FAO Post-harvest Fisheries specialist.

Date published: January 2011

 

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Thanks to the FAO. However, it will be good to extend such i... (posted by: Sule Sale)

 

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