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Nutritional, food security, hygiene, and sanitation conditions in the fishing community of Joal, Senegal.

Nutritional, food security, hygiene, and sanitation conditions in the fishing community of Joal, Senegal.

by Seynabou Marie Sy

At Joal, fish the main source of protein, is consumed permanently throughout the year. It is generally consumed fresh except in case of shortage when the population consumes dried fish meant for exportation. Women account for 27% of the purchase of basic foodstuffs considered very expensive. Despite the fact that fish is very rich in protein, 61% of the women interviewed are anaemic. A side effect of fish processing is environmental pollution and the population's lack of awareness of this pollution.


Joal is one of the main fishing centres in Senegal. Covering an area of about 5,035 hectares, with a population of 24,100 and an annual rainfall of 200 - 400 mm as well as upwelling conditions, it has almost all the conditions favourable to artisanal fisheries.

About 79% of the women in Joal are involved in fishing particularly in the downstream activities of processing and fish mongering.

Taboos and food prohibitions in Joal have disastrous consequences on the nutritional state and health of the population including even the women fish processors (See IDAF NewsLetter N° 30 page 11)

Objective of the study

The main objectives of this study are the evaluation, on one hand, of the working conditions of women in this fishing community and, on the other hand, the nutritional condition in the homes of the women involved in these fishing activities.

Specifically, the purpose of this work, a follow-up of an initial study carried out in August 1995, is the:

It should result in recommendations on appropriate measures for improving working conditions, nutritional condition of the people, sanitation and hygiene practices in processing zones and in the household.


The study was undertaken in the frame work of Gender roles in Development, but the main focus or target of the study is women in the understanding that, improvement of their working conditions and life style will positively influence the quality of life in their homes.

The sample was 135 women owners of drying racks. They were randomly chosen from the 780 identified women processors in Joal All children less than 5 years old living in the sample homes were also studied.

The children's nutritional condition was evaluated through anthropometry using the following nutritional indexes: height according to age; weight according to age; and weight according to height. These indexes were interpreted on the basis of reference data.

The nutritional condition of mothers was assessed through anthropometry using the Body Mass Index (BMI) or Quetelet index. The BMI ceiling retained to define malnutrition ceiling in adults is 18.5

Anaemia is said to occur when the haemoglobine rate is lower than 12 g/dl for non-pregnant adult women. This ceiling used was defined based on WHO norms. The haemoglobine rate measurement was carried out with the help of a portable photometer "Hemocue", following the directives given in its brochure.

Measurements were taken by a team comprising a doctor and two interviewers under the supervision of the author. They had a two-day training on the rationale and objectives of the study, the use of the questionnaire, as well as the methodology to be used and the handling of materials.

The measurements were standardised to obtain precision.

A pilot survey, conducted in the preliminary phase, helped modify, even eliminate redundant questions.

Participatory Rapid Appraisal (PRA) techniques were used at the end of the survey to collect additional data from a group of women processors learning to read and write on their nutritional habits (taboos and food diets). These 25 women were chosen due to their availability at the meeting.

During this meeting, a midwife and a nurse as well as the head of the local medical services, were invited to give their opinions, taking into account what happens in their hospital environment. Nutritional counselling was also provided by the author.

Nutritional condition of women

Malnutrition affects more the women in the 24-34 age range. The rate is about 4% compared to 2% for the other two older groups (35-45 years and 46 years and above).

Normal nutritional condition is found more in the 35-45 age range, the beginning of obesity and preponderant obesity was observed in older groups (46 years and above).

Weight increases with age. Many older people exhibited signs of obesity.

The nutritional condition of women processors in our sample is considered satisfactory based on anthropometric data with 41% of normal nutritional condition and 23% at the preliminary stages of obesity. 7% of the women have an index below the critical ceiling, which is not excessive when compared with the national average which is 15% and therefore presents chronic energy deficiency.

This moderate malnutrition rate is justified by high fish protein consumption. The study is based on an active population which might bring us to conclude, in the first place, that revenue from their activity allows them to lead a correct nutritional life.

68 of the women interviewed had a ceiling inferior to WHO norms (<12 g/dl) and 42 are above the ceiling. Consequently, it was observed that more than 50% of the population sampled is anaemic, a situation which has serious consequences on health. The negative effects of anaemia, are physical reduction in effort, proneness to infections, increase in morbidity and foeto-maternal mortality. The origin of such conditions are many and are at times interrelated. The 68 anaemic women figure is quite paradoxical when we know that high animal based iron consumption brings about an increased quantity of heminic iron which can be more easily absorbed by the body.

Children's nutritional condition

Prevalence of the nutritional condition in children of zero to five years old, on the basis of slow growth in height and weight seem relatively low (2%). There is no significant difference in the three indexes according to age groups.

The height/age index is not different in the sexes. On the other hand, weight/age index is higher in girls (6%) than in boys (4%).

Hygiene Conditions

Joal is a town with no waste or used water drainage system, hence the precarious hygienic conditions. While 84% of waste water is emptied into the arm of the sea, the rest is dumped on public roads or disposed of by other means.

There are public rubbish bins or containers but some households prefer to throw refuse into holes along the streets, hoping to create less flooded habitable places during the rainy reason. Consequently, refuse is dumped all over the town, thus aggravating the degradation of the environment.

Access to drinking water is also parameter or indication of good hygiene. 24% of the women fish processors have water taps in their houses/compounds. However the majority (52%) are served by public taps. Very few people use wells as their source of drinking water.

33% of the homes do not have latrines. The inhabitants either go to neighboring houses with facilities, use public conveniences or go to uninhabited places, far from dwellings to relieve nature. Although latrine pits are not many they contaminate ground water. Since about 84% of waste/used water is emptied into the sea, and the beach is used not only to relieve nature but as refuse dump, it is quite possible that such water would also contaminate fish during landings. Furthermore, artisanal processing techniques as practiced heightens the degradation of sanitation and hygiene conditions.

Recommendations and Conclusions.

Anaemia is a major nutritional problem in Joal. It will be advisable to combat it by increasing the consumption of vegetables very rich in iron such as green vegetables and beans. Nutritional education of the entire population, with emphasis on mothers giving a varied and rich diet early to their children, needs to be stressed. Women should also be discouraged to pay credence to food taboos and food prohibitions.

Public hygiene should also lay emphasis on pest control and eradication as well as the cleaning of the environment by improving the sanitary environment of the processing areas through the proper evacuation of waste and used water, and by giving women access to drinking water as well as adequate lavatories. Women processors should be helped through the provision of large capacity processing drying racks; and taught improved processing techniques to avoid risks of product alteration associated with storage on the drying racks.

The establishment of a nursery will permit women to carry out their activities with less pain.

On a long term basis, sensitization campaigns should be conducted on how to collect, conserve and treat drinking water. This exercise could be made more effective by using audiovisual techniques. Public awareness needs to be created on the pollution of the sea and its potential effects on product quality.

In addition, literacy courses in the official language will enable women processors to better communicate with their foreign commercial partners.

On the whole appropriate measures should be taken to improve the working and nutritional conditions of the people, sanitation and hygiene practices both in the processing areas and in the household.

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