Senegal has established itself as one of only a few nations to develop a national Climate Change Adaptation Plan specifically for marine fisheries. High-level U.S. and Senegalese government representatives launched the plan in October with the goal of helping the sector and its fisheries communities to cope with the negative impacts of climate change and climate variability.
A partnership of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Fisheries spearheaded the development of this plan with support from USAID, through its fisheries project, USAID/COMFISH, implemented by the Coastal Resources Center at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography along with local partners.
Like other key sectors of the Senegalese economy, the fisheries sector is hard hit by climate change. Manifestations of climate change in this sector include changes in fish location and migration patterns, increasing climate variability and number of accidents at sea, coastal erosion affecting fishing communities and landing sites, and flooding.
This national plan is part of a long process that will help the entire fisheries sector in Senegal better adapt to climate change by helping to increase the resilience of coastal/fishing communities. Fisheries play a critical role in the Senegalese economy. This sector involves over 17 percent of the working force, contributes over 2.5 percent to GDP and is one of the main sources of animal protein (over 70 percent) in the diet of the Senegalese people.
Since its inception in 2011, the USAID/COMFISH Project has been working with the Government of Senegal to assess the vulnerability of coastal communities, strengthen the capacity of local actors and institutions in the fisheries and climate change sectors while helping communities plan and undertake proactive adaptation actions to climate change.
A delegation from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana will visit the University of Rhode Island next week as part of a $24 million sustainable fisheries project led by the Coastal Resources Center (CRC) at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.
The Ghana delegation will meet with URI President David M. Dooley Jan. 27 to expand on a memorandum of understanding that the universities signed in May 2015.
The agreement includes opportunities for cooperative research as well as faculty and student exchanges in Ghana and at URI. The West African university has a longstanding partnership with URI through CRC-led coastal management and food security projects in Ghana. Currently, CRC is leading the implementation of the five-year, $24 million United States Agency for International Development Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project. The USAID grant is the largest ever awarded to URI.
Two fisheries experts from URI’s coastal center, Brian Crawford, in-country project director, and Najih Lazar, senior fisheries advisor, have been living in Ghana for the past year to help lead the project. Its goal is to revitalize marine fisheries stocks through responsible fishing practices and improved governance and ultimately benefit the more than 100,000 women and men involved in the Ghana fishing industry.
As part of this project, CRC and URI are working to build the research, educational and outreach capacity of the University of Cape Coast in coastal and fisheries management.
“Collaboration with the University of Cape Coast is an important element of the project, as one of the critical objectives of it is to build the skills and knowledge of Ghanaian stakeholders so they can continue the vital work of sustaining their fisheries sector and coastal communities long after this URI-led project has ended,” said Donald Robadue, sustainable fisheries project manager at CRC.
Leaders from both universities will discuss several aspects of the collaboration, with particular emphasis on student and faculty exchanges. These include developing an undergraduate program for URI students in Ghana during J Term, identifying areas of joint research among faculty, exploring opportunities for professional development and examining other areas of potential cooperation in marine fisheries, aquaculture and coastal resources.
The University of Cape Coast delegation also will visit URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus to meet with Graduate School of Oceanography Dean Bruce Corliss and talk with CRC colleagues about the details of the ongoing collaboration.
As a young boy growing up in a coastal village in Ghana, URI graduate student Evans Arizi could see the economic importance of fish.
He saw local fishermen in Metika and Anlomatuope — fishing villages near the border of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa — paddle their canoes into the waves and watched international boats cast nets into the water to reel in Ghana’s main source of protein.
He also saw how frequently fishing resources were exploited.
“The challenges are many,” Arizi, 29, says. “Some fishermen are using inadvisable methods of fishing, and the territorial waters are not protected due to insufficient logistics, so anyone can come in there and fish.”
In Ghana, lack of government investment in sustainable fishing policies has created a plethora of problems with illegal fishing. Because fishing laws are not properly enforced, vessels frequently use incorrect gear, like nets that are too small to free bycatches and immature fish, therefore increasing their catch and profits but depleting the stock of young fish before they can reproduce. Though fishermen are supposed to report juvenile catches, many do not out of fear of punishment. Arizi says local fishermen sometimes adhere to practices that pollute waters and lead to species degradation.
