By Suwaibou Touray
The West Africa Marine Eco- Region or ‘Go-WAMER’ project, which is comprised of 6 West African countries, has organized a week-long conference that brought together Parliamentarians and Journalists from each of the participating countries, to review its projects in Guinea Bissau.
The Go-WAMER project, sponsored by the EU in collaboration with the UNDP is concerned with governance relating to West Africa Marine Eco-Region. The project has included in its activities on the spot visits to project sites to see at first hand the work that is being done on the ground.
The Go-WAMER project has sponsored projects in 6 West African countries by building physical infrastructure and providing surveillance boats for communities in The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Guinea Conakry and Guinea Bissau.
The objective of the project is to build capacity and strengthen institutions and other stakeholders in the management of marine and coastal resources, raise awareness in communities on adaptation and resilience in the mitigating effects of climate change, etc.
Hon. Suwaibou Touray and Hon. Demba Sowe participated as members of the Environment Committee of the Gambia National Assembly, whilst Mr. Samba Jawo and Mr Sheriff Barry participated as members of the Environment Journalist Association of the Gambia.
Detail presentations regarding the successes and failures of the project were delivered during the Conference held at the Guinean department of Fisheries, Parks and Wild Life in Bissau on Monday June 12th 2017. The major concern of participants is the sustainability of the projects after it phases out in December 2018. The challenges and or constraints facing the project were also highlighted.
The team comprising 4 representatives from each of the 6 neighboring countries, visited the National Parks of Cacheu in Sao Domingo and Cufada in Buba which are pilot projects of the Department of Forestry, Water Resources and Parks and Wild life of Guinea Bissau. They also visited Buba and met the local officials of the department before proceeding to meet the association of fisher folks whose project is supported by GO-WAMER, to see for themselves what obtains on the ground and to learn from them how they are managing their environmental resources.
The Head of the Association of fisher folks in Cufada, Mr. Mamadou Barry at a meeting with the delegation, explained how they manage their water resources and preserve their environment for the future generation.
Association of Fisherfolks in Cufada Speak to The Delegation on Their Experiences
He said the association includes fishermen and non-fishermen and said everyone in the community benefits from the resources in one way or the other.
With regard to the method of fishing, he said fishermen are restricted in certain ways otherwise there would be no sustainability and fish resources would eventually dwindle.
Mr. Barry said they have divided the river into zones, showing a map of the zones to the delegates and added that there are specific periods when they ban fishing nets in certain zones while allowing the usage of hooks. He said the reason for this is, that during those periods, the fish are breeding and when there is fishing the breeding would be interrupted and even the fish laying eggs, would be caught. He added that the breeding fishes would lay their eggs near the shores and within the mangroves where the big fishes that eat them would usually not come.
The President of the Fisher folks Association in Cufada, Mr. Mamadou Barry, went on to say that during the ban in those zones, government provides another area of the river called SIPA, where fishermen could operate instead of waiting for months without fishing. He said the major income earner of the association is the Baracuda which lays eggs in August and September.
Mr. Barry also said their association bans certain methods of fishing and certain types of fishing nets. For example, he said nylon nets are totally banned by them and certain sizes of nets which are small are also banned. He said they do not want fishermen to catch small fishes.
On the issue of foreign fishermen coming to their zones to fish, Barry said they are allowed to come but with certain conditions. He said foreign fishermen must live within the community in Buba and not live at the river so that they could monitor what they are doing. He also said they must sell some of their catch to the local community and not take everything away. He said those who accept the conditions stay, but others leave because they would want to do something else.
Mrs. Awa Jallow, Head of the association of fish processors and sellers said they are responsible of processing, packing and selling the fish. She said they are doing value addition to maximize income from their product. She said they export the Barracuda fish to Senegal, Gambia, and Cape Verde, Mali but their major customers are in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. She said they buy the fish from the fishermen at 1000cfa francs per kilo and sell it at 1500 francs after being processed.
Awa said they attend trade fairs to promote their product so that they could expand their market for the Barracuda. She however said they discovered that Gambia, Senegal and Mali do not consume much Barracuda.
Asked whether the menfolk also engage in selling fish, she said the women are entirely responsible for selling their fish products.
Mr. Barry was asked why the ban on the nylon fishing net, he said the nylon fishing net is the worse net because the fish do not see it in water and therefore it catches a lot. He said even where the nylon net is spoiled and left in the river, it would continue to catch fish and kill them. He showed us the nylon nets and the small size nets they have caught from fishermen in the river.
The Vice President said 300 to 400 fishermen operate in their river and they have a section of the association whose role is to guard and police the river so as to conserve and protect the environment. He said they make sure that the mangroves where the fish breed, is properly conserved. He said their boats are made of the giant mahogany trees at the banks of the river which he said are also carefully managed otherwise it will be finished before they realize it.
He added that they usually have annual reunions with the department and sponsors of the project to review their method of work.
The team then proceeded to Sao Domingo, 360 kilometers away from Buba to visit a National Park, a pilot project of the Department of Forestry, Water Resources, Parks and Wild life of Guinea Bissau.
This is an 80,000 hectare forest park beside a river, 68% of which are mangrove trees. The project is also provided a surveillance boat by the GO-WAMER project. They also visited Cubampor where women pick oysters from the mangroves and process it for the market.
Interestingly, the project in St. Vincent on oyster production has modern processing equipment not only for the oyster but also for the Shrimps and other fishes. A new technique of producing oyster was also being experimented where the root of the oyster would remain intact after harvest and the process continues uninterrupted. However, the new technique takes 5 months for the oyster to mature for harvest.
According to the association of women running this project, they employ fishermen to catch the shrimps and other fishes which they process and sell and make profit. They said they usually make 100,000cfa, about D8000 dalasi daily if the catch is good. They added that for the oyster it is the women who row their boats to get to the harvest field. They also have an 8 horse power machine boat usually utilized to carry or bring loads from the field.
These 56 member women’s association of oyster producers is trained to row their own canoes to the sites where they physically took the team to see how the experiment is actually going.
At the end of the conference, Hon. Suwaibou Touray told the conference organisers how impressed he was of the achievements especially relating to the preservation and sustainability of the environment and the project itself. He said the project in Cufada is a useful example where the women improve their entrepreneurial skills and depend on themselves for their sustenance. He said the two Gambian parliamentarians will definitely inform their colleagues of the example and encourage them to visit the GO-WAMER project sites in Gambia as well as the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources to find out the progress so far registered before coming up with recommendations.
He however he said he is certain that if these types of projects are replicated across our countries, many people would be able to work and sustain their livelihoods.
Hon. Demba Sowe also thanked the organizers and said they have gained a lot of experience from the conference. He said he is very impressed with what he saw in Buba which he said is not happening in Gambia. He said in his area, fisher folks just come and fish anyhow without much restriction. He said he is very happy as he observed the environment where trees blossom everywhere and wetlands are protected from pollution and people are living everywhere in the country.