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Challenges to coastal fisheries communities in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Fish is an important part of the Ivorian diet

During a recent workshop in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to shape a five-year GEF-FAO Western Africa project implemented in partnership with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Cabo Verde and Senegal, FAO officers visited coastal fishing communities and fisherfolk organizations to better understand the principle challenges to improving coastal fisheries in Côte d’Ivoire.

Côte d’Ivoire has a vibrant market for fish, with total production estimated at around 90 000 tonnes of fish annually. This figure is combined with the 260 000 tonnes imported each year, illustrating the strong demand for fish and fish products domestically.  Fish consumption in Côte d’Ivoire averages 15 kg per capita.  The port in Abidjan is large, and important to the economy. 

Fishing provides direct employment to 70 000 people, and indirect employment to an additional 400 000, with 59% of that figure comprised of women. In addition to the commercial fishing industry, Côte d’Ivoire has a sizable number of small-scale, or artisanal, fishers. These domestic artisanal fisheries provide approximately 26,000 tonnes, to cover about 17% of domestic needs.  Fishermen in Côte d’Ivoire face some challenges of competing interests – such as marine protected areas and petroleum exploration.

Selling fish at the market is generally a job for women

In addition to those earning their livelihoods from fishing, both Ivorian fishers and those who come from nearby Ghana and Benin (either seasonally or as groups who have settled for longer periods in the country), fish also plays a key role for those who buy and trade fish, smoke fish, sell the fish in the market, and rely on it for their food security and nutritional needs. In the areas around Abidjan, the work tends to be divided between men who primarily do the fishing and tend to the boats and nets, and the women who then sell the fish, oversee post-harvest processing, including smoking, and sell the fish at the market.

“Coastal fisheries vary greatly from country to country in western Africa, and I think this will emerge clearly in our work on the Western African component of the Coastal Fisheries Initiative Programme. Through our activities in Côte d’Ivoire, Cabo Verde and Senegal, we will have the opportunity to cover a wide range of issues,“ according to  Joseph Catanzano, Consultant for FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.  “What struck me most on this last visit to coastal fishing communities around Abidjan was the entirely different realms inhabited by the men and women of fishing families.”

“The men in these communities are involved exclusively in the fishing, which we know is an extremely dangerous occupation. Their workday is carried out primarily on the water, in their boats, and along the beach, as they fish, bring in their catch, make adjustments to their boats and mend their nets. Their lives are lived outside in the strong sunlight, and in proximity to the sea. That contrasts sharply with the women’s domain, only about twenty meters or so from the beach. This is an area that is dark and poorly ventilated, used for the cleaning and post-harvesting work. This is the area where the smoking ovens are kept, and these areas are filled with thick smoke throughout the day as the women work to smoke the fish they will later sell in the markets.”

Jacqueline Alder, FAO’s Senior Fishery Industry Officer and the Chair of the Coastal Fisheries Initiative Global Steering Committee, also commented on this clear division of labour. “Once the fish have been caught, the work of the fishermen is completed, but the work of the coastal fisheries women has only begun. They will then take the fish from their husbands or buy it from other fishermen, clean and gut the fish, smoke it, sell it on the local markets, and also handle all the cooking, cleaning, household tasks and childcare.

Fishing is important for the livelihoods of Ivorians

It’s an extremely grueling day. We’re pleased that this Coastal Fisheries Initiative places such a strong emphasis on the role of women in coastal fisheries communities, because we believe by focusing more attention on this aspect of the entire value chain, significant progress can be made and livelihoods improved. One of strengths we have taken note of for our project development in Côte d’Ivoire is the strong spirit of entrepreneurship among the women.

They are handling all aspects of post-harvest production, smoking, and selling on the markets, while simultaneously caring for their families. We hope to cultivate and improve the entrepreneurial skills already in place, perhaps through the strengthening of women’s fisherfolk associations .”

FAO and GEF are working with some of those women’s fisherfolk organizations in Côte d’Ivoire. On the visit to coastal communities surrounding the capital, some associations visited had set up day care centers that help lessen the burden of childcare for mothers of young children during the hours they are cleaning, smoking and selling the fish.

Women’s responsibilities for cleaning, processing, smoking and selling the fish at market begins as soon as the fish are landed

The associations also provide social support for many of the women undertaking a wide range of tasks in supporting their fishing households. One area to be explored is providing more targeted entrepreneurial training.

The associations would also like to explore the possibility of obtaining legal status, which would allow the women working in the sector to have access to resources, including access to credit and loans.

Simple, relatively inexpensive technologies can also make a real difference to the lives and health of women in fishing communities and their families.

Smoked fish is extremely popular in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring West African countries. The women smoke the fish their husbands catch or what they buy from fishermen and then sell it at the local markets or to middlemen to be sold to neighboring countries.

But the simple smoking techniques used by most of the women are dirty and unhealthy, often leading to health problems for the women and to the children who are frequently present as their mothers work at smoking the fish.

Women often work most of their days in smoke-filled environments

Simple technologies can radically improve both the quality of the finished product, thereby fetching higher prices at market, and also the health and welfare of the women who spend much of the day transforming the day’s catch into smoked fish.

One simply technology is the FTT ovens, which are more energy efficient, require less wood, produce a better quality finished product and do not impact negatively upon the health of the women who work at them for much of the day. You can see the difference in the two ovens through these photos shot in fishing communities around Abidjan. For more information, see a press release produced earlier this year on the multiple benefits of the FTT ovens on Ivorian fish smokers.

There may also be opportunities to also improve upon the dynamics of the division of labour within the fishing households to improve the overall workflow. Many of the fishers complained that their wives are not able to work fast enough during their heaviest fishing seasons, but there appears to be little dialogue on where the bottlenecks in the production are, where further assistance could be provided along the value chain, which technologies might ease the burden, and how families and communities can work together to improve their livelihoods.

According to Ms Alder, “We have been carefully discussing all of these aspects of improving coastal fisheries communities’ livelihoods as this project begins. We are eager to tailor the project to the specific needs of the local communities. As we carefully weigh the strengths of and the challenges for the Ivorian fishing communities, we’re convinced we can build a strong project that will benefit the men, women and children who make up these important fishing communities.”

Over the coming months, workshops will be held in Senegal and Cabo Verde, the other two pilot projects under the FAO-GEF project, and we will be covering the challenges to those fishing communities as well in future posts. 

These children eat at the day care organized by the women’s fisherfolk association
The women handle tasks related to fish smoking, shown here with traditional smoking ovens
Adopting relatively inexpensive technologies like these FTT ovens can dramatically improve the final product and the health of the workers
A boy at daycare arranged by a women’s fisherfolk association
School children outside Abidjan buying fish as an after-school snack. Fish plays an important role in the Ivorian diet

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