“Local authorities back these illegal practices out of greed,” he says. “(They think,) ‘Let me think of my stomach, let me not think of others.’ ”
Arizi aims to help change that culture at home, and the path to that goal has taken him to URI. He was introduced to the university through CRC. As an undergraduate, he participated in a fish stock assessment training program that was part of a CRC sustainable fisheries project in Ghana, which “provided many useful relevant materials” to local fishing communities, he says.
CRC currently leads a group of partners in the five-year Sustainable Fisheries Management Project in Ghana funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/Ghana SFMP). The project aims to improve conditions for sustainable local fishing practices, help fishing communities become stewards of their resources, strengthen information systems for managing fisheries and increase awareness for protecting fisheries ecosystems and the people who rely on them for their livelihoods, among other goals.
To help create the next generation of fisheries scientists and leaders in Ghana, the project is facilitating student exchanges and scholarship opportunities at URI in collaboration with the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, Arizi’s alma mater. Through CRC, Arizi applied for a scholarship to earn a PhD in Biological and Environmental Sciences at URI. He was accepted and moved to URI to begin the three-and-a-half-year program in January. It was his first time outside of Ghana.
“When the opportunity came for me to come here I was so excited,” Arizi says. “I felt that by coming here I would get the necessary materials and resources to be equipped to handle the opposition (to implementing and enforcing sustainable fishing laws in Ghana).”
Before coming to URI, Arizi worked as a principal research assistant for the Department of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. That experience, his fieldwork with CRC and his course work as an undergrad and graduate student at the university in Ghana brought the fisheries challenges into sharp focus. Much of it comes down to competition, Arizi says.
“When an individual spots a friend doing such an unwarranted act (like illegal fishing practices), he will decide to do the same,” Arizi says. While he believes the government needs to implement and enforce fishing laws recommended to them by many — including SFMP, which helped the country draft the recently adopted National Fisheries Management Plan — the most important change needed is in the behavior of fishermen.
“The fishermen have to change their behavior and also put their trust in others, he says.
Arizi hopes that his wife, whom he married a month before moving to Rhode Island, eventually can join him. Currently, however, his main focus is his studies. “I don’t want to get any Cs, not at all, so I have to work hard,” Arizi says. “My wife keeps on encouraging me to do well.” He is the first member of his family to go to college; however, he hopes his six siblings can follow his lead.
Though Arizi says that working to excel in his five classes often means waking up early in the morning and staying up late at night, he likes graduate school.
“God has done a lot for me, because of all my friends who started out in school at the same time, I’m the only one who made it to this level,” Arizi says. “I like education; knowledge is power.”
If a problem is systemic, then addressing it at identified critical points might be the best way to solve it. The URI Coastal Resources Center (CRC)-led Leadership for Fisheries Management program that recently concluded in Ghana, Africa, took that approach, both in and out of the classroom.
CRC, based at the Graduate School of Oceanography, and the College of the Environment and Life Sciences’ Fisheries Center have come together for years to offer such programs on campus and across the globe. This 10-day Ghana course differed a bit in that it brought together two dozen participants from all parts of the Ghanaian fisheries system (and one from Malawi)—from chief fishermen and women processors in villages, to boat owners, to government officials and representatives from non-governmental organizations.
“One of the strengths was that you had people from throughout the system, and you had everyone talking to each other, which is unique for Ghana,” said Glenn Ricci, a coastal manager at CRC and co-leader of the course along with Kathy Castro of the Fisheries Center.
In addition, the course was offered early in the tenure of the CRC-led USAID/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP), which aims to help Ghana rebuild its collapsing small pelagic fishery, providing a broad window of opportunity for learning and implementation. “The primary difficulty is that even though there are strict rules and regulations in place, very few people are complying with them,” Castro said. SFMP and the fisheries leadership courses strive to change that.
The program, hosted at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), included faculty participants with the aim of building their capacity to offer these courses in the future. Next year, SFMP and UCC will co-facilitate and jointly implement the course.
