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Yoff WaitingForFishLandings bLas mujeres comerciantes de pescado han sido durante mucho tiempo fundamentales para comercializar las capturas en la pesca en pequeña escala y, por lo tanto, no solo hacen prosperar a sus propias familias, sino que también contribuyen considerablemente a la seguridad alimentaria de los hogares a nivel nacional e incluso regional. Aunque ignoradas durante mucho tiempo por la burocracia y los proyectos de desarrollo, estas mujeres han estado enfrentando con notable creatividad y tenacidad los muchos cambios que su contexto social y económico ha estado experimentando desde hace bastante tiempo. El trabajo de la Academia de Pesca Artesanal de Senegal ha prestado especial atención a sus necesidades de fortalecimiento de sus capacidades para seguir siendo protagonistas y no víctimas en las cadenas de valor.

The demand to document the conditions of the women fish mongers, particularly the ones with little financial capital, had been voiced for some time in the Academy gatherings, because their problems have increased considerably in recent years. So we happily accepted the request for an internship with Mundus maris in Senegal in connection with the Small-Scale Fisheries Academy. The master student in geography, Mouhamadou Bamba N'diaye of the University of Nantes, had already done some survey work during his studies. He was interested in helping to build up such a documentation. It was a good opportunity to combine the useful for the women with the useful for the student. The agreement was to interview at least 50 women fish traders in Yoff and in Hann. The stage lasted for six months, from March to August 2022.

Following some literature research, preparatory interviews of resource persons on the spot and testing the questionnaires in each place, the actual interaction with the women fish mongers took place mostly in April in Yoff and July in Hann. Resource persons active in the Small-Scale Fisheries Academy in Yoff, notably Abdoulaye Gueye and Marième Soda Seck, and lead women of the Economic Interest Group (GIE by its French acronym) PARASE in Hann, notably Khady Sarr and Maty Ngom, helped to recruit the participants for the enquiries. 

Yoff BambaInterviewingDuringWaitingTimeAmong the major constraints and responses of the micro-fish sellers in the traditional fishing village of Yoff identified through the sample are the following:

  • While conditions after the height of the pandemic are slightly improved, lack of access to the fish as raw material of their trade and difficulties to reach clients figured very much at the top of the challenges identified by the women. This is reflected in the extra-ordinary increase of purchasing costs of a crate of sardinella, a small pelagic fish and a mainstay of the human diet in Senegal and the wider region. It is today standing at about 30,000 FCFA (about €45), while the same crate would have cost 1,000 FCFA 20 years ago.
  • The lack of even basic infrastructure on the landing beaches and sales places in the vicinity, such as lack of ice and adequate refrigeration containers creates physical and economic post harvest losses. This also provokes health issues for having to set up marketing stalls without proper shelter.
  • The irregular landings of the pirogues also create additional constraints as late landings and lack of refrigeration prevent the women from buying greater quantities when they may be available but when it is too late for onward sales. The often long waiting times reduce their productivity and lower their daily incomes.
  • Last but not least the lack of adequate access to credit prevents extension of their range of action as most of the time fish has to be paid for in cash.
  • The creativity of the women has enabled at least some partial compensatory measures, such as clubbing together in savings groups to support members in their purchasing capabilities and diversifying into other marketing niches when fish is scarce and too expensive.

But it is clear that in the absence of appropriate public social services and infrastructure as well as an effective resource management scheme, the women micro-fish sellers are on the receiving end of the relentless destructive overfishing of industrial fleets, mostly with unclear foreign beneficial ownership.

The situation in Hann is a bit different in that there is a wider spread of women actors on the beach, from relatively large-scale whole sellers, medium-sized whole sellers, micro-fish sellers and fish cleaners servicing end clients buying directly on the beach. While most women participating in the enquiry were handling larger quantities of fish than those in Yoff and thus were considering themselves more as whole salers, their daily earnings were likely higher but not by an order of magnitude. Also during the period of the enquiry landings also showed an appreciable amount of high value bottom fish, not primarily small pelagics.

Many of the challenges and responses identified in Hann had similarities to those in Yoff, though solutions need obviously be site specifically adapted. Among the major ones we mention:

  • Lack of hygiene conditions in the different work places of the women were a major concern, especially with middle income clients who may trend in the future to buy more in supermarkets that would rely primarily on factory processed fish rather than that from traditional value chains.
  • The construction of a huge refrigeration plant on spaces originally occupied by women fish sellers points in this direction. The women were evicted without compensation and the complex under development is protected by a high fence.
  • The women are now relegated to shaky marketing stands with marginal make shift sun protection, if any.
  • A major problem is the almost complete absence of sanitation facilities which provoke a heavy burden on the women's health, particularly the poorer ones without access to a home in the immediate neighbourhood.
  • As for access to refrigeration facilities the complaints of the women echo those in Yoff.
  • A serious additional issue is the lack of security on the beach. Even though they pay 3,000 FCFA per month for protection of their stores on the beach, theft of merchandise from their make shift containers is a continued problem.

