Women's role in Cameroon fishing communities: the cases of Limbe and Kribi
Julienne Ngo Som,
Nowadays, women play an important role in african national economies. In fisheries, they play a particularly significant role in post catches operations. It is the case of Limbe and Kribi fisheries communities in Cameroon, located respectively at 250 and 350km from Yaoundé, the capital city.
Fisheries importance in Cameroon economy
Cameroon has a 360km coastline and many waterways. However, despite its modest contribution to the GDP, artisanal fisheries remains an important socio-economic activity. For instance it provides most of the jobs in the informal sector.
The annual catch is over 100,000tons. 2/3 of the production comes from marine fishing, almost 1/3 from continental fishing and only a very small part comes from fishbreeding. The annual consumption is 175,000 tons and Cameroon is obliged to import a lot of frozen fish, more than 50,000t a year, to compensate the deficit. Therefore, public authorities try to promote the fisheries sector by creating specialized management institutions such as the Development Fund for Marine Fisheries (CDPM) and the Development Mission of Marine Fisheries (MIDEPECAM) both depending on the Ministry of Breeding, Fishing and Animal Industries (MINEPIA). They are supported by FAO, Japan and Canada.
In Cameroon, foreigners and mainly Nigerians, Ghanaians, Togolese and Beninese are engaged in fishing. Canoe is the most used means for fish catching; some canoes are propelled with paddle, others are motorised. Nets (gillnets, beach seines, etc...) are often used for fishing, but fish bed, shrimp traps and long lines are common too.
In Cameroon about 40% of the economic operators in the fishing sector are women. In Limbe, 41% are illiterate but in Kribi, 50% of the women have reached the secondary school. However, whether in Kribi or in Limbe, women play a leading role in the processing and marketing of fishery products, as smokers or as fishmongers.
Women's activities in the fishing communities of Limbe and Kribi.
Although fishing is dominated by foreigners, fresh fish marketing however, is controlled by native women. Among women involved in this sector, 51% are in the direct marketing of fresh fish and 49% in the processing and the sales of smoked fish.
Smoking is the most common processing method in both communities. Smokehouses are traditional ovens of different types built with salvage material. The smoking process consists of two phases. First, the pre drying which lasts 6 to 7 hours and reduces the weight of the fresh fish by 1/3. Second, the smoking itself which lasts 2 to 3 days. During these days the fish is constantly turned in order to avoid burning. The fish thus smoked is stocked on trays arranged in the smokehouse or in raphia baskets for sale.
Fresh fish marketing requires much more care. The fish is sometimes put in fibre bags or cool bags during transportation. For preservation until selling takes place, Limbe women hire cool boxes. In Kribi, many fishmongers own the freezers and cool boxes. For the delivery on sales places, fishmongers travel either by taxi, bus or they go on foot when it is not too far. Whether smoked or fresh, the fish is sold retail or half wholesale.
Some women who have joined the fisheries sector, prefer in the end other activities considered more profitable such as petty trade, bar running, agriculture, etc....
Income generated by fishing activities
The annual average turnover of a woman smoker in Limbe is 2,531,300FCFA, which gives a profit margin of 438,000FCFA. A fresh fish fishmonger earns a little more with an average turnover of 3,220,000CFA a year.
In Kribi, a smoker's sales equal 1,200,000FCFA a year which is much less compared to a smoker's sales in Limbé. On the other hand, fresh fish trade is more profitable here as the average annual turnover of a fishmonger is 4,455,000FCFA.
In each of the two communities, women manage their own income. Priority is given to family needs namely food, schooling, rent. Part of the income is saved to reinforce the capital.
Relationships between men and women in the fishing sector
In the Cameroon fishing communities, men and women have three types of relationships: professional, dependence and association.
At the professional level, they are real business relationships: Fishermen (men) are sellers and women are the buyers. They want to buy fish either for direct marketing or for smoking.
Dependence relations are related to the catches since women recognize that without fish catches which is the major activity of men, they could neither sell or smoke fish.
As for association relationships, they are complementarily or partnership relationships. As women have funded in advance the purchase of the required fishing equipment or material, they are entitled to part of the production after the catches. Women respect the division of labour thus established and will not let men interfere in fish smoking and marketing.
Constraints and opportunities
The difficulties women face have first to do with management as women have no material, financial or human management plan. They are not supervised correctly and are not trained either. There are no associations, groups or cooperatives. The scarcity of means of conveyance increases the cost of transportation which absorbs an important part of the budget.
In addition there are, among other things, numerous taxes, inopportune police controls, scarcity of the wood, increased cost of fishery products preservation, non availability of fish in large quantity and the untimely destruction of nets by big fishing boats. And yet there are opportunities for women, among which the existence of a popular savings system (tontines), the willingness of public authorities to promote artisanal fisheries in Cameroon and the international community's concern to valorize women's work. However, women's activities in the community depend on those of fishermen. It is necessary to establish a system of purchase of fishing equipment on credit with very flexible conditions, create a saving -credit line ("tontine" type) for women. It is also necessary to set up a unit, preferably led by women, in charge of the follow up and evaluation of women's activities as well as a team of instructors and social women organisers to supervise fishmongers and smokers. In Limbe and Kribi women consider artisanal fisheries as a profitable activity which deserves support.
Direct marketing and smoking provide a source of income which enables women of the Limbe and Kribi fishing communities to satisfy both their personal and family needs. Therefore, their involvement in fishing activities is vital for the economic development of Cameroon. It is important then to find solutions to the problems which hinder the development of artisanal fisheries.