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Integration of traditional institutions and people's participation in an artisanal fisheries development project in southeastern Nigeria


Menakhem Ben-Yami
Fisheries Development and Management Adviser
2 Dekel St., Kiryat Tiv'on 36056, Israel
e-mail: [email protected]


Both, directly and indirectly, this case study is about food security among Southeastern Nigeria's artisanal and small-scale fisherfolk and Nigerian consumers of their catches. In particular, the formers' food security totally depends on their catch, fish being their predominant animal protein source on the one hand, and their only source of income on the other. Apart from their staple carbo-hydrate food, which they must purchase, their food intake comes from their daily catch.

Since they always must leave something for sale, there is little left to eat if the catch is poor, and malnutrition in outlying fishing settlements, especially among children, is highly evident. And to a great degree among almost all the fisherfolk in the area the size and value of their catches depends on availability and cost of credit. Credit is needed for today's fuel and food as well as for equipment, be it a small net, an outboard motor, or a new boat.

Traditional credit, the only kind normally available to artisanal fisherfolk, is extremely expensive in financial-economic terms. (See: 5.6, below). Formal credit, which is many times cheaper, would facilitate increased catches and, hence, food security of the whole fishing population. This is because in that particular area an adequate amount of fuel and better boats and equipment enable fishing in more distant (and richer) fishing grounds, enabling artisanal fishermen to compete more effectively with trawling fleets.

This paper is about poor artisanal fisherfolk dwelling in remote coastal villages who have gained access to regular bank credit at reasonable terms. Commercial and para-statal banks, as a rule, shun extending credit to such clients. The project described in this case study represents a relatively successful attempt at bridging a bank with fisherfolk, achieved through identification of traditional thrift groups as social institutions which are embedded in the West African culture as potential mutual guaranty groups, and which were therefore bankable. A large para-statal bank was linked with these and a large number of field-staff and fishery extensionists were trained and motivated to locate and help such groups to reorganize, and to distribute credit through them to individual borrowers.

The injection of credit targeted at engines and fishing equipment resulted in improving catches thus leaving a wider margin for subsistence consumption. The whole operation (which includes community development elements riding piggy-back on the credit line) has been based on existing social norms and carried out by village institutions assisted by peripatetic personnel of the bank and the state and national fisheries departments. No resident expatriates were involved.

Nigeria's fish production, about 90% of which supplied by artisanal fishermen, is able to satisfy only about half of its realistic demand of some 1M MT/year (IFAD, 1988). Their landings, for subsistence and market, depended more on the socio-economic conditions of production (see 4.3.4, below), including availability and cost of credit, than on the remarkably stable state of fish resources. During periods of lack of cash and direct assistance artisanal fisherfolk's landings decrease by high percentages. Improvement of their financial mobility, therefore, will result in improved fish-supply and food security to themselves and to the country at large.

This case study focuses on fishing communities in the area of the Niger Delta and the lower Cross River and its estuary (see Map). It describes the fisherfolk and their fishery, and the system of environmental, cultural, socio-economic, and production conditions that jointly determine their catches, incomes, and well-being. The study also describes a relatively successful credit program which was combined with a community development project, the design and implementation of which was based on integration of traditional institutions and customs into an innovative framework.

Fish production anywhere takes place within a dynamic system made up of a dense network of social, economic, cultural, and political inter-relations, as well as traditions which, however strong, are prone to changes. Some of these changes occur spontaneously, others stem from extraneous influences and innovations. In the area of this study, the catches are strongly influenced, among other factors, by the type of and access to credit, distance to markets, availability of equipment, the state of the resource, and competition by larger-scale and out-of-area fisheries, as well as intra-community conditions and relations.

To grasp the nature of this system, it is essential to understand that "artisanal fishermen," "small-scale fisherfolk," "fishing communities," etc., are not a multitude of uniformly feeling, thinking, and reacting individuals having similar interests and perceived needs. In fact, and especially in this area, such communities, apart from differing from each other socially, culturally, economically, and ecologically, usually represent quite complex and often stratified societies, with conflicting interests among their members. Yet, they are all affected by state and national authorities, the political system, inter-tribal relations, intra- and inter-statal disputes influencing production conditions, and the socio-economic status of fisherfolk. Other commonly influential factors include coastal and riverine pollution and erosion, fuel availability, technology status and availability, piracy, and more.

Such realities on the one hand, and the particular situation in each separate fishing community on the other, were considered when designing the project described below. Otherwise, the project might have made the same mistakes as other projects, which have introduced inappropriate institutions and technologies with no regard for the complex social, cultural, resources management, and production conditions in fishing communities (see: 4.3.4, below), and causing much social, economic, and ecological damage.

Sections 2 to 9 are background notes on the social, cultural, economic, technological, resources, and other conditions that were found in the study area by the initiators and designers of the project. They describe the role of the artisanal fishing sector in the food security of the Nigerian population, in general, and of the fisherfolk in particular. The remaining Sections describe the project itself, its concept, design, implementation, and the lessons to be drawn.


The area covered by this study, includes the whole coastal region of the 3 southeastern states of Nigeria: Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River. It comprises the delta of the Niger River and the combined delta of the Bonny, Endoni, and Cross Rivers, and the whole riverine and lagunal system consisting of thousands of other rivers, creeks, lagoons and man-made canals that split this watery jungle into a maze of islands, islets, and waterways, all the way eastward to the Cameroon border. Its northern limits coincide, more or less, with the N5 deg. latitude. Since in this area fishery-associated work is the predominant source of protein-food and income, it has been designated by the Nigerian authorities to be served by the IFAD/Nigeria Artisanal Fisheries Development Project dealt with in this study.

The predominant physical features of this area are flat mangrove swamps, where here and there a slight elevation of only a few feet enables human settlement. These swamps are fringed by sandy bars and beaches at the ocean and the estuarine coasts, offering better conditions for human settlement. Many of the surrounding waters are brackish, and so is much of the ground water in the swamp areas. There is no farmland to speak of. Transport, commuting, and communication within the project area is almost exclusively via the waterways. During the dry season, when the water level drops, navigation is difficult in some areas and requires considerable local knowledge. The climate is hot and humid, with annual precipitation rates ranking among the world highest.

Beaches and entries to lagoons and estuaries are often barred from the open ocean by several lines of surf caused by the Atlantic swell. The taller the swell the more dangerous it is to cross the sand bars in the surf zone, especially when returning to shore with heavily loaded canoes, and over the years the fisherfolk have paid a steady toll in lost lives and equipment.

In the northern part of the project area, the mangrove swamps give way to slightly higher and drier land. Here, farming may be practiced, permanent villages, towns and cities are located, and road transport is possible, although waterways still play a major economic role. In the northeast, up the Cross River, the landscape changes and becomes hilly. There, far from the sea, a farming environment interspersed by elements of the riverine and lacustrine system prevails, with the river still serving as an important transportation route (Abasiatai, 1987; Bell-Gamm, 1990; IFAD, 1988; and Scott, 1966).


The areas fished by the artisanal fisherfolk of the Delta's three States cover some 10,000 km2 of brackish water and riverine area, and over 18,000 km2 of coastal waters down to the 50 m depth line. Unlike some other artisanal fisheries where stocks have been depleted, in the inshore and offshore waters of the Niger Delta, improvement of the fisherfolk's fish production capabilities (see: 4.3.4, below) may lead to increased catches and, hence, improved supply. This is mainly for two reasons: (i) any technical improvement of sea-going and capture capabilities enhances access to the large and reasonably stable resources of small pelagics, and (ii) it increases artisanal fishermen's capability to compete with trawlers for shared stocks.

The IFAD project appraisal mission after having regarded and analyzed the official statistical data for several years, as well as the related FAO and Nigerian reports, and after interviewing fishermen and fishery officers, concluded that (a) a dearth of equipment due to lack of cash caused a significant reduction in artisanal landings; (b) the landings recovered following the recovery of the equipment inputs supply; (c) official data was unreliable and should not be used either for the purpose of resource management or for economic considerations; and (d) a major, sudden drop in the landings reported in the 1980s did not in fact occur and was an artifact of an introduction by an FAO expert of a more reliable data collection method.


Source: IBRD 21454 March 1989 combined with SN NMC - 008 - 1980 3rd Edition, Road Map
Pelagic landings, half of them consisting of bonga (a W.African shad), seem to equal to anything between 1/3 to ½ of the total. According to the fishermen interviewed, while gillnet catch rates of bonga, shad and sardinella, though fluctuating, have remained over the long run stable, they have yet to perceive any reduction in pelagic catches. In fact, with increasing inputs and efficiency their catches grow.

Small pelagics (mainly bonga and sardinella) are the main resource that, along with large pelagics, are not shared between the artisanal and the trawl fisheries. Some of the demersal stocks that are fished by both sectors can be conservatively considered fully exploited, or even fished beyond their optimum. Thus, any increase in the share taken by trawlers reduces that of the artisanal fishermen, and vice versa. This competition has both a socio-economic and political character. During the early 1990s, and reportedly, also later, about 1/3 of the trawling fleet was shrimping illegally within a narrow coastal strip. Their abundant by-catches included many juvenile finfish of commercial species, such as croakers, snappers, grunters, shiny-nose, etc. By non-action, the authorities enabled the growth of this wasteful trawling fleet. The result was less social and national benefit from the resources in general, and in particular per capita among fish workers, as well as less fish for subsistence consumption among artisanal fisherfolk.

A question must be asked concerning what makes the practically non-managed Nigerian coastal resources fishery so sustainable in the long run, at least so far? Traditional-type management was hardly evident, and was only found in some estuarine and lagunal localities neighbouring permanent-type long-established fishing villages. Most marine fishing communities, however, inhabiting beaches rather densely populated by fishermen from many tribes and linguistic groups, were free to go fishing whenever they wished and wherever their canoes would carry them, and did not lend themselves to traditional management patterns.

