Mali: Fish-smoking ovens ease women's burden

The women in Woyowayanka have four new fish-smoking ovens thanks to TeleFood

The "Chorkor" ovens allow the women to smoke larger quantities of fish using less firewood


On the island of Woyowayanka, 5 km off the coast of Bamako, Mali, a community of 100 fishermen struggle to earn a living. The men spend their days catching the fish, after which their wives process and sell it. The work is hard and profits are minimal.

But things are beginning to improve, thanks to some help from FAO. In December, the local women's association acquired a key tool: four "Chorkor" ovens, which allow them to smoke large quantities of fish using less firewood than traditional smoking ovens. These new ovens help the women to preserve and sell more of the catch, so they can earn more money.

Purchase of the ovens was made possible by a US$4 600 grant from TeleFood, FAO's global campaign centred around the observance of World Food Day, marking the founding of FAO on 16 October 1945. TeleFood aims to increase awareness of hunger problems and raise money to help small farmers, herders and artisanal fishers produce more food and improve nutrition.

"When the men bring in the fish, it is up to us to process, smoke and sell it," explains Maimouna Coumare. She is one of the most active of the 40 members of the women's association, which was set up recently to manage the ovens.

The women have a joint bank account into which they deposit all the money they earn from sales of the fish. In addition, each member deposits monthly dues of 1 000 FCFA (US$1.50) as 'seed money' to initiate small projects.

Now the women are saving for their next project. They hope to get a small loan to buy refrigerators for storing the fish. This will allow them to expand their market and sell frozen fish to the city's restaurants, where it would capture a much higher price.

But the women need more than technology -- they need education and training. Most of them cannot read or write, so when they need a loan they must leave it to the men to negotiate. Frequently, however, the women receive only a tiny part of the funds requested; most loan money goes to the men.

"We don't know how to get a loan," says Massada Mele, another member of the association. "We earn too little to save. We need to learn how to do other things to earn money."

Some help has come from a representative of the Mali Chamber of Agriculture, who is also the national coordinator of TeleFood projects. Moussa Thienta visited Woyowayanka following the arrival of the ovens in December. He promised to make regular visits and help the women in their projects.

"TeleFood is their first contact with development assistance," says Mr Thienta. "It is just a start." He points out that other villages in Mali have received TeleFood grants that have led them to expand into such areas as home gardening or investment in small local factories. He is confident the same thing will happen in Woyowayanka

7 May 2001

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