Unlike some of the fisheries management programs CRC offers, which focus more on the technical aspects of fisheries, this course focused more on building leadership skills and empowering participants to understand that they can influence behavior throughout the fisheries system. The program covered how to influence people, how to understand your role in influencing positive behavior change, how to address conflict through finding common interest and understanding with those you might think you share no common ground.
With SFMP now underway, “there will be a great deal of follow on. We will offer programs like this twice a year. We want to create a group of 100 leaders throughout the fisheries system, strengthen their knowledge and ability to influence discussions from the local to the regional and national level. The courses are just a small part of a larger capacity development strategy to foster learning outside of the classroom,” Ricci said.
Ghana’s small pelagic fishery is crucial to its food security, and with SFMP, the timing is perfect for supporting a cadre of local people who can lead the country toward some tough decisions on how to reduce fishing effort in hopes of rebuilding fish stocks. For a renewed strategy to work, all stakeholders throughout the fishery system have to believe in the actions, despite low levels of trust and a history of ineffective management. Improved relations across the fishery system can make a new small pelagics fishery management plan more meaningful going forward.
In addition to classroom instruction in leadership, goalsetting, developing co-management plans and creating action plans, the group did a preliminary community analysis and then ran a stakeholder meeting in the fishing village of Elmina, Castro explained. This gave them hands-on experience to understand how local people see the way forward, what their visions are and to learn to listen more and talk less: a skill critical to being a successful leader. “It was very good for them to talk and listen to each other,” she said.
One message that emerged is that women fish processors have a good deal of power in the fisheries system. Many own boats and decide what fish to buy. “If organized, they could really influence the system,” Ricci said, much as the women in Cayar, Senegal, have as part of the CRC-led USAID/COMFISH project.
SFMP is there to guide and support Ghanaians’ progress toward a sustainable fishery, “but really it’s for them to do,” Ricci said. “The goal is to develop a viable network of informed, motivated people that understand the fisheries system and the power of vision driven changes.”
Throughout the tenure of SFMP, which concludes in 2019, CRC will return to Ghana with additional programs that build individual capacity that then strengthens the organization and ultimately the institutions and networks made up of those individuals and groups.
“It’s the follow-up, learning by doing method. It’s the CRC way,” Ricci said.
Sabel Jatta used to harvest oysters for six months of the year in The Gambia’s Tanbi Wetlands National Park. Today, harvesting season lasts just four months, and that has not been easy for Sabel or her fellow women harvesters. The shorter season means oysters are not available to sell during the high-demand, peak tourist season from October to February. And that means less income for the women during the holiday season when household expenses are high.
Even so, Sabel is happy about the change. She and her fellow oyster harvesters are the ones who decided to shorten the season. Earning a living from oyster harvesting was getting more and more difficult: It was taking the women longer to collect fewer oysters; the oysters were getting smaller, bringing a lower price; and conflicts were increasing with other users of the mangroves where the oysters grow. The women understood that continuing their practices would mean continuing these negative trends.
Over the last four years, with help from the USAID/BaNafaa Project implemented by the Coastal Resources Center of The University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Sabel and fellow members of the TRY Oyster Women’s Association have come together to share what they know about the oysters and the mangrove ecosystems. The project worked with the women to combine their local knowledge with scientific knowledge. The women’s action research increased their understanding of the resource, boosted their confidence to take new approaches and gave them results that were accessible to them for informed decision-making.
With their developing strength as a unified body, TRY Association members proposed sustainable management measures for the oyster and cockle fishery in the Tanbi Wetlands. Measures include establishing the eight-month seasonal closure to maximize spawning and growth, creating a minimum size limit for harvested oysters and using tools that remove oysters from mangroves without damaging the roots. Their work led to a Cockle and Oyster Co-Management Plan approved by the Government of The Gambia that gives the TRY Association exclusive use rights to the fishery in the 6,300 hectare Tanbi Wetlands National Park, an internationally recognized RAMSAR site. It may be the first time a national government in Africa has granted such rights to a women’s association.