In view of the lack of any hard and reliable data on the subject, the answer to this question must be based on occasional observations, interviews with fisherfolk and fishery extensionists and officers, as well as other anecdotal information. What emerges is a pattern of self-regulatory mechanisms acting against overfishing. Artisanal fishermen are unable to financially support fishing activities whenever today's catches do not pay for tomorrow's running expenses. Even if they do pay, lack of a minimum income margin will discourage them from going fishing in a fishery where everybody is a share-fisherman. This lack of financial incentive forces them to react fast, and either shift to other target species or other fishing grounds and methods, or simply stay home. This reduces fishing effort, which decreases correspondingly with slacking catch rates. Fortunately, the artisanal fishermen have few larger-scale competitors for the main pelagic fish stocks. Unfortunately, in case of demersal stocks, which are fished also by company-owned trawlers, it is a different story (see: 9., below, and Ajayi and Talabi, 1984; Decision Analysis Group, 1988; Moses, 1980 & 1991; Ssentongo et al., 1986; Marcus et al., 1985: and Tobor, 1977).


4.1 The role of fish in fisherfolk's food security

Nigeria is a fishing country and Nigerians are fish-eating people. On a national scale the approximate average share of seafood in the total protein consumption is about 33%. This share is probably much less in the northern part of the country where the share of meat is much larger. Thus, fish caught both in inland waters and in the ocean provide the bulk of the animal protein in the southern half of the country, where the network of rivers and canals enables massive transportation of marine fish inland. Especially for people living in mangrove areas who mostly lack agricultural or pasture land, seafood is practically the only source of animal protein, on the one hand, and of income, on the other. Hence, the paramount importance to them of ready access to equipment, fuels, and credit, to ensure their food security.

The small-scale (artisanal) fishery is the main economic sector in the coastal areas and the main source of income for its inhabitants. The participants are fishermen who catch the fish, fisher-women (fish mammies) who smoke and market them, river boatmen who transport them, secondary and tertiary fish dealers, and a variety of suppliers, servicemen, and money lenders, whose business is associated with or totally dependent on the fishery. The number of active fishermen in the area is estimated at between 100,000 and 250,000, with 500,000 to 1,000,000 additional people who derive their livelihoods in various ways from the fishery.

4.2 The fishermen

Artisanal marine fishermen of Southeastern Nigeria are among the bravest, most skillful, and professional small-scale fishermen in the world. They operate mostly from open, surf-beaten beaches. Their canoes sometimes capsize in surf which they must cross on the way to and from their fishing grounds. Loss of catches, equipment, and even human life is a frequent occurrence.

The hard and dangerous environment of marine artisanal fishing requires a continuous application of wits and skills, numerous decisions made daily and hourly, competitiveness, a need for a strong commercial sense on the one hand, and team work brought to perfection on the other, and, finally, a strong will and physical fitness. Most artisanal fishermen and fisher-women manifest fiercely independent attitudes with respect to outside ideas, and as a rule are communicative, surprisingly well informed, and, overall, a people who know their business.

The alleged conservatism of artisanal fishermen is a myth stemming mainly from unsuccessful development attempts to introduce inappropriate technologies and institutions. Actually, artisanal fishermen are quick to adopt technologies and social schemes whenever they perceive a clear benefit from them. In most parts of Africa, for example, they quickly adopted synthetic fishing nets, twines, ropes, and outboard motors. This was because they found that these innovations improved their earnings and reduced physical effort entailed in paddling their canoes and mending their fast deteriorating cotton nets. Indeed the use of nets spread considerably owing to the introduction of synthetic fibers for making them. On the other hand, West African fishermen were slow to adopt fiberglass boats and diesel engines, having very good technical reasons for sticking to their wooden canoes and outboard motors (Abasiatai, 1987; Aderounmu, 1986; Essien, 1987; FAO, 1992; IFAD, 1988; Marcus et al. 1985).

4.3 The women

The womenfolk of the fishing communities deserve the utmost respect. As with other West African "fish mammies", they are industrious, skilled in their trade, business minded, and very articulate about their needs and problems, as well as those of their families. They would not accept technical solutions that are incompatible with their own criteria. And generally these criteria are the right ones. For example, they rejected the idea of common, efficient smoke houses which seemed healthier and much more feasible to a western technician. "We must smoke our fish at our houses, for we must at the same time look after the children," they often said. Now dilapidated and often abandoned smoke houses can be found all over West Africa, products of "top-to-bottom" programmes run by ignorant technocrats who were oblivious to the fish-mammies' wisdom.

In addition to their usual roles as wives, mothers, and housewives, women play a major economic role in the fishing communities in the area, and for that matter in most artisanal fishing communities in West Africa and the 3rd World in general. They are busy handling, processing, and selling fish, and less well known or often ignored, they are also often involved in fishing. Especially when most of the fishing is done in rivers, estuaries, lagoons, or creeks, and where the catches are not massive, some women can be found fishing. Their fishing operations, however, are separate from those of the men, by specializing mostly in handlining, pots, baskets, small trap fishing, and small-scale dragnetting. Their catches of small crustaceans are substantial, and they probably produce the bulk of the mollusks. Most fish either from small paddled canoes or by wading and diving. A significant share of their catches go for self-consumption. In marine communities, where large amounts of small pelagics, such as bonga, sardinella, and shad are landed, and seasonal-glut catches occur, women are less apt to go fishing, spending most of their time instead handling, processing, and selling fish.

The women's functions, however, do not necessarily end with fishing, fish smoking, and trading. Women also make various traditional fishing equipment: for example, fishtraps and fish baskets. They also act as a shore gang at fish beaches and wharfs, removing fish from fishing nets, cleaning and re-stacking them.

As a rule the fisher-women are financially independent. The fish that they smoke they buy from fishermen, who include their own husbands or other relatives. Some own canoes which they may use for collecting and transporting wood, transporting fish, fishing in the creeks, or chartering to fishermen. Apart from commercial relations between wives and husbands, women trade also with relatives and other fishermen. Depending on the circumstances, they may also become creditors or debtors to fishermen, especially when they lack cash to pay for the fish before they can sell them. But more often they lend fishermen sums for working capital or even for investments in equipment, exacting in return the fishermens' obligations to deliver them their catches. This system leads to prolonged and increasing indebtedness of men to their wives and other women, that sometimes ends with fishermen taking their canoes and crews and migrating to other communities, distant fishing camps, or provisional settlements, sometimes for good, to avoid their commitments. And when it comes to fish trade, women dominate the beach and village level trading, and again the retailing end. The latter, however, is more in the hands of city and town womenfolk. In large fish-marketing centers, fish traders' associations consisting only of women exist, prescribing trading rules and controlling their enforcement (Adebona, 1978; IFAD, 1988; Toh, 1982).

4.4 Socio-economic notes

4.4.1 Production conditions

Since almost all of the area's product is fish, the conditions of fish production are largely determined by the rather marginal differences between the fisherfolk's production costs and their earnings. These conditions comprise the amount and level of technology employed, distance to and accessibility of fishing grounds and markets, cost of labour, running costs, and above all, availability and cost of credit.

4.4.2 Annual income

In 1988, the average annual income of a fish-worker in a typical fishing village remote from major population centers was approximately US$400 per annum (p.a.). This, considering the average size of the families (7 persons) and the number of earners per family (2 persons), was recalculated to some US$115 p.a. per capita. This was considerably less than the "absolute poverty level of US$301 p.a. per capita for rural areas" accepted by FAO and other UN-related bodies. At the same time, there are substantial income differences within the communities, and some people have practically no income to speak of, their survival depending on their belonging to larger family groups on the one hand, and on what they can get out of the sea or the river, on the other.

4.4.3 Standard of living

The general standard of living varies according to (1) the technical level of fishing; (2) distance from abundant fish resources, and (3) distance from major markets. Remoteness from major markets affects not only production and marketing costs (especially for fuel for fishing, and the cost of transport), but also cost of living, because prices of commodities and manufactured goods that are not produced locally are much higher than they are in the main, inland markets.

4.4.4 Types of communities

Differences in standard of living may also be considerable among various communities. In this region, the fisherfolk live in 3 more or less distinct types of communities:

(1) Permanent villages and townships, which are typically large communities, situated as a rule at a crossroads and/or along major waterways, and usually having a considerable non-fishing population. The standard of living in these communities, as well as services and general living conditions, are as a rule higher than in the two other types of settlements described below. Nonetheless, even in these serious medical attention and higher education must often be sought in the larger and more remote urban centers.

(2) Semi-permanent settlements, which were established by natives of the permanent villages and townships, initially to bring them nearer to the fishing grounds. Nowadays, however, the semi-permanent settlements are, for all practical purposes, as permanent as any. Being located close to fishing grounds, they are to various degrees isolated from the more permanent settlements. Their inhabitants are predominantly fisherfolk, mainly migrants from the above- mentioned permanent settlements in the area. Some of their inhabitants have come from other distant districts, and even other States, attracted to the rich fishing resources of the Delta. They may have also moved there to get away from creditors or from the burden of supporting extended families. Although most inhabitants in these communities are quite permanent, and many of them, especially children and youths, were born locally, most maintain at least a sentimental association with their family's community of origin. And the better off among them may even own houses in the more permanent settlements, tending to invest their savings in real property in settlements which they still consider to be their native communities.

In the "semi-permanent" settlements one often encounters people of several different tribal and linguistic backgrounds. Many of the semi-permanent settlements have schools for children, and sometimes also other basic community facilities such as assembly sheds and dispensaries. Sanitation facilities are rudimentary, and more often than not non-existent, with diseases such as cholera and typhoid quite common. Malnutrition, and intestinal infections and parasites abound, especially among children, many of whom may be seen with grotesquely swollen bellies.

(3) Fishing camps are mainly seasonally populated sites which are located relatively close to fishing grounds, and where fisherfolk land and smoke fish, usually small pelagics. They may be totally vacant during off-season, or may remain populated for various reasons by some of the fisherfolk.

