Coastal Fisheries Initiative

Food Heroine: "Conditions are tough but we won't sit idly by, waiting for help"

On World Food Day, the CFI spotlights Mariama Sarr, a seafood harvester and processor from Senegal who is passionate about her work


16 October, Dionewar - Mariama Sarr works as a seafood harvester and processor in the community of Dionewar, an island in Senegal's Sine Saloum Delta.

Thanks to their work, Ms Sarr and her colleagues provide food such as dried oysters and shrimp semi-conserves to their community, which depends largely on small-scale fishing for its nutrition and its livelihoods.

"I am over 50 years old, and I do this job out of passion," said Ms Sarr, who serves as vice president of the Local Federation of Economic Interest Groups (FELOGIE, in its French acronym) in Dionewar.

"I have always been immersed in this environment, because my mother and my grandmother also worked as seafood processors. So naturally, I quickly embraced the profession," she added.

Harvesting shellfish is a physically arduous job: for example, the women must wade waist-deep into the murky waters of the mangrove forests where their catch thrives, sometimes getting bitten by unseen predators.

This is followed by long hours at the processing plant, where the women drain, boil, steam, and dry the shellfish and the shrimp before packaging them for final consumption.

"We love our work, but getting up every day at 5 am to go look for oysters or ark clams is not easy at all. Sometimes, we even have trouble finding boats to take us out to sea," Ms Sarr commented.

Dwindling natural resources and lack of credit are also causes for concern.

"Things are a lot harder today. Before, this job was relatively easy. But this is no longer the case, because the resources are so scarce," she explained. "We make all these sacrifices to come up with our products, only to sell them at very low prices. We barely make a profit."

The women borrow money from banks to invest in their businesses, but interest rates are prohibitive and returns are low: "After two months, we can't honour our commitment any longer. We try to repay them as long as we can, but it's pretty tough for us," she explained.

Faced with these challenges, the women processors decided to take action.

"We didn't want to sit around, waiting for aid. So we set up our own self-financing unit, where we each pay into a common fund. It is thanks to this that we can remain independent," Ms Sarr concluded.

About CFI-WA

CFI-WA covers Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal. The Initiative works with stakeholders and authorities to strengthen fisheries governance and management and improve the seafood value chain and working conditions, with a focus on empowering women. It is implemented by FAO in partnership with UNEP/Abidjan Convention and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).