Two years later, Sabel still struggles to support her family, but for her and the other women in the TRY Association, the user rights granted in the Co-Management Plan have brought tangible and positive results. They have actively practiced the measures agreed to in the plan and have respected the closed season from July to February. USAID/BaNafaa Project activities also have helped the women by improving their opportunities for income during the off season. Literacy training, a micro-finance savings and loan program and training on processing, marketing and preserving oysters are just some examples. User rights have also enabled TRY Association communities to enforce the closed season and fine violators. Penalty fees have been collected and retained by the TRY Association community where the violation occurred.
Most importantly, two years have been long enough for Sabel and the other women to see that by waiting longer to harvest the oysters, they grow bigger and gain market value. Prices have doubled over the two-year period to about $0.70 – $0.80 cents/cup. Also, customers have noticed the adoption of hygienic practices that the women learned in project-sponsored trainings. These include wearing gloves, caps and smocks when processing and selling oysters and placing the product up off the ground covered with nets to keep out flies. These improvements contribute to the consumer’s willingness to buy TRY Association oysters at a fair price.
Healthy oysters that grow large and plentiful depend on a healthy and plentiful mangrove ecosystem. The TRY Association women see the positive impacts of their actions and are confident that they will benefit from their efforts. Being highly motivated to protect and expand the volume and health of the mangroves, the women are willing to make an immediate investment of time and effort for a benefit that will be realized in the longer term. With USAID and other donor assistance, the women have planted more than 33 hectares of new mangroves in the last two years. Their harvest tools and the extended closed season have reduced mangrove destruction. The power they have gained to educate and bring visibility to those who are cutting or destroying mangroves has helped to make mangrove protection more of a reality than merely a law on paper.
One day in The Gambia in 2007, Fatou Janha stopped to buy oysters from a woman along the roadside, something Janha had been doing since she was a child. On this particular day, however, something struck her for the first time. “I realized that these women were still working under the same conditions, with no improvement in their livelihood,” she recalled. “I wanted to help them.”
Such arduous work in the tiny West African nation is primarily the domain of uneducated village women who eke out a precarious living harvesting, processing and selling the crucial food source. To help them, Janha helped organize an initial group of 40 women into a collective, the TRY Oyster Women’s Association, of which she is executive director. The cooperative chose that name because the women decided to come together to “try” to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities, she said.
“They are the poorest of the poor in The Gambia. They work from six in the morning until eight at night. They are the breadwinners for their families,” Janha told an audience at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., in July 2013 She was invited to tell the story of the oyster women as part of the panel, “Oysters, Octopus and Resilience,” presented through the center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.
Every day, this once-disenfranchised group of women writes a new chapter in that story—one of empowerment, education and ecosystems—as they continue to improve their lives and set precedents.
A notable precedent came in 2012 when the government of The Gambia granted TRY exclusive use rights through a fisheries co-management plan for the cockle and oyster grounds in the Tanbi wetlands.
TRY is the first women’s group in Africa granted such rights by a national government, and the importance cannot be overstated, Janha said.
Those rights include responsibility for sustainable management, and one measure agreed upon by TRY members is an eight-month closure of the grounds to prevent overfishing and to protect the mangrove habitats that are crucial to the shellfish’s survival and to the coastal ecosystem. In June 2013, the women voted to uphold the fishery closure period despite pressure from some in the community to change its timing and reduce its duration to limit its impact on peak-sales seasons.
The women’s historic accomplishments were showcased on a global platform in 2012. when the association won an Equator Prize at the 2012 Rio+20 Summit. More than 125 projects competed for the United Nations Development Program honors.
Today, TRY’s membership numbers more than 500 women (and a few men) in 15 communities. But the women have not made these strides alone.
In 2009, Janha was passing another roadside oyster stand when she saw two Western-looking women speaking with TRY members. She stopped and asked the strangers, “What do you want; why are you talking to my women?”
The women—Kathy Castro and Virginia Lee—were with the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Fisheries and Coastal Resources Center, respectively. They, too, were interested in improving the lives of local women while protecting the coastal ecosystem and fisheries resources. Soon after, CRC began working with TRY as part of a five-year sustainable fisheries project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) West Africa Mission. The project, known locally as USAID/BaNafaa with an approximate cost of US $800,000 to US $1 million, concluded in 2014.