4.4.5 Mobility

A two-way mobility has been reported in the area. During the 1970s and 1980s there was a distinct outward movement from fishing settlements to urban centers. According to the emigrants this was due to low levels of educational facilities for children, low hygienic standards, and higher earnings elsewhere. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a reverse pattern was observed, with young and relatively educated people, some of them from fisherfolk backgrounds, seeking fishing employment. Evidently, fishermen's earnings, especially, in the seasonal pelagic fisheries started exceeding those of an urban labourer or even those of a low-grade civil servant, the latter normally being the expected career of a high-school graduate. Here we see an apparent contradiction between the higher status of a "white-collar" civil servant and the better income of a fisherman (Abasiatai, 1987; Bell-Gamm, 1990; Ekpoudom, 1987; Fadayomi, 1982; IFAD, 1988; and Marcus et al., 1985).

4.5 Tribal antagonisms

Development efforts in the area have often faced problems originating from inter-tribal and inter-community strife. Tribal antagonisms are frequent and often violent. During the project's initial stages, riots and arson caused deaths and almost total destruction in at least two large villages, and temporary evacuations in some others. Obviously, such tensions and violence affect the security and performance of any project. A dormant antagonism can be triggered by various new situations. In one case, for example, approval of micro-projects in two neighbouring and rival communities triggered major disturbances that resulted in the temporary abandonment of both villages.

4.6 Transport and commuting

Accessibility is one of the main problems facing most fishing communities in the area. Among fisherfolk, a paddled or motorized canoe is the most important means of transportation, while speedboats and skiffs fitted with outboard motors are the main means of public transport and commuting. Major loads are carried by large canoe-shaped vessels, up to 30-m in length, locally built of wood, and able to carry passengers and several tons of cargo. In the last quarter of the 20th century the transportation situation has been improving, especially with respect to the marine and brackish-water areas, owing to construction of many linking canals dredged in mangrove swamps. Inland, however, some shallow riverine, lacustrine, and swamp areas are still difficult to reach, even by canoes (IFAD, 1988).


5.1 Languages

Fisherfolk in the Delta area belong to a number of ethnic groups that speak upwards of 200 different languages and dialects, with many of the isolated linguistic groups living in the Rivers State. An important study on the languages spoken in the Cross River and Akwa Ibon States, which included some information on ethnic, historical, and cultural background was published by Essien (1987) and (Abasiatai, 1987). It seems, however, that there is still much to learn about the ethnic diversity in the Delta area, where many isolated communities exist. In addition, there are also some new settlements, such as the villages established by Yoruba fishermen who immigrated to Eastern Nigeria during the period following the Civil War.

No doubt the large variety of languages spoken in the Project area, and the absence of one single common language spoken by all inhabitants, represents a major handicap, not only for any development effort, but also for intra-community co-operation, traditional management of resources, and other activities that are usually embedded in common ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds and traditional leadership. A very partial survey conducted by the author found communities where the main spoken languages were Andoni (Uta Ewa, Oyorokoto), Yoruba (Ajegunle, Downbelow), Ibibio and Ibeno (Ibeno), Oron and Efik (the area of Calabar and Oron), Calabari (along the sea coast in the south east), Ijaw (Apokiro), and Umon (Umon Island area). While Ibibio seemed to be dominant in Akwa Ibom in general, it did not seem so among the fishing folk of the Delta swamps and the ocean coast (see also Abasiatai, 1987; Essien, 1987; Geo-Jaja, 1991; and IFAD, 1988).

5.2 Religion and traditions

Christianity introduced in the area during the 19th and 20th centuries is normally considered to be the dominant religion in the area. It appears in numerous denominations, each with its own churches, missionaries, and priests. In many fishing villages, however, the old traditional religion is still quite popular. Islam, on the other hand, is rarely encountered in this part of Nigeria.

Early European travelers, on the basis of superficial observations, described West African religions as paganism, fetishism, animism, etc. The reality, however, is more complex. For example, the Ibibio people, a rather loose ethnic group which is dominant in the area, are composed, apart from the Ibibio proper, of several sub-groups (e.g., Efik, Oron, Eket, Ibuno, Efiat, Okobo, Eastern Andoni, Annong). In general these have a traditional and rather monotheistic religion. They have believed in one supreme God Lord Creator (Abasi Ibom) long before Christianity appeared in the area. Yet their religion also includes worship of lesser deities or spirits, and of ancestors, paralleled among some by Western angels, saints, and devils.

According to the Ibibio tradition, after the creation the omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient Lord Creator dwelled among his creatures, while controlling Nature and Sun, and provided the people with light, fire, and heat. Overall, this time may be conceived as Paradise on Earth. But, later, annoyed by people who multiplied and polluted His surroundings, and who were never satisfied with His gifts, God left Earth and settled in Heaven. He took with Him the Sun, which ever since has shone from high above. However, He left behind lesser deities as his local agents to rule over people and places. Since those had to be honoured by the people, the Ibibios were mistakenly thought by Europeans to be polytheists and anemists. And the lore of this religion, variants of which can be found throughout West Africa, carries an important moral lesson in ecology: if people multiply to a degree that their ecosystem runs afoul, God leaves.

This pre-Christian religion and its associated rites and customs have survived Christianization, and is widely practiced along with Christianity, even where the latter is well established. And in the more isolated and smaller communities it is often practiced exclusively. This co-existence between traditional and Christian religions is demonstrated in the libations that accompany all gatherings of importance. There is always a Chief performing the traditional offering. However, if a Christian clergyman of sufficient stature is available in the community, he will be asked to offer his particular blessings, too.

The traditional religion is quite complex and multifaceted. It entails beliefs in reincarnation, soul immortality, a Land of the Dead, spiritual and dietary taboos, magic and witchcraft, possession by mermaids and mermen causing mental disturbance, and more. Human sacrifice and the destruction of abnormal babies, twins, and triplets used to be commonplace before the spread of Christianity and formal legislation. And along the creeks and estuaries of the River State there are many settlements of Ijaw people, who are considered to be very good fishermen and true water people, and whom many believe submerge their new-born babies in the river as a ritual initiation.

The political independence of Nigeria started a process of revival of its pre-colonial African culture and their traditional religion, which had been in disrepute during the colonial period. At the same time, these had been integrated with Christianity into a new syncretism. Now, however, it remains doubtful whether the local, traditional, and sophisticated quasi-monotheistic religion ever needed to be replaced by Christianity or Islam (Abasiatai, 1987; Talbot, 1967; Uya, 1984l; and Udo, 1983).

5.3.1 Polygamy

As elsewhere in Africa, polygamy is widely practiced, Christianity notwithstanding, except among some people having Western-type educations. In fishing communities it is an important factor in women's economic independence. This is because of the lengthy absences of their husbands while at sea or in fishing camps, or while they share their time with other wives. Thus, a married woman who has prime responsibility for the care of her household's economics and her children, must maintain her financial independence.

5.4 Chiefs

Traditional community leaders, or Chiefs, play a major role in all fishing settlements, villages, and townships. A Chief is the first person one must visit to ask permission for developing any activity. Chiefs have to be persuaded, and sometimes given material inducements before they will agree with any new initiatives. The Chief's agreement and co-operation is essential, and federal, state, and local government authorizations will have greater authority when endorsed by the traditional Chiefs. This becomes complicated where, as happens in many fishing villages, the population is composed of members of several tribes and linguistic groups, each with its own Chief.

Some of the chiefs are recognized as Juju Chiefs. These are believed to have supernatural powers and connections, and practice traditional medicine. They also play a role in maintaining traditional social norms, such as performing certain rituals upon the agreement of a loan between two parties to assure repayment by the borrower (Abasiekong, 1991; Talbot, 1967; Uya, 1984; and Udo, 1983).

5.5 Traditional saving associations

In many West African communities there are traditional savings and credit groups, or clubs, variously known as "esusu," "osusu," "adashi," "club," etc., depending on the local language or dialect. An esusu's exact form and character may vary from tribe to tribe and from place to place, but in general will conform to the pattern described below. These thrift associations deserve particular attention given their importance for channeling formal credit to the fisherfolk.

Esusus usually consist of small groups having 20-30 members who usually come from a similar background. They may be members of an age group that grew up together and who have known each other from the time of childhood; they may be all of the same occupation, for example, marine fishermen, or inland water fishermen, or fish mammies; or they may be migrants who came from the same "home" village. Normally the membership consists of one tribe and language group whose members are from more or less similar economic and social circumstances.

The primary objective of the esusus is to provide some financial stability to their members and to help them during periods of need. In a large village, there may be a large number of such groups. For example, in the early 1990s, in the Delta village of Okoroete there were ten esusu clubs.

An esusu society is usually managed by a small committee, customarily a president and a secretary who keep the records, if any. The membership is not necessarily equitable. Normally, every member must make a periodic (weekly, monthly) payment to the group's fund, according to the number of shares he or she holds in the club. Obviously, the number of shares one can afford and is willing to hold determine his/her hierarchical position and social status in the group. Thus, the biggest share holder is usually the esusu's president.

According to one local arrangement, every member is entitled to a loan from the fund which usually, although not necessarily, is used for buying equipment. Interest may be charged. Members who decline to accept the loan are still obliged to pay all their dues. In such cases, however, when their turn comes up, they can obtain a double sum. By and large, the pot is allocated to the members by rotation in a pre-determined manner. However, if any of the members encounter an emergency need, the roster may be suspended in order to help the needy one. Esusus are normally non-profit and no-loss associations, although they can be affected by inflation. Moreover, as the Christmas season approaches and work ceases for a period of month or so, and many migrants go "home" to the place of their origin, a part or all of the pot may be disbursed among the members.

Membership is not easily opened to newcomers, and to be accepted a prospective new member must be sponsored by at least two existing ones. And, based on mutual trust, a loan may be issued to a member with a guarantee by another, or without any guarantee at all. It is peer pressure that assures timely periodic payments and loan reimbursement. Justified delays are tolerated, but steps may be taken against delinquent members.

