Micheline Dion Somplehi is the president of a cooperative comprising 1,650 women fish processors and fishmongers from the Côte d’Ivoire artisanal fisheries sector. She is also vice-president of the National Federation of Côte d’Ivoire Fishing Cooperatives (FENACOPECI) and in charge of the Women’s Programme of the African Confederation of Artisanal Fisheries Professional Organisations (CAOPA) which, since 2010, brings together organisations from 13 African countries.
Q: You have just returned from Kenya, where the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the African Union organised a consultation with civil society organisations about the pan-African strategy for fisheries and aquaculture reform. What are your impressions?
Everyone, including the organisers, acknowledged that until now the stakeholders had not been sufficiently consulted. The fact that NEPAD wanted a wider consultation, including professional organisations, is most welcome.
For the African Confederation of Professional Artisanal Fisheries Organisations (CAOPA) that I represented there, the strategy for pan-African Fisheries Policy Reform must be founded on transparency in African maritime fisheries, so that all stakeholders, including women involved in the fisheries sector, can give their informed opinion and make proposals to national and regional decision-makers.
To support this participative approach, we have just launched an online consultation up to February, so that African fisheries’ stakeholders and civil society can express themselves over this future reform of our fisheries policies, which should be endorsed by our fisheries and aquaculture ministers in mid February (see http://caopa-Africa.com/ ).
An important element in ensuring that women who are active in artisanal fisheries participate in this process is that their legitimacy as fisheries sector professionals is recognised by policy makers.
In Côte d’Ivoire, we have received important support from our authorities on this, and we now wish to meet Ivorian parliamentarians to share with them our proposals to improve the living and working conditions for women in the fisheries sector.
Generally, I believe that if such proposals can be discussed and validated by African countries’ National Assemblies, support for small-scale fisheries and recognition of the role of women in fisheries will become priorities for the countries.
Q: As women fish processors in Côte d’Ivoire, what are the main difficulties you encounter?
Like most women in African small-scale fisheries, I would say that the development of landing sites, with adequate infrastructure for meeting hygiene and quality standards, remains the priority. Without it, no quality production will be possible and revenues will be meagre, insufficient for us and our families to live decently.
But a characteristic shared by Côte d’Ivoire with some other countries, like Nigeria, is that our fish supply depends largely on imports. Over three-quarters of fish consumed in Côte d’Ivoire is brought to us by foreign vessels.
Q: Is buying fish from these boats a problem?
Of course. First of all, the landings of fish by foreign industrial vessels takes place in ports, especially Abidjan, which makes it difficult for women living in communities scattered along the whole coastline to access the fish.
Once landed, the fish – especially frozen small pelagics caught by Russian trawlers in Mauritania and in Senegal – is controlled by a small number of wholesalers, for whom supplying women fish processors with raw materials is really not a priority.
There are also other foreign boats, Korean etc., who land their by-catches; but the quality of these landings leaves much to be desired, because these boats do not keep them in a good condition on board.
There is a large market – whether in urban areas or in the remotest villages – for good quality, traditional artisan-processed fish products that are sold at a reasonable price. But if we do not find adequate sources of supply, in quantity, quality and price, our markets go up in smoke.
In the longer term, given the key role that women play in sustaining the fishing communities, this will have a negative impact on our overall development prospects. This is because artisanal fishermen’s activities depend as much on women fish processors’ money as the women depend on the fish that the fishermen bring them. Indeed, in many African countries, it is the women who pre-finance fishing trips in the artisanal sector.
To pre-finance a fishing trip is expensive. Microcredit schemes offered to us are not adequate, because from time to time, we need large amounts of money. We then have to use commercial banks, but their interest rates are too high. In the end, all our profits go to pay the bank interest.
It is necessary for us to develop a dialogue with these commercial banks, so that they understand the specific dynamics of small-scale fishing. This is quite a challenge!
Q: Senegalese and Mauritanian artisanal fishermen increasingly oppose the exploitation of small pelagics by foreign fleets, especially those from Russia and Eastern Europe. Would this create a supply problem in Côte d’Ivoire?
I think that we can develop an alternative supply chain based on artisanal fisheries. At the Côte d’Ivoire level, prospects for developing artisanal fisheries are currently limited: the area reserved for artisanal fishing is reduced, and lately, it’s getting even smaller due to offshore oil exploitation. The richest fishing areas are where oil exploitation takes place, and fishermen have difficulties gaining access to these areas. Also, with the larger maritime traffic, many have already lost their fishing gear to passing vessels, without any compensation.
What we need to do is to explore how to organise transport by road or by sea, between where the small pelagics are in countries where artisanal fishing can develop its ability to catch them – such as Mauritania and Senegal – and fish-hungry countries such as ours.
A few months ago, Mauritania signed a fishing agreement with the European Union. In particular, the fishing zone for European pelagic trawlers was pushed out further from the coast. And this new zoning applies to Russian vessels as well, which gives space to small-scale fishing. Our Mauritanian fishermen colleagues are looking at developing a small fleet of artisanal seiners, for catching small pelagics. If Senegalese and Mauritanian artisanal fishermen have priority and secured access to these resources, under a regional management scheme, it may give a boost for the development of trade in artisanal ‘fish for processing’ with our country.
Of course, regional trade always implies a relationship of trust between artisanal fishermen and fishmongers who sell and women fish processors who buy, since transactions are done from a distance. But as our organisations are part of the same confederation, this is a good opportunity! In a few months, we will meet CAOPA members to examine the possibilities of developing such a regional supply chain. We are very excited about this!