“There was no way we could have done it without them,” Janha said of CRC-URI
With CRC implementing the BaNafaa project, the TRY women were able to make gains that did not seem possible when they first met under a stand of trees in 2007. During the annual fishery closure from July through February, the women engage in other business enterprises: selling peanuts, catfish or other commodities, planting mangroves and gathering for TRY workshops, where an offer of a meal or a few dollars can be a crucial incentive. Janha tells of one woman who helped with mangrove replanting although pregnant and due to give birth at any time.
She simply could not afford to skip the $5 incentive offered that day. Later that night she delivered her sixth child and named the baby “Toutou,” which means “to plant” in the local language.
The replanting of mangrove trees has raised the profile of the TRY women in their communities. The trees had long been cut down for home building and fuel, but today the women educate the community on their value to the environment and to their livelihoods; and men, women and children now come together to plant them.
As the mangroves are taking firm root, so are changes in the women: They make decisions that affect their communities, speak with confidence in public, vote for what they believe in and take charge of their bodies and their health. “They were marginalized women. They never had confidence. They didn’t know they could achieve anything by themselves,” Janha said.
The fishery closure provides another benefit. It allows the oysters to grow in size, so they gain in market value, and the women get a better income per kilogram harvested. To encourage lasting standard of living improvements, TRY introduced microfinance savings programs for the women, a foreign concept. Previously, whatever money the women might have had left at the end of the day they buried in a hole under a tree, Janha said. Now they save money with TRY and can take out loans at very low interest rates. Many women eventually deposit their savings with local banks. This helps them pay for school fees for their children or get a tin roof for their homes.
For these women, the subject of family planning was taboo; menopause was a mystery; and cervical cancer went undetected because no one knew it existed. By integrating population and health initiatives into TRY’s work, all that has changed. Now, Janha says with deserved pride, 80 percent of the 50 members who attended cervical cancer classes were screened. Such a high turnout following a training event is significant, says Karen Kent, CRC’s project manager for USAID/BaNafaa. She noted, “That rate of behavior change at a personal level—education to actual action—is worth applauding.”
Through other TRY programs the women have learned about menopause and protecting themselves from AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. Reproductive rights and access to contraception are important in this nation, where the average woman has five children, and the population is expected to double by 2050. “Women leave the babies home with the older children at six months to go looking for food. The young girls are unsupervised, and this leads to early pregnancy and other problems,” Janha said.
At a recent TRY meeting, one woman spoke with pride of how far the women had progressed in terms of both their business skills and their sense of empowerment: “We have reached grade 12; we will not go back to grade one!”
Creating strong leaders
Janha said she has been able to help TRY build on its momentum because she received robust leadership training and capacity building from CRC. The knowledge sharing, skills training and coaching/mentoring support took place in the field in The Gambia and at CRC in Rhode Island, and it happened in a community of engagement not in isolation. Janha attended a leadership program at CRC through the USAID/BaNafaa project that included others from The Gambia, including members of national fisheries sector agencies that she works closely with. Such a program had a big impact, Janha said.
With her leadership skills and confidence strengthened, Janha has traveled the world telling the story of the TRY women and finding interest and support in far-flung places.
Today, the daughters’ of the TRY women are making gains as well. With help from a United States Peace Corps volunteer, TRY was able to train 15 young women in a two-year program in culinary skills, beekeeping, fabric dying and soap making. With certificates in hand, they can now earn their own livings with less dependence (and less pressure) on the oyster and mangrove resources.
Still, there is more work to do. The women remain poor and must improvise just to do their jobs. To keep away mosquitoes while standing waist deep in water harvesting oysters by hand, they put plastic trash bags over their heads.
TRY’s long-term goals include creating a more comprehensive national organization to address gender, health and environment issues on a countrywide level. Janha said the group also hopes to establish a regional processing plant in the next five years so that it can receive certification to export shellfish.
With ongoing support, both financial and programmatic, these efforts could further improve the lives of the once invisible women who toil in wetlands and alongside roads in The Gambia and bring those gains to a wider population of impoverished people.