Although in financial terms the esusu societies are not growth oriented, especially when no interest is charged, they otherwise function fairly well. Core social norms embedded in the local culture create the peer and other pressures responsible for their effective performance. Also their facilitation of the procurement of equipment (in particular outboard engines) is substantial, although by no means fully adequate. For example, an esusu group having 25 members and 30 shares, with a bi-weekly payment of 100 Naira (in 1988 terms) a share, collected the following during a year's time:

30 shares × 100 Naira × 26 forthnights = 78,000 Naira, or 2,600 Naira per share.
In 1988, the year this survey was executed, that arrangement would have given every single shareholder the theoretical opportunity to buy a new outboard motor every 3 years, assuming no withdrawals were made in between. Obviously the position of the multi-share holder is much better in this respect. In less well-off groups, with a bi-weekly payment of, say, only 50 Naira, the same formula would produce half the above figure and a theoretical opportunity to a single-share holder to buy an outboard engine only once every 6 years. And in this latter case, if Christmas and other expenses were regularly there would be practically no opportunity for buying an outboard engine (Abasiatai, 1987; Ben-Yami, 1996; and IFAD, 1988).

5.6 Traditional credit

The traditional credit system is deeply embedded in the local cultures. It is not just a technical framework for financing production activities, but rather is interwoven into the fisherfolks' life. Moreover, it is absolutely necessary for any but the simplest fishing activity to take place. Unfortunately, the fisherfolk pay a very high price for the money they borrow from fish dealers, money-lenders, and equipment and goods suppliers who are the core of this system. In many cases fishermen are obliged to sell their catches to their creditors at predetermined prices, which in most cases are lower than prevailing market prices. Also, loans may be given in the form of supplies or equipment at prices higher than prevailing market prices. Hence, the traditional credit is usually expensive, and tends to keep the borrowers in a constant dependence on the creditor.

The cost of the traditional credit can be illustrated by the following actual case, calculated at 1988 rates and prices in Nigeria. This example therefore suggests the benefits the rural producers, in this case fisherfolk, would derive from access to formal credit.

A fisherman obtained a loan from a fish dealer of 2,000 Naira, and at pre-set margins gradually repaid it in kind out of his catch during 6 months. Let us try to calculate the interest rate he was actually charged.

If the fisherman could have sold that part of his catch on free market at prices prevailing during that time, he would have earned 2,857 Naira.

Thus, he in fact paid 857 Naira interest on the 2,000 Naira loan.

The loan, however, was repaid in monthly installments. Therefore, during the 6 months during which he was indebted the average sum due to the creditor was approximately 1,167 Naira,

Accordingly, the actual annual interest rate paid by the fisherman was:

100 × (857 x 2) : 1,167 =~ 147%/year.
For the same loan (2,000 Naira for 6 months, repaid in monthly installments), at a formal interest rate of 15%, the interest the fisherman would have to pay would have been:
1,167 × 0.15 : 2 = 87.5 Naira,
and say, some 12.5 Naira in service costs, for a total of 100 Naira. The extra cost of the traditional credit for a 2,000 Naira loan for 6 months in 6 instalments, as compared with formal credit was:
857 - 100 = 757 Naira.
Thus, in this particular case, the traditional credit was 8.5 times more costly than formal credit would have been.
The high cost of "advance loans" for fish delivery obligations have been reported in many parts of the world, and in Africa in particular. It is, however, not easy to replace the well-established traditional system with a formal banking one, for the former has many advantages:
1. relations between debtors and creditors are informal and direct;

2. borrowers deal with familiar people rather than with institutions;

3. no bureaucracy, no paper work, and virtually no collateral is involved;

4. repayment is flexible if things go wrong;

5. traditional lenders often assume a patron role so that rural producers have somebody to turn to for help if extra money is urgently needed;

6. the money lender is often a member of the close or extended family;

7. a social norm with deep roots in local culture, which is often accompanied by certain contract ceremonies, ensures repayment, making the traditional system more reliable than any formal one.

The whole artisanal fishery depends on the traditional credit system. Although, it is exploitive and sometimes chokes fisherfolk's take-home earnings to a bare minimum, it has long played a dominant role in the fishery's existence and development. It represents a socio-cultural and socio-economic factor that the fisherfolk cannot live without, and yet at the same time that they stuggle to live with. Its role is oververwhelming in mainatining fisherfolk's food security, although hardly at a satisfactory level (Ben-Yami and Anderson, 1985; Ben-Yami, 1996; I,A.C., 1990; and IFAD, 1988).

5.7 Other fisherfolk organizations

Indigeneous organizations in the area comprise, apart from the web of general tribal and extended families (clans), such traditional associations as the esusus, secret societies of the respective genders, and market women's unions. Several religious groupings can also be viewed as sorts of organizations, some having loose while others maintaining stronger ties.

Western-type cooperatives have been introduced to the fishery sector and sponsored both by the government and by foreign assistance agencies. They spread in the 1970s and 1980s during the "Green Revolution" period when practically all state-sponsored credit and technical assistance (mostly, subsidized outboard engines and fishing nets) was distributed through the cooperatives. Apart from a few genuine co-ops, most were in part fictitious. To be considered a co-operative, each of their organizers, who were often government proteges, better-off traders and dealers, non-working boat-owners, and other affluent and influential village people, needed a number of fisherfolk to sign on as members. This had been an easy task, especially for those to whom many people owed money, or who employed many people. As "chairmen" they managed to channel most of the benefits and the eventually never-repaid loans into their own pockets. Thus, it is easy to understand why almost all the co-ops, although not their "chairmen", eventually went bankrupt.

Although a few genuine co-ops were able to survive, obtain and repay bank loans, and serve their members well, the general failure of this imported concept demoralized fisherfolk in two ways: (i) it created a widespread cynicism about co-ops; (ii) it "educated" fisherfolk to perceive loans coming from government-sponsored programmes as camouflaged grants which never had to be repaid (Abasiatai, 1987; Ben-Yami, 1986 and 1991; Ekpoudom, 1987; IFAD, 1988; Talbot, 1967; and Toh, 1985).


6.1 Fishing operations and equipment

Artisanal fishing operations can be roughly divided into: (1) riverine; (2) estuarine, including creeks and lagoons; and (3) marine. Traditional, locally built canoes represent the predominant fishing craft in all 3 fisheries, including some fitted with outboard engines. The motorization rate is variable, fluctuating during the last 2 decades between 5 and 20% of fishing canoes. It depends on the availability of capital for the replacement of the outboard engines which wear out quickly (2-3 years, on the average), the cost of the engines on the free market, which has been rising according to the fluctuating devaluation of the Naira, and input of engines from technical assistance programmes, if any.

Devaluation and resulting price trends also have affected the ability of fishermen to acquire synthetic netting. The availability of fishing gear and engines in turn affects their operations and access to fish resources (IFAD, 1988; and Keleshis, 1991).

6.2 Riverine (freshwater) sector

This is the least motorized and least capitalized sector with its often itinerant fishermen, who follow fish migrations and employ small canoes and various indigeneous entrapping and screening devices that are mostly made from locally-available materials. Fishing operations often take place in isolated localities and on shallows, with consequent transportation, processing, and marketing problems. Riverine fishermen hardly ever venture into the marine environment. They specialize in low-technology fishing methods, and their whole culture is adapted to their particular mode of food production. This mode of production, which on higher ground also incorporates agriculture, is unfeasible among the mangrove and beach dwelling marine and estuarine fisherfolk (IFAD, 1988).

6.3 Estuarine (brackish-water) sector

This is a protected-waters fishery covering extensive areas of the Delta system, and produces mainly high-value fish, as well as small pelagics such as shad, which in certain times may enter the estuaries and become available to the sector's fishermen. A large assortment of fishing methods are employed by fishers of both genders, women being particularly active in fishing and collecting crustaceans and molluscs. Most of the fishing is done from small canoes, but also by wading. This sector is most affected by fluctuations in the motorization rate, for the fishermen here are generally poorer than the marine ones, and hence, are more sensitive to the above mentioned economic shifts.

This sector also serves as an economic and environmental refuge for marine fishermen, who sometime withdraw to estuaries during their off-season, or when faced with such difficulties as loss of engine, boat, or fishing gear, prolonged periods of bad weather, or when their fuel-costly marine operations become financially unfeasible. This sector is also the ultimate fishing ground for the economically marginal (by virtue of age, illness, disability, etc.) marine fishermen. One consequence is that these areas are under rather heavy fishing pressure, with incomes in this sector being generally lower than in the marine sector. For this reason, there is some mobility by enterprising fishermen who find a way of investing in sea-going canoes and outboard engines (Ben-Yami, 1989; and IFAD, 1988).

6.4 Marine sector

The marine artisanal fishermen of Eastern Nigeria apply several fishing methods, the most important being pelagic gillnetting for small pelagic fish (e.g., shad, bonga, and sardinella), bottom-set gillnetting for demersal and shallow-water fishes (e.g., croaker, snapper, shiny-nose and barracuda), and pelagic gillnetting for large oceanic fish (e.g., sharks, swordfishes, and tunas). The fishing grounds for the first two methods may overlap, although bonga fishermen must often travel considerable distances to keep up with the migrating schools. Big-fish gillnetting is an offshore fishery and requires travelling distances of up to 30 nautical miles to reach the fishing grounds.

The bonga and big-fish fisheries require the highest capital investment among SE Nigerian artisanal fisheries. Ten to 15-m long canoes crewed by 10-16 men are employed, and offshore fishermen prefer to use at least 40-hp outboards engines which carry them faster to and from the fishing grounds. Here and there, small-scale purse seines have been introduced for fishing bonga schools. This approach requires a relatively substantial investment which only more affluent boatowners can afford.

During the last 2 decades a shift from the once profitable inshore bottom gillnetting to offshore bonga and big-fish fisheries was observed. This shift was spurred by an increasing encroachment of trawlers on inshore fishing grounds traditionally fished by artisanal fishermen. The trawlers damaged or caused total losses of bottom-set artisanal fishing gear and competed for the same fish stocks. Additional trouble stemmed from the trawlers' bycatch (see 3., above).

