Poor fishing communities in West Africa are participating in their own development as never before. Guided by a step-by-step method and helped by modest project funding, community members tackle problems they have identified as holding back their social and economic progress. This package profiles two such communities. In these stories from Ghana and Guinea, the men who catch the fish and the women who process and sell it recount how they have organized to diversify their livelihoods, enlisting powerful partners from the private and public sectors, and how they play a new role in patrolling their fishing grounds, keeping poachers at bay.

Growing confidence
Government officials at local and national levels relate how, often for the first time, representatives of fishing communities sit across the table from them to discuss problems and solutions.

“Before, concepts came from experts and consultants, but now it is the people themselves who identify their problems, set priorities and participate in researching the solutions,” says Mohamed Moustapha Ly, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Guinea. “I get around to all the fishing communities. They express themselves freely; they complain about everything; they’re confident -– that’s new, honestly, that’s new.”

An ambitious programme

The fishing communities profiled here are taking part in the Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme, a partnership between 25 West African governments, FAO and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). The £21.5 million Programme, which was launched in 1999 and will continue until 2006, uses two main tools, the sustainable livelihoods approach and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted by FAO member governments in 1995.

A holistic approach
In brief, the sustainable livelihoods approach to development encourages communities to consider their assets, strengths and opportunities as a whole. Such an analysis provides the basis for a community project. Achievements show governments how villagers can be useful partners in development, not just recipients of services.

The aim is to help these communities, marginalized by poverty, illiteracy and isolation, become full partners in society. Just because villagers are marginalized does not mean they are without good ideas. Government officials and representatives from non-governmental organizations and the private sector, seconded to National Coordinating Units, the national arms of the Programme, act as catalysts to bring out these ideas and help communities to get organized to act on them.

Future of the Programme
The Programme has launched over 40 community projects in 25 countries since 1999, two of which are profiled here. Soon, building on the lessons learned so far, larger subregional pilot projects, which have been identified by communities, government ministries and other stakeholders in 12 countries in West Africa, get under way. FAO, DFID and more and more West Africans hope that by 2006 the Programme’s approach will be used not only to reduce poverty and protect the environment in the fisheries sector, but also in other areas of society and throughout government ministries. The seeds have been planted across the region and, as the reader will learn in the two stories profiled here, healthy growth can already be seen.

Participating countries

Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo

February 2003

Peter Lowrey
Information Officer
+39 06 570 52762