The women group together in Economic Interest Groups and savings groups to face some of these issues head on with their own means and those of their families. They also bring their complaints to the attention of local and national politicians, especially during election campaigns when it is easier to catch their attention. However, without decisive follow-up action by the responsible institutions the women face an uncertain future, especially as industrial overfishing is rife and no visible and effective action by the government and its responsible agencies can be spotted. The largely illegal, unreported and unregulated industrial fishing is a major threat to the entire artisanal value chain actors as the women reported over and over.

A personal account and the final version of the intern's reports about the enquiries is to follow soon after he has sustained his final exams.

Attempts to feed back the results of the enquiries for validation to the Academy learners and all those participating in the enquiry literally 'fell into the water' during the rainy season bringing heavy inundations to homes and meeting rooms in both communities. We will strive to organise these validation meetings in October or November 2022, albeit without the benefit of the Bamba N'diaye's presence.

So far, one can say that the women are certainly under intense pressure and at risk of becoming victims of policies playing out in their disfavour. An earlier interview with Khady Sarr by Aliou Sall, Mundus maris vice president in Senegal, testified already to that in 2018. Aliou found similar patterns of threats in the context of some field work in Guinea during 2017. The women in all those places have managed to find a number of creative answers to keep supporting their families and eeking out a living for themselves. But without more favourable public policies they are likely to continue loosing social, economic and cultural ground. This adds a sense of urgency to the implementation of the Guidelines for Ensuring Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines) adopted by the FAO Committee of Fisheries in 2014. Our work with the SSF Academy lends operational support. That is more urgent than ever, particularly during the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA2022), adopted by the UN General Assembly.

Pictures courtesy Mouhamadou Bamba N'diaye, text Cornelia E Nauen


Personal experiences during the internship

The 6-month internship with Mundus maris asbl was very useful to me. They allowed me not only to apply or practice my theoretical knowledge taught at university, but also to discover the professional world. The entire internship took place around three essential points: bibliographical elements, field studies, analysis of results.

Before this internship, I didn't have many ideas about what micro-fishmongers do. I considered them to be simple actors operating informally in the marketing of fish in Senegal. This internship therefore reinforced not only the little knowledge I had on the subject but also allowed me to have much more factual information on the working conditions of these micro-fishmongers. The days spent in the field with these women gave me a better understanding of their importance in the fish value chain in Senegal. Because it is they, once the landings have been made, that allow households to access fish through micro-fish trading. But also, the interactions with them made me understand that these women work in difficult conditions due to the lack of funding, basic equipment and infrastructure, hygiene in the workplace, etc. On the other hand, everything the field work was carried out in a good atmosphere with the greatest happiness because of the good humor with which the women interviewed from the two sites welcomed me and answered questions.

Women micro-fish seller seeking access to part of the landing in Hann

I also learned during this internship that in a Senegalese context where we do not always have an exact answer when we ask a question, that we had to be attentive during all the surveys. Sometimes a person can respond with a Wolof proverb that is difficult to translate into French, but the main thing is to correctly interpret the message that the person wants to convey and to retain what interests us. Also, in the field, for the smooth running of the surveys, whether by questionnaire or by interview, it is always necessary to support certain people who can be considered as major figures in artisanal fishing at site level. Without this support, it becomes much more difficult to carry out the surveys. These are things I prepared for before the start of the internship and my expectations were confirmed. In both courts, the experience was fantastic. I passed the questionnaires to the respondents in their own "Mbaars" where they sell their fish and they welcomed me with open hearts. Often the discussions even went beyond the scope of the study, but I listened to them anyway because I had plenty of time for that, then I brought them back to the questionnaires. These “Mbaars” are also places of conviviality. They gathered in these places to eat or drink tea. And they are not the only ones because often, others like porters or fishermen also come there. There are therefore very solid social relations between them and the other players in the marketing of fish on the site.

Finally, I can say that the internship was a fantastic experience for me. Many of my early expectations were confirmed at the end of this internship. In addition to allowing me to take a step into the world of research, it also reinforced my desire to become an actor in fisheries.

Text and phtoto by Mouhamadou Bamba N'diaye.