This resulted in increased fishing mortality and diminishing catches per canoe. In consequence, a process involving socio-professional stratification among the canoe fishermen has taken place, with the more successful ones acquiring bigger craft and stronger engines and shifting to offshore fishing, with the less successful ones continuing to fish inshore. This process, by mitigating the fishing pressure on the inshore fishing grounds, has provided also for the restoration and maintaining of a reasonable balance between the inshore fishing effort and the fish stocks, and thus, a continual supply of demersal and inshore fish to local markets (Ben-Yami, 1989; IFAD, 1988; and Keleshis, 1991).

6.5 Fish smoking and firewood

In view of local and national consumers' preferences, and also the prohibitive costs of installing, powering, and maintaining refrigeration, smoking is the only feasible way to keep fish edible for more than a few hours throughout the area's artisanal fishery. Fish are hot-smoked in one layer and grilled over an open fire, usually inside houses full of smoke.

The product, which is desirable in local markets, is quite acceptable, even to Westernized tastes. But unfortunately, one-layer smoking requires a lot of firewood per kilogram of smoked fish, and working for years in an environment of smoke often causes eye diseases, and for some, blindness. Frequent conflagrations also may consume not only the house where the fire broke out, but at times whole neighbourhoods--another risk of this method of fish smoking. Attempts have been made, through the project described below, to introduce the much more efficient and less dangerous Ghana-type "Chorkor-smoker."

In communities specialising in bonga fishing, fish smoking during the main season assumes the character of a cottage industry. A single fish-smoking worker-trader, usually a woman, may process lots of 1.25-2 mt of bonga. In large smokehouses located in fishing communities heavily involved in the bonga industry, teams of up to 10 women may smoke that amount in a day's work. With the open-fire technology large quantities of firewood are therefore consumed.

In villages situated among mangrove woods the women can provide for their own firewood needs. But in villages situated far from mangrove woods, or where the woods in the vicinity have been depleted, wood-collecting gangs carry firewood on canoes for sale by canoe loads. The firewood represents a significant component of overall production costs, which is an attractive feature of the Ghanaian "Chorkor" kilns, which use half the fuel per unit of smoked fish than do the open-fire methods (Adebona, 1978; Brownell et al., 1983; IFAD, and 1988; Miller, 1991).

6.6 Cargo/passenger boats and fish transport

Transportation of goods and commuting are costly, in part due to the overwhelming use of petrol-driven outboard motors for even the heaviest cargo boats. These transport boats, depending on the availability and price of fuel, as well as the available cash in the pockets of boat operators, are usually propelled by two to four, 40-75 HP outboard engines.

These river and canal-going multipurpose cargo vessels play a major role in the distribution of fish in the area and beyond. Since, however, they normally carry other merchandise, notably foodstuffs and drums of fuel and gin, they only partly depend on revenues earned from fish transport. The women carrying their products to major markets, such as Pt. Harcourt, Uyo, Calabar, Oron, Abak, Degema, and Aba, are collected by passing boats along with other passangers and cargo. Normally, boat-captains stop their vessels in deep water opposite fishing villages at "stations" where fish-mammies wait in their canoes. But sometimes cargo boats, especially when full or in a hurry, will not stop at all, leaving the mammies with their fish behind. Thus, those mammies who can afford to maintain good relations with the boatmen are stopped for, while others, especially, irregular customers, are left behind--often when the boats are running only a couple of minutes late. And traders from villages situated off the main water routes must paddle or motor their canoes to the transport "stations" to be picked up.

A woman trader from, for example, Apokiru, a community not too far from Port Harcourt, who is carrying two large baskets of fish, may have to pay anything between 10 to 20% of her fish value to get herself and her fish to the market stalls where she can sell them to local retailers. During the bonga fishing season the transport business blooms, service becomes more regular, and each bonga-fishing village is usually visited by cargo boats at least twice a week (IFAD, 1988).


7.1 The marketing system

Fish have always been one of the most important protein sources in Nigeria, and, depending on the strength of the currency and the government's policies, hundreds of thousands of tons of fish have also been annually imported from abroad. According to one description of marketing and distribution of fish in Nigeria's three southeastern states, the fish marketing structure is composed of the fishing village market and the urban market transfer. Fish landed in the villages are sold by fishermen to fish traders. The latter are women and men who clean, smoke, and sell about 5% of the fish in local markets and the remaining 95% to outside traders, mainly from Aba, who create a distribution network in all parts of the country (Ladipo et al., 1983).

In fact, the marketing system within the area is a bit more complex. Many of the village traders are fishermen's wives and kinsfolk to whom the fishermen either pass their catch for smoking and marketing, or to whom they sell the fish directly. These traders may carry the fish themselves to markets in cities and towns, where they sell them to small-scale wholesalers and retail fishmongers. These fishmongers deal also with many of the locally landed fresh and frozen trawl fish, which they buy at the production companies' outlet shops. In some cases, fish may change hands several times before eventually reaching the consumer. Major fish traders, whether from outside the area (e.g., from Aba) or from within the area, may also supply fishermen, often on credit, with netting, fuel, and sometimes even outboard motors. This may engender permanent or semi-permanent relationships between fishermen and traders--with all the associated advantages and disadvantages (see 5.6, above).

One problem plaguing the local marketing system is a lack of working capital. Although fish mammies do support the traditional credit system, fishermen complain that often they have to let the women-traders have the fish and then wait to be paid until the women can process and sell them, during which time they need money to buy fuel for their next fishing trip. Without fuel they may have to wait until the fish are sold, thus losing potentially productive fishing time, or choose to obtain fuel on credit at a traditional-credit cost (see 5.6, above).

Within this traditional market cum credit framework, there is an important difference between the local village fish mammies and the outside traders. While the former are usually poor hard-working women, who are being smoked alive while trying to make a living for their families and themselves, the latter are full-scale merchants and money-lenders of both genders, who usually have plenty of cash at their disposal.

Officials from the three coastal states used to complain that too much of the fish were carried inland while the local population's demand was not being met. The usual claim is that this situation is not the result of free-market play, but rather because many of the fishermen are indebted to outside traders, and are thus obliged to sell their catches for less than they would have been able to obtain in local markets. Still, at least some of the fish sold at the fishing villages goes to itinerant traders, and then end up marketed in towns and cities in the three coastal states. The unsatisfied demand stems from both population-growth and insufficient fish imports to Nigeria, while local production remains more or less steady.

Although the bulk of the fish landed in the area are smoked, some of the high-quality fish are supplied fresh to hotels and restaurants, in particular those serving expatriate residents and visitors. Large marine demersal fish, such as various groupers, snappers, and croakers command the highest prices, while small pelagics are the staple protein food for the general population. Catfish, which are the cream of the freshwater crop, especially in Rivers State, are marketed alive to traders coming from Imo State. They are kept in floating baskets and after capture can be kept alive for several days. They are smoked only when traders do not come in time and transport to market is not available (IFAD, 1988; Ladipo, et al., 1983; and Toh, 1982 and 1985).

7.2 Over-the-side sales

Over-the-side sales of by-catch and other trawl fish by trawler crews to artisanal fishermen and small traders evolved as a result of rapid development of the trawl fishery, the intrusion of trawlers into heretofore inshore artisanal fishing grounds, the increased cost of artisanal fishing equipment and engines, and the increasing demand and correspondingly reduced supply of fish from all sources. Fisherfolk from coastal communities have discovered that paddling or motoring out to the trawlers that are dragging their nets in the inshore fishing grounds, and buying fresh and frozen fish from their crews, may be more lucrative than investing in the equipment necessary to go fishing. Consumers are now more willing to eat and pay for the small fish that are characteristic in the trawlers' by-catch. Traders thus bring these to local markets, defrosting them if necessary by submerging them in water, and then smoking them in the traditional manner.

In fact, these over-the-side sales are the only practical way of making use of the trawl by-catch, especially that produced by shrimpers who use small-mesh trawls. From the point of view of enhancing food security via trawl catch utilisation, this is no doubt a desirable development, at least so long as the trawlers are allowed to fish in the inshore fishing grounds and produce bycatches of juvenile and other small fish that otherwise would be jettisoned and wasted (IFAD, 1988).

7.3 Purchasing power

During the last decade or so, the purchasing power of the general population has been declining due to the unstable political and economic situation in the country. At the same time, fish prices have been continuously rising, mainly due to inflation, currency devaluation affecting production costs, and fluctuating fish imports. While fish remain the crucial protein staple, a situation seems to be developing among the growing population in which more and more people can ill afford to buy an inadequate supply of fish. However, this decreased purchasing power cannot push fish prices below the level which various fisheries require to sustain their operations. Indeed, even the trawl fishery that supplies local markets would collapse if the markets were unable to buy enough fish at prices that could sustain their operations. Moreover, if prices were to fall much lower, the artisanal fishery would have to devolve into non-motorised subsistance-oriented operations. And because overall demand exceeds supply, the Nigerian fishery system will continue to also depend on the availability of cheap imported fish in local makets. Thus, it seems likely that as long as the local demand for fish remains far from being satisfied, locally caught fish will likely enjoy sufficient demand at prices which are adequate for supporting their production (IFAD, 1988).

7.4 Fish consumption by fisherfolk themselves

The foregoing economic factors may eventually affect the fish-consumption patterns of the fisherfolk themselves. On the one hand, as their incomes are reduced, fisherfolk may tend to reduce their fish consumption and increase their sales of fish to the markets. On the other hand, however, with less cash to buy food, more of the fish they catch may find its way into the fishing family's pots and pans. The extent of local consumption therefore depends very much on the sort of fishing and its seasonality. It is different, for example, in fishing communities with massive seasonal landings of small pelagics, compared with the local consumption of the generally poorer fisherfolk living along creeks, rivers, and estuaries, whose catches are much less massive and less subject to seasonal fluctuations. Isolation from markets and transport difficulties are, no doubt, another factor prompting what many fishers say: "if you can't sell them, you eat them." However, one cannot subsist on fish alone, and to provide true food security fish must not only be consumed, they must also be capable of being sold for cash or for staple foodstuffs.


