Rehabilitating the fishing sector in former conflict zone
Refrigerated storage facilities and trucks help returning Jaffna fishers recover their livelihoods
29 October 2004, Jaffna, Sri Lanka - After two decades of civil conflict, Sri Lankan fishers in the northern peninsula of Jaffna are slowly returning to their homes and livelihoods. An FAO emergency rehabilitation project, funded by the Government of Germany, is helping accelerate economic recovery in the region, creating opportunities for a more profitable fish trade.
In July, construction work finished on three fish collection centres with cold storage facilities, part of a pilot project in a longer-term programme for sustainable rehabilitation and development of the fishing sector in northeastern Sri Lanka. The FAO project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Ocean Resources, provides immediate assistance to some 3 000 fisher families in the worst-affected villages in Jaffna, an area particularly hard hit by the conflict.
More than 15 000 people were displaced from Jaffna's coastal areas and over 12 000 houses belonging to fishing families in the district were destroyed. To date, some 7 000 of the fishing population have returned, many of them living in temporary housing. Fish are the most important natural resource in the area, and fishing is the main livelihood of the local population.
Direct access to market boosts income
The fish collection centres, built with support from the FAO project, allow storage of excess fish and fish caught during off hours, while it awaits transportation to the market in the capital, Colombo. A German Technical Cooperation project will provide the fishers with six refrigerated trucks.
The storage facilities and trucks give the fishers direct access to the market in Colombo and ultimately to the export market, increasing the value of their catch.
"Cold storage facilities and adequate transportation mean the small-scale fishers in Jaffna get control of a larger part of the value-chain," says Jean Michel Arnoult, FAO emergency coordinator in Sri Lanka. "Up until now traders have come from Colombo to the Jaffna fishing villages to buy fish at a price set by the traders. By taking the fresh fish to Colombo, profit from the much higher price paid in Colombo goes directly to the fisher families."
And the fishermen see a chain of advantages:
"When we get more money for our fish, we will be able to buy better boats and modern fishing gear that will increase our catch," says Kandavanni Sooriyakumaran, Secretary of the fishermen's cooperative in the village of Inparuddy. "With a better income we will also be able to buy other food, like fruits and vegetables, for our families."
Power in numbers
Traditionally the fishers in Jaffna are organized in cooperatives, by village, which are members of a union of about 10 cooperatives.
"The well-working structure of village cooperatives and unions has helped in the implementation of the project," says Arnoult. "Day-to-day activities of fish receiving, packaging and storage remain the responsibility of the respective cooperative society, while the operations of the new fish collection centres, transportation and marketing will be the responsibility of the unions. The union guarantees that the extra profit from the market in Colombo is distributed to the fishers."
The collection centres will be equipped with weighing machines, plastic boxes for transporting the fish, gloves and rubber boots. In addition, the initial beneficiary group of three unions will receive management training in accounting and marketing and technical training in improved fish handling practices.
The fishers will be trained in fish handling, cleaning, icing and boxing; the operation and maintenance of the cold storage room; salting, drying and the operation of solar dryers.
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