Women fish processors and sellers learn new techniques from their colleagues in order to make their jobs safer and their products more competitive
Senegal exchange visit, February 2022 ©FAO/Lala Ndiaye
4 April, Abidjan/Dakar/Praia/Rome - The FAO Coastal Fisheries Initiative in West Africa (CFI-WA) has organized three exchange visits aimed at strengthening the role of women in fisheries value chains in Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal.
The goal of the visits was for small-scale fish processors and sellers — the vast majority of whom are women — to share experiences and best practices to make their jobs safer, easier and healthier and to result in quality fish products that can appeal to wider consumer bases, to the economic benefit of their entire communities.
From traditional to contemporary methods in Côte d'Ivoire
The first exchange visit took place in Côte d'Ivoire from 23-27 January, where many women fish processors resort to traditional labor-intensive fish smoking techniques that expose them to toxic smoke and intense heat over prolonged periods.
In response, CFI-WA encourages the use of FAO's Thiaroye Processing Technique (FTT) ovens, which significantly reduce the women's exposure to harmful heat, burns and smoke while also reducing the amount of wood — often from endangered mangroves — used as fuel.
"We still use traditional fish smoking methods. The downside is that we are exposed to many diseases. Also, the traditional smoking method doesn't guarantee the long-term preservation of our products," commented Ms Emma Kouassi, a fish processor from the town of Sassandra, where women use traditional smoking techniques, during the exchange visit to her counterparts in the Locodjro district of Abidjan, who use FTT ovens.
"FTT ovens preserve our health and offer better sanitary conditions for smoking and preservation," she added.
Not just ovens, but also market opportunities
The exchange visit also included meetings with microfinancing partners and potential clients such as Carrefour and Socofrais supermarkets and the Siporex 8 market in order to put the women processors in touch with further possible outlets for their products, integrating them into national and regional networks and thereby improving their livelihoods and those of their communities.
In Cabo Verde, women share best practices in fish processing
In Cabo Verde, three women fish processors and sellers and two members of the Vindos do Norte and Vindos do Sul fishermen's associations from the small communities of Maio Island visited the much larger island of São Vicente on 7-8 February.
Both islands are CFI-WA pilot sites, and São Vicente is the seat of the Ministry of the Sea and other institutions as well as of fish refrigeration and conservation infrastructure.
One of the stops on the two-day exchange visit was to the Frescomar canning facility, where the women watched the entire process of converting fresh and frozen fish into products ready for consumption. The small island of Maio has two fish processing units but they are nothing like those on San Vicente, according to one of the visitors, who is from the village of Calheta.
"It is extremely interesting to learn more about this process," commented Ms Carolina Tavares. "In Calheta we have a fish processing space, but it is not very sophisticated. Here, I saw that the process is much more demanding and rigorous and that it includes many steps. It is important for us to see the precautions that are taken, and the basic rules that must be followed."
The visitors also benefited from a practical demonstration of fish salting by an experienced saleswoman at the Mindelo City fish market, who shared tips and tricks to ensure workplace health and safety such as proper work attire, how to transport and store fish to make sure it stays fresh, how to disinfect tools, surfaces and containers, how to dispose of fish entrails properly, and what kind of salt to use.
"The island of Maio is so small, and little by little we see the fishing situation getting worse, with the scarcity of certain species and the lack of support," said Ms Eunice Fortes, 50, who has been making a living as a fish seller for 12 years. "It is very interesting to see how the community lives here (in São Vicente), and how they overcome the barriers that afflict us all."
In Senegal, fish processors modernise their techniques
The final exchange visit took place in Senegal, where 12 women members of the Local Artisanal Fishing Council (CLPA, in its French acronym) from the rural communities of Sokone, Toubacouta and Missirah in the Saloum Islands visited their counterparts in the villages of Dionewar and Niodior from 22-24 February.
There, they followed demonstrations of the entire process of using shellfish and mollusks such as ark clams, oysters and shrimp to manufacture dried products and semi-preserves.
"Our goal is to sell our products in supermarkets and trade fairs, so we can export to bigger markets. We want to respect all the health and sanitary protocols so that we can be competitive," said Ms Fatick Ndong Sarr, who is the president of the Niodior Women Processors Economic Interest Group (GIE, in its French acronym).
"These exchange visits allow the women to appreciate the benefits of new techniques and methods, as explained to them by women colleagues who understand the challenges and hardships they face," commented Ms Fatou Sock, the FAO CFI-WA regional coordinator.
"Through the CFI-WA project, FAO continues its commitment to improving the livelihoods of women who work in the artisanal fisheries value chain, building on the achievements of previous projects led by other partners in Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal," she added.
Coming up next, CFI-WA is organizing a regional exchange visit in which Senegal will host women from Cabo Verde and Côte d'Ivoire in May this year. The idea is for the women from the three countries to exchange knowledge and best practices in fish processing in order to access wider markets.
The CFI-WA project is implemented by FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through the Abidjan Convention, with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).