This oil-rich area is spotted with industry-associated installations that often pollute water and air. These installations, whether extractive, service, or accommodation stations, are served by a fleet of high-powered tugboats that speed over the Delta creeks and canals. And against the background of mangrove bush and the fisherfolk's thatched dwellings and dugout canoes, they almost look like water-borne UFOs.

The oil-industry, although geographically interlaced in the area, apart from its pollution has no visible effect on the life, work, and income of the fishing folk. Here one sees two separate and parallel worlds, one which is opulent in technology and living conditions, the other which is wretchedly poor, and with each seemingly ignoring the other.

Recently, however, a new fund named Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) was established in Nigeria. Among various projects, there are proposals to channel oil company practical assistance to local fishermen by using flare gas to distill drinking water, and to fire bricks for house construction. Trays for "Chorkor" smokers (see: 6.5, above), and similar hardware are also to be fabricated in oil company junk yards out of waste materials (IFAD, 1988; and D. Thomson, personal communication).


The trawlers fleet's catch composition greatly overlaps that of the artisanal fishermen. Nigeria's national economy would probably be better off if anything that can be caught by small-scale fishermen is caught by them, rather than by company fleets who offer less employment, expend more energy and capital to catch the same amount of fish, and are more likely to over fish stocks, which they often illicitly and wastefully exploit (see 3., above).

Shrimp-trawling company fleets also lack the versatility and flexibility of small-scale fishermen, and as a result are lacking self-regulatory mechanisms that act against over fishing (see 3., above). Trawling fleets usually continue fishing until they go bankrupt, or until the resource is totally exhausted. Indeed, nearly all of the most infamous stock collapses that have occurred in the history of the world's fisheries were brought about by industrial fleets.

A Nigerian federal law prohibits trawlers from operating within 2 miles from the shore. The purpose of the law is to leave this strip of ocean for the exclusive use of artisanal fishermen. This law, however, is not and can hardly ever be enforced. According to informed sources, patrolling by the Navy, when it is done at all, is not effective. The trawlers operate within this strip to exploit abundant demersal fish resources, including high-priced penaeid shrimp. And artisanal fishermen operate over an area extending from inland waters out to about the 40-45-m depth line, which extends far beyond the 2 mile strip.

In recent years, trawler-fleet owners have been complaining about the over-the-side trade in "by-catch" (see 7.2, above). Justifiably, they suspect that, along with the by-catch whose sale is accepted as the crew's privilege, the crews are also selling high-value larger fish, thus making extra money at the companies' expense and reducing their bosses' profits. Ironically, the artisanal fishermen also stridently complain, and quite in vain, about the trawlers' presence on these grounds and the damage they cause to both their gillnets and their fish resources. Perhaps, therefore, the local fisherfolk's inclination regarding their business dealings with the trawler crews is, "if you can't beat them, corrupt them!" (Ajayi and Adetayo, 1982; Ben-Yami, 1989; IFAD, 1998; and McGoodwin, 1984).


10.1 Origin and objectives

The project described below was jointly sponsored by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Federal Government of Nigeria, and the governments of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River states, and was implemented by the United Nations Development Fund's (UNDP) Office of Project Operations (OPS) and the Federal Fisheries Department. Its first 6-year budget was approximately US$20M, of which some US$9M was allocated to credit, with the rest designated for development projects in fishing communities. The IFAD loan was channeled through the Nigerian Central Bank to the National Agricultural Co-operative Bank (NACB), which had been designated as the loans disbursement agency. The project was designed to aim at the poorest sectors of the coastal population in the area, namely the artisanal fisherfolk in the outlying settlements (IFAD, 1988 & 1990; and Onabanjo, 1991).

The project's objectives were to increase fish production in fishing communities, thus improving their food security, standard and quality of life, and general economic performance. The project, which was identified in 1988, then reviewed and appraised, has now been working for over 8 years. Reportedly, its recent performance has weakened for reasons associated with the general economic and political situation in Nigeria, as well as the Government's decision to renounce a consecutive phase of the international (IFAD) support and instead to try to secure its continuation under the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), an endeavour which is yet to be finalized (D. Thomson, personal communication).

10.2 The concept

The concept of the project involves directing development assistance to the poorest segments of the rural population and engendering their maximum feasible participation. It recognizes the main problems of the artisanal fisherfolk: their lack of equitable access, on reasonable terms, to markets, credit, facilities, equipment, and other basic services, as well as their often inadequatge food supplies. Assuming that access to credit on reasonable terms is one key to breaking the vicious cycle of misery in the area, the project is designed to serve as a bridge between the fisherfolk and formal bank credit. Such credit, from a purely financial point of view, would be many times less costly to the fisherfolk than the common types of traditional credit (see 5.6, above).

The project concept also assumes that to improve the standards and quality of life in the fishing communities, their performance as social and economic entities must also be improved. To become a more effective community, the inhabitants of a fishing settlement must share common services, facilities, and community institutions. The project includes a community development component in the form of village development funds (VDF), which apart from their value per se also aim at creating permanent working communities out of "semi-permanent" settlements. One way of doing this is to induce villagers to make plans for their communities' future, by initiating a participatory development process which is seeded with IFAD-subsidized micro-projects aimed at developing common public facilities in fishing settlements.

As an incentive, the credit component of the project is made available only to inhabitants of villages that are prepared to initiate and participate in planning their own communities' improvement and development, including deciding on and participating in implementation of micro-projects-initially, one for each participating settlement. Community planning, including preparation of master plans for village development, participatory identification, and prioritization of micro-projects has been done, wherever possible, within existing cultural-institutional frameworks. Other components, such as base-line data studies for impact evaluation, technical assistance--both general to assist in project implementation, as well as specific, aimed at improvement of fish smoking technology and introduction of fish cage culture--are also provided.

Two other important principles stipulated that the project should be run wholly by Nigerian government and NACB employees, and that the implementation would be preceded by a very thorough training programme for the project field staff. Thirteen teams of extensionists (Fishing Development Units, or FDU), each composed of a fishery-department extensionist, a bank agent, and a boat-driver/motorman, were trained and provided with necessary equipment, such as fast boats, mobile house-boats, 4-wheel drive vehicles, accommodations, and financial incentives to visit and work in the villages that had been selected by the authorities to participate in the project. The FDU work has been monitored and supervised by roving supervisors, while fisherfolk representatives have been encouraged to evaluate, and if necessary, criticize the FDU-staff performance.

A Guide for the Implementation of the Project was produced to provide the project staff at all levels, and other people associated with the project, with a "reader friendly" interpretation of the project agreement, including guidance and instruction for its implementation, monitoring and evaluation (Abasiekong, 1991; Aderounmu, 1986; Ben-Yami and Anderson, 1985; IFAD, 1988 and 1990; and Miller, 1991).

10.3 The community development component

One of the main reasons why many of the fishing communities in the Project area have sorely inadequate infrastructure and services is that many of their inhabitants do not consider them to be their true home villages, and therefore invest their savings elsewhere. At the same time, a place with low standards of accommodation and lacking basic public services is hardly attractive for long-term investments. This is a vicious circle whose dissolution requires the promotion of public and private investments and communal activities.

A fishing community is more than just an assemblage of individuals, families, and their households. It is a complex system of inter-related social, cultural, commercial, and production processes, that is held together by the individual and collective will of its members. Thus, improvement of the system as a whole leads also to improvement of the well being of individual community members and their families, and vice versa. Similarly, the establishment, development, and improvement of physical and institutional infrastructure elements for the community will also radiate through the whole system. In areas where more often than not life focuses on sheer survival, with securing adequate food many people's main concern, and where the fishery is practically the only source of income and an important source of food, an improvement of the social framework of the community and its production conditions will have a direct and positive impact on the fisherfolk's food security.

The project's assumption has been that fisherfolk themselves are best equipped to judge what is most needed and what is achievable in their communities. Thus, their active participation in the planning and implementation processes has become an integral part of the Project. And the development elements that were considered most important by the fisherfolk were usually the following: water supply, sanitation and health, education, transportation of fish to markets, reduction of post-harvest losses, improvement of smoking technology, engine repair services, services for trade in fishing equipment, food supplies, and consumer goods.

The Project staff's business was to initiate, and where already existing, support development institutions and activities within the communities, while encouraging the local people to decide what their needs were, prioritize these, and organize themselves in such a way that with the help of the Project's funds they could implement their chosen micro-projects. The Project was designed to help chiefly those communities which were prepared to help themselves, not only through preparation of a village master plan and priority list for the micro-projects, but also through participation in their implementation through material and labour contributions (Abasiekong, 1991; Ben-Yami and Anderson, 1985; IFAD, 1998 & 1990; and Townsley, 1998).

10.4 Social stratification and benefits distribution

Social stratification has been observed in even some of the poorest settlements. A generations-long evolution of strictly localized traditional credit has produced relatively wealthy individuals who live off the poor fishing population. These village rich men (and sometimes women) may be local money lenders, ownersof the only food and general store, operators of the only fish-transport craft, and/or fish dealers. Sometimes the local rich man is a local Chief. And by becoming the "secretary" of an often fictitious co-operative, such a person may be the first to obtain an inexpensive state-sponsored loan, as well as the first to appear as the fisherfolk's representative. Thus, the economically, socially, and politically weaker community members will be, as a general rule, the least likely to benefit from the development projects.

Therefore, to ensure development is equitable, the benefits it brings must be distributed among the whole population, rather than among only the more powerful, richer, more advanced, or more clever. In the present case, a more equitable distribution of benefits was expedited by facilitating access to formal credit. By putting an upper limit on a prospective borrower's assets, the project attempted to ensure that credit was not diverted to wealthy applicants who were able to obtain bank loans without the project's assistance.

