FAO project supports women clam collectors in Tunisia

A great step forward has been taken in the Tunisia clam fisheries sector with the establishment of a fair trade agreement between the Association of Continuity of Generations (ACG) – representing the Tunisian Association of Women Clam collectors and Development (AFPD) – the Prince Export Centre for Clams – a depuration and export establishment - and the Italian importer Pesca Pronta

The agreement was reached within the framework of the FAO Multipartner Programme Support Mechanism (FMM) “enabling women to benefit more equally from agrifood value chains.” 

In Tunisia, the clam production sector employs more than 4 000 women at 17 production sites, primarily concentrated in two major coastal areas – Gabès and Sfax – with an average annual production of 700 tons mostly directed for export. This FAO project focuses on empowering the women collectors and developing a strategic partnership with the private sector to improve the women’s income by creating more direct access to valuable markets.

This new approach to clam commercialization in Tunisia provides a win-win scenario for all stakeholders: Firstly, a fixed price set in advance guarantees the predictability of payments and receivables for both the importer and the women collectors throughout the harvest season, while mandatory cash payments are paid by onsite purchasers (representatives of the depuration centre) to the women collectors. In addition, the existence of a premium fee, to be received by the women collectors, rewards them for only taking larger sized clams, leading to a more sustainable production system.

Houda Mansour, a woman clam collector in the region of Zaboussa (Sfax), explained that before this agreement, her peers were totally dependent on the low purchase price imposed by the intermediaries who bought the totality of our production, and struggled to negotiate. “Of course, we were exploited, but nobody dared to stand up to these middlemen who were also close relatives and local powerful people,” she said. With the establishment of the Equity Link, the price of one kilo of clams rose from 8 TND (USD 3.30) to 18 TND (USD 7.60) for the entire collection season, and as Houda described, “this new pricing increases our income, and encourages us to make additional efforts to improve our families’ standard of living.” 

In addition to the stronger bargaining power of women clam collectors, FAO’s advocacy at the policy level triggered a more transparent environment for marketing transactions. This is especially true for the traceability of the process from the landing, weighing and purchase of clams to the delivery to the clam exporters, as highlighted in the ministerial circular 2016/2017. This is a transparency provision mainstreamed for the first time in the history of these institutional circulars published each season in the country. 

According to Houda this is completely a new initiative: “A few months ago, we were still kept off the market, with no power in the decision making process. Now, we make our voice heard. Lately, I was so proud to see that my mum, president of the AFDP, was participating in a meeting with the Director General of Fisheries, and that the Minister of Agriculture himself came to shake her hand, and listened to her concerns about the clam sector.” 

As a result of joint-coordination between FAO and the Tunisian government, together with private stakeholders, Tunisian women clam collectors have been given privileged access to the high-value European market, with an equity partnership with the Italian importer Pesca Pronta.

The Prince Export Centre for Clams is the third pillar of this agreement and is the depuration centre for the clams, ensuring that the products comply with international food safety standards. In addition, a specific label has been developed for these Tunisian clams to inform consumers of production practices relating to sustainability, gender inclusion and quality of the products.

Pesca Pronta, who was represented at the contract signing ceremony by its president, Franco Amoruso, shared the organization’s perspective: ‘It is an immensurable honour for us to be part of such an ambitious and fair project. As a leading company in the seafood industry, and using our multiyear expertise, Pesca Pronta will market the Tunisian clams telling everyone the story of this product from its first step in the value chain to the final consumer.” He highlighted Pesca Pronta’s pride in partnering with FAO and to add more “human value to the products that we distribute through our channels.”

The signed contract represents a new phase for all stakeholders edging towards a fairer and more sustainable production-export model. It was reached through a long facilitation, advocacy, and capacity development process. Marcio Castro de Souza, Senior Fishery Officer, stressed that “this is the beginning of a success story with a win-win outcome for all stakeholders.”  He described the situation as one in which stability for the private sector is created from a supply perspective, “associated with fair compensation for the women clam collectors, and operated within a sustainable and environmentally-friendly context.” He said the implementation of this project aims at ensuring social and economic development built on the basis of a mutual trust, linked to FAO’s core values such as gender inclusion, poverty reduction, and sustainability of the resources.

The project in Tunisia operates on a budget of USD 385 000, and builds on the outputs of a previous FAO Technical Cooperation Programme, Strengthening the role of women in the beach clam fisheries subsector, which established the association AFPD in Sfax in just before the Arab Spring in 2010.

This first phase of the project cannot be seen as an end in itself. In the coming months, FAO and the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries will continue to act as facilitators for the smooth and effective implementation of this contract to reach the forecasted results, especially during the peak producing season (from November to January).

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