The FDU staff were instructed and trained to make special efforts to recruit and involve poor people in the various activities inspired by the project. In many cases the extensionists found that this was an uphill task, not only due to the expectable resistance of stronger community members, but also often because of the hesitation, estrangement, disbelief, and despondency of the weaker members of the community (Ben-Yami, 1985; and IFAD, 1998).

10.5 The group credit scheme

Thanks to the esusu tradition, the idea of associating for financial ends is not unknown among the fisherfolk, and indeed is quite compatible with their cultural and social norms. The esusus drawn into the project framework therefore played an essential role in the identification and disbursement of the loans, and as mutual guaranty groups. No less important was that they enabled the credit scheme to successfully compete with the traditional system. Moreover, the availability of the relatively cheap bank loans have also mitigated the heretofore customary terms of the traditional credit. Another condition for success has been an innovative extension service providing technical advice on equipment (e.g., regarding choice, operation, and maintenance) and its appropriate prices, as well as seeing to it that loans are spent as intended. Now, after a borrower has chosen the materials or equipment he/she wishes to obtain and the supplier he/she wishes to obtain it from, a loan is extended to the borrower while the bank directly compensates the supplier who was indicated by the borrower (Ben-Yami and Anderson, 1985; IFAD, 1990; Tietze, 1987; and Tietze et al., 1989).

10.6 Procedures

All procedures between the borrowers and the bank were designed to be simple and expeditious. The FDU staff members, who are readily accessible in the villages, have been responsible for all contacts with the bank and all the procedures involved. Esusu groups are eligible for either a group loan or for serving as a grantor of loans to their members. To qualify for loans they must have been in continuous operation with a recognized leadership for at least one year before submission of the loan application, and their members must be willing to assume both individual and collective responsibility for the repayment of the loan. For this purpose, an IFAD consultant assisted the NACB to streamline its procedures.

While the purpose and other details of the loan, including the technical/financial feasibility of the loan proposal, are arrived at in a participatory process, the FDU bank agents take care of all the processing and paper work, while assisting borrowers in coming up with a scheme that is mutually satisfactory to them and to the bank, and that provides for both the loan security and repayment, as well as for record keeping and monitoring the group's finances (IFAD, 1990; Igun, 1991; Kolawole, 1991; and Reddy, 1991).

10.7 Formalization of esusu societies

Formalizing the esusu is a gradual process having three main facets:

(1) instituting esusus as legal entities under the cooperative or a commercial law;
(2) persuading esusu members to keep the society's cash in a bank account;
(3) persuading the society's leaders to keep proper records, if necessary with the help of the project staff.
The relationships between the project and the esusus must be maintained as a two-way street. In this connection, FDU staff were instructed and trained to remain open minded about any proposals and ideas that may come from esusu members and other fisherfolk regarding improvement of self-help and saving schemes, and the possibility of integrating them in the Project's activities and credit scheme (IFAD, 1990; and Reddy, 1991).


A special training programme for the project staff was an important condition for its successful implementation. The trainees were extensionists from the Fisheries Department as well as NACB field agents, State Project Managers, and field staff supervisors. The main components of this programme were a 30-day preparatory training course for the whole project staff, and a special training course for motormen/boat drivers in charge of mobile houseboats serving as bases to the field units.

The training was aimed not only at acquainting the project staff with its background, concept and procedures, but also at motivating them and imparting to them the right approach for their work among the fisherfolk. Some of its components included the following: being attentive to local sensitivities; being respectful; following the locally accepted hierarchy; not throwing about official weight; telling the people that it is up to them what equipment to buy and where to buy it with the loan money; also, advising the people what they might do with the loan money, while the project's staff members would assist them in finding the least expensive equipment sources, and if necessary help them to negotiate equipment prices, etc.

How project staff members were to behave in various situations also had to be worked out. This was done through group dynamics sessions, during which the roles of chiefs, fishermen, fish-mammies, money lenders, fish dealers, etc., were assigned to course participants, some of whom were well acquainted with the fisherfolks' culture, customs, and behavioural patterns. Other participants played the role of Project field staff members who were encountering fisherfolk in various ad hoc scenarios. In follow-up meetings and at a refresher workshop, field staff reported that this part of the course was very useful, because almost every situation they encountered in reality had been acted out during the group dynamics sessions.


12.1 Fisherfolk's response

The fisherfolk's initial response to the project depended on their former experience with external assistance. The first meeting of the field staff was always with Chiefs and other elders. The second stage was usually, upon the consent of the former, a more public meeting. In some settlements the initial response was suspicion, mistrust, and even scorn. In others, it was positive to various degrees, including a case where the villagers erected, on their own initiative and at their own expense, a hut to house the FDU staff on their visits to the community. Mostly, it was the project's practical approach, refraining from bombastic promises, as well as leaving much of the decision making to the fisherfolk, while stipulating that they must contribute their time, material and labour to get micro-project assistance, that convinced them to take the project seriously.

In due course, apart from one or two incidents, the fisherfolk became the most stable, eager, and forthcoming components of the project. Loan repayment rates have varied, but in general have remained at acceptable levels. According to one 1998 PTF mission member, there seemed to be a disagreement recently between field extension personnel and some bank officials regarding repayment rates. While official figures and the field staff claim a good rate of return, there were suggestions from the NACB that the recent slowdown of loan advances was due to a poor rate of return, and that the bank wanted to wait until repayments had reached a certain level before more money would be loaned. On the other hand, some of the reasons for the slowdown may have been quite different, and this is discussed in section 12.6, below.

The community development micro-projects have become very popular. Villages were queuing up for implementation of their proposals, and in one case a riot even broke out between two villages over their place in the queue. The recent PTF mission reported that the micro-projects component had perhaps the greatest social impact, and included several of these in its own project proposals (J.Miller; and D.Thomson, personal communication).

12.2 Project staff's performance

The project staff, almost without exception, has performed very well. Both the financial incentive (their field allowances paid only for actual days in the field, were designed to practically double their regular salaries), and their preparatory training, have provided the necessary motivation. Overall they have been successful in spite of frequent frustrations caused mostly by state and other bureaucracies, such as delays in the payment of allowances, and only rarely have they been frustrated in their dealings with the fisherfolk.

12.3 Bank performance

Initially, the NACB regular management and staff were slow to accept the project's concept and approach. The whole idea of "barefoot bankers," walking remote beaches and arranging bank loans for rural fisherfolk who lacked any collateral, was not what they had been taught by their Western and Western-educated teachers. The idea that a loan which is collectively guaranteed by 10 or 20 paupers can be bankable appeared to them even stranger. However, following the initial workshop and training course, some of the senior bank officers became infected with the enthusiasm of their field staff, and in general terms the bank's branches in the area, as well as its central office, co-operated adequately. Also, a consultant's work during the preparatory phase at the NACB HQ, who helped to adapt bank procedures to the project's realities, helped the bank to function effectively.

Nonetheless, each remittance of funds to the field has generally taken too much time, frustrating field staff members and their fisherfolk clients. And bank procedures were only one factor prompting these delays. Others included the need to route all paper work through the Project HQ in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, as well as through the Central Bank of Nigeria, and also through IFAD's HQ in Rome, and then back to Nigeria. IFAD's own strict procedural requirements, designed in the style of the international banking system, were also not easy to satisfy and contributed to the delays. Still, the cash was flowing, even if in a rather creaky way, and loans were being issued and repaid.

Recently, however, the bank slowed down considerably, claiming a low rate of loan repayment. Technically, the field staff cleared the loan applications, and not the bank itself, so this should not have happened. Other hearsay concerned suspicions that unfulfilled hopes for buy-offs had been playing an obstructing role, and suggested management problems at high levels in the bank. An opinion was expressed that the bank did not go to sufficient pains to facilitate repayments by outposting sufficient field staff, with its excuse being insufficient money for such personnel (Reddy, 1991; and a confidential communication).

12.4 Politics and state/local authorities' performance

This was where most of the project's difficulties came from. The State's authorities were dragging their feet in paying in their liabilities to the Project, dignitaries pressed their authority to use the project's vehicles and boats for both official and private purposes, some state fisheries directors would not acknowledge the autonomy of the project staff and the state project managers, and some would not rest until they achieved full control over them.

During the appraisal and preparatory stages the commissioners (state ministers) in power were carefully briefed on the project's concept. Unfortunately, in the ensuing years there has been a considerable changeover of commissioners (and their directors-general)--up to 3-4 changeovers in each state. Consequently, the understanding of the project by the successive commissioners has been deteriorating. During the second and third year of the project's work, as a result of the change-over to civilian rule and the state-wide elections, the commissioners became political appointees. These new appointees' obligations and aspirations were much more complex than those of their predecessors, who had been appointed by the military government. And the worst effect of this change was a deterioration in paying in of counterpart funds which affected implementation of the micro-projects.

Such a situation was fertile soil for political pressures. The state administrations, down through the governors, commissioners, fisheries directors, and local (provincial) governments (LGA), strove to have as much say as possible in all aspects of the project. In essence, they wanted control over the selection of participating settlements, the village development fund (VDF) and community micro-projects, the loan beneficiaries, and anything else that might give them political leverage. In short, local authorities were not always helpful in the implementation of the projects.

At an evaluation seminar held by the project, a special committee noted that the former military regime, quite unlike the new civilian state governments, "was sincere and optimistic of the project and so met with the demands of counterpart funding." The civilian administration, by contrast, was depicted as "unwilling, apathetic, and lacking honest commitment." The language used by the committee regarding the civilian administration included such expressions such as "lack of seriousness," "paying lip service," "need for political lobbying," and "the fisheries sector being always marginalized." The real situation, however, was not the same in each of the three states, and the situation in this respect was much better in Rivers state than in Akwa Ibom, with Cross River somewhere in between (A.Keleshis; and J.Miller, personal communication).

12.5 The corruption factor

The project designers were well aware that corruption, a fact of life in Nigeria, could easily destroy the project. Therefore, a great educational effort to combat this was instituted during the training period. The project's stick-and-carrot approach was based on the relatively high allowances to members of the FDUs on the one hand, and the threat of dismissal from the Project of any staff member found to be requesting or taking bribes, on the other. Community leaders were informed about the latter proviso, and the field staff knew better than to get involved in extorting bribes. But it was not so with non-project personnel who were higher-up, some of whom, reportedly, tried to achieve material or political gains by riding piggyback on such a large project in their area. Moreover, one reason for the recent slowdown if not stoppage of the loan scheme may have been some mismanagement in the disbursing bank, as well as expectations of bribes in some of its branches (Confidential communication; and A. Keleshis and D. Thomson, personal communications).


In general, it is widely accepted by the external donors, the federal and state governments, and certainly the recipient fisherfolk and the various missions to the area, that this IFAD project has been the most beneficial of all the artisanal fishery development projects ever launched in Nigeria. The credit-development concept, leading to increased food security and consolidation of communities, and the innovative preparatory training component, has been followed by other programmes in Africa and considered also for non-fishery projects. The PTF Mission, for example, proposed a project designed to expand IFAD type activities to all the Delta states, administered under the PTF umbrella.

Nevertheless, some important lessons can be drawn for the benefit of future credit schemes for artisanal fisherfolk.

Lesson 1 - Most lower and medium-level civil servants and other institutional workers in Nigeria, and for that matter in most Third-World countries, are underpaid. Therefore, substantial financial incentives are essential to motivate such workers to swap their easygoing workdays in often air-conditioned offices for the physically demanding and time-consuming activities required in outlying coastal communities. Such incentives, however, must be linked not to their ranks or titles, but rather to the actual time they spend in extension work.

Lesson 2 - Corruption can kill any project. Therefore, whenever the extension of formal credit is substantially cheaper than the traditional financing system its administration will inevitably invite corruption. One remedy is to create an atmosphere enveloping all personnel working on, and benefiting financially from the project, that makes asking for and taking bribes analogous to cutting the branch they are sitting on. Spread the word among fisherfolk that they can obtain loans without any kickbacks, while also urging them to report any extortion attempts. See that the project incorporates a supervisory mechanism which maintains direct contact with prospective clients and beneficiaries, and which is independent of the field staff and the personnel in the bank's provincial branches who are involved in appraising, approving, and disbursing the loans.

Lesson 3 - If feasible, to avoid political pressures and reduce bureaucratic interference, implement a credit scheme or a credit component in a wider development programme, with minimum governmental involvement. Wherever possible, place responsibility for operations in the hands of the distributing bank's specially trained and logistically supported field staff, as well as the recipient fisherfolks, such as was instituted in the Grameen Bank operation. Where technical assistance is needed, either co-operate with the state's fishery extension staff or deploy the bank's own specially employed fishery technical experts in the field. Beware of corruption within the bank's own ranks, for no popular credit scheme can survive that.

Lesson 4 - If the credit scheme must be executed within the governmental framework, try to make the project totally separate and independent from the low-level and intermediate-level bureaucracies, and have state-level project managers respond directly to the director-general level of the ministry concerned with the project (which in the case of Nigeria was the Ministry of Agriculture). If such a solution can be achieved only at the expense of having an expatriate project manager, it may be preferable to pay that price rather than have those bureaucracies involved.

Lesson 5 - If neither 1 nor 2 are possible, draw the existing fisheries officials into the project by giving them personal status or prominence, as well as material allowances, in order to ensure they remain interested in the project's successful performance and continued well being. "If you can't beat them, then incorporate them" is the idea here (I.A.C., 1990; and J. Miller and D. Thomson, personal communications).


14.1 Social and cultural aspects of fish production in the Delta area

One component of the IFAD project was a socio-economic survey and follow-up monitoring, whose proceedings and results, if any, are not available to me at this time. Nevertheless, the following conclusions can be drawn, even in the absence of having hard data.

To begin with, the multi-tribal and multi-lingual characteristics of the project area made it difficult to generalize regarding how cultural factors affected food security. On the other hand, and in spite of the above, many socio-cultural factors, common among the fisherfolk of the three states, have helped to secure food security in the tens of fishing settlements involved in the project.

Nigerian artisanal fisheries, including the Delta ones, have been developing and operating under very complex and ever-changing political conditions, which have continually affected and modified the traditional cultural and social systems. The colonial regime was the first to initiate the modification of the traditional tribal cultures, first by reducing the influence of tribal rulers and local chiefs, and then by supporting the introduction of Christianity and modern medicine, which greatly diminished the influence of the Juju chiefs, traditional healers, and secret societies.

Modern markets were the next major influence prompting change. These have been continually spreading their overwhelming influence into the fisherfolk's communities by affecting the exchange of goods, the need for cash, the motivation to increase marketable production, and the promotion of consumerism and socio-economic stratification. In turn, the foregoing phenomena have been continually modifying the local cultures and their social norms.

Independent Nigeria, which until recently was under military regimes, has nevertheless been holding local-regional elections, and has also created a sizeable bureaucracy. This has created a new system, composed of non-traditional politicians, military rule agents, and bureaucrats, independent of the chiefs and traditional hierarchies, and administratively and financially stronger than the traditional chief's system. Yet, the new system is well aware of the influence of the chiefs on the population and tends to co-operate with them.

Regarding the fisherfolk, even in most remote villages the new social, economic, and political realities are affecting their attitudes about food production. Now, fishermen and fish-mammies find themselves performing and surviving in a modernizing and dynamic, although technologically low-level, socio-economic market system. In order to survive, they have assumed commercial and social attitudes that are appropriate in such a system. Some may be growing "rich," and rich indeed when they accumulate wealth and means of production, while others remain subject to proletarianization processes. The fish-mammies, who run technically primitive processing cottage industries, are part of a complex marketing system involving transport to distant urban markets and complex financial-commercial transactions. Moreover, the "traditional" credit system now involves such components as the supply of fuel, transport, and modern technology to the fisherfolk, while affecting other major financial resources.

No doubt, local and traditional cultural and social values still strongly affect personal relationships, family life, attitudes toward personal commitments (including credit), and health (e.g., a villager may seek a local healer or a Juju chief's often costly consent to take a sick child to a hospital). And traditional chiefs still execute judgements and punishments. Otherwise, the traditional values have only a minor and indirect influence on fish production, and hence on food security.

The same is true for fishery resource management. With the adoption and expanded use of large sea-going canoes and outboard engines, fishermen are now traveling long distances to fishing grounds of their own choosing, and there is little way of controlling their activities. Their uncompromising competition with the intruding trawlers also makes old-style management unfeasible. Hence there are practically no cultural factors which affect or which could promote resources management, leaving mainly economic imperatives as the most important self-regulatory mechanism (see 3., above), and perhaps state-enforced ones in the future as well. Thus, the main role of cultural aspects with respect to food security are the socio-cultural norms and institutions that may assist in improving the fisherfolk's access to credit at financially reasonable terms, which would improve their fish production conditions and catches.

14.2 Regarding the feasibility of introduction of credit schemes to poor fisherfolk

According to various reports, fisherfolk's average rates of loan repayment compare well with those of other borrowers, especially if their traditional institutions and social and cultural norms and values are involved in the credit schemes. Indeed, often nothing is more effective for ensuring that people respect their loan obligations than pressure from the client's peers, local leaders, and in some cases, even the whole community. In our case, esusu groups proved to be quite effective, not only because of their mutual guaranty commitment, but also because consistent loan repayment by the first borrowers was a condition for extending loans to other group members. Moreover, repayment rates of women's groups were reported to exceed those of groups composed of men.

Banks involved in such credit schemes are faced with two specific problems which must be solved. One concerns the lack of collateral, which was solved in the IFAD project by self-guaranty groups. The other concerns the high operational expenses involved with processing small loans by special extension staff needing extra training and costly logistics, which in the IFAD project were subsidized by international donors.

Otherwise, credit schemes for fisherfolk would likely fail if they were merely a component of the usual banking system. Simplified procedures, village-level service by extension agents, and flexibility on the part of the bank in agreeing to postponement of payments in case of poor catches or other compelling reasons, are essential conditions in a credit scheme's success. Because clients' incomes depend on their day-to-day proceeds, they would not be able to sustain a rigid repayment regime (I.A.C. 1990; IFAD, 1990).

14.3 Impact of low-cost credit on fisherfolk's food security

Poor fisherfolk's food security depends on their daily catches. While some better-off fishermen may have financial reserves that enable them to sustain their families during lean periods without having their daily food intake substantially affected, it is not so with the great majority of the Delta fisherfolk. Fishermen without access to credit have very little chance of moving up on the production and the social ladder. The poorest among them are confined to fishing with very small canoes while using the simplest fishing gear, or hiring themselves out to bigger canoe owners. This also often relegates them to partly overfished estuarine and lagoonal waters where their catches will be meager, or in the case of hired hands, may relegate them to the lowest-class of fish-workers for practically all of their lives. One of their daily problems, therefore, is how much fish they can keep for subsistence. When fishing is bad, the food available to fishermen's families, and in particular, to their children, decreases both quantitatively and qualitatively.

During the 1980s, many Nigerian artisanal fishermen managed to enter the marine fishery by obtaining their first outboard motors and nets under the "blue revolution" subsidy programme. When the time came to replace their motors and nets, their only source of cash was the traditional system, which while helping them to continue producing otherwise held them down economically. Thus, these fishermen welcomed the project's credit scheme enthusiastically, for it had put them back to their former level of production, on reasonable financial terms, and had improved the general well being and food security of themselves and their families.

Poor fishermen have little chance of obtaining enough traditional credit to be able to upgrade their fishing capacity, such as by purchasing a large canoe, and/or an outboard motor, and/or a net. Often, even when they do acquire such equipment on credit, they derive only marginal benefits from their increased production because of the high cost of that credit, which keeps them within the vicious circle of poverty and marginal food supply. The eagerness with which Delta fishermen were ready to adapt their esusu clubs, join forces to create new ones, and queue up sometimes for long periods, to obtain NACB loans, is evidence of their hopes that this vicious circle would be broken by the credit scheme described above.


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