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Artisanal fishing, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has significantly increased in the Ivory Coast over the last three to four decades. This is primarily due to increased demand for local fish because of its relatively low price compared to other animal protein. Today, artisan fisheries account for nearly 75 percent of the fish caught in the Ivory Coast with the capital, Abidjan, acting as a major hub. A report from the African Confederation of Small Scale Fisheries Professional Organizations (CAOPA) and the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives in the Ivory Coast (FENACOPECI) shows that women play a crucial role in the West African artisan fishing industry.
At a four-day conference on the fishing industry held in Abidjan last November, the Secretary-General of CAOPA stated, “Without women there would be no artisanal fishing.” Women usually finance the fishing trips, which earns them the exclusive right to buy the catches when the men return from sea. Women receive the fish at the landing, and once the fish are processed, usually by smoking, the women market and sell the product.
Many fishery workers are members of local organizations that support families with financial contributions in the event of important social occasions such as births, marriages, and deaths. In this way, the successes and losses of the fisheries directly impact the community.
The commune of ABOBO-DOUME has the highest concentration of processing sites and small-scale women wholesalers in Abidjan. The women here have formed a cooperative with over 2,500 members, and have their own smaller networks and organizations for credit lending and savings. These financial organizations generally function by individual women contributing a certain amount of money to the group at regular intervals, with one person receiving the total amount by turn. This system is based on mutual trust and integrity, and has been an effective way for women to help sustain their work in the artisanal fishing industry.
But lack of resources, poor working conditions, lack of infrastructure, market and transportation difficulties, and the exclusion of women in decision-making processes are some of the challenges that the industry faces. Loss of product, due to the lack of infrastructure and proper sanitation at processing sites, has serious economic impact on the entire industry, especially for the women who have already purchased products but cannot sell them because of spoilage. The marginalization of women also has a negative impact on the industry. Although these women play a crucial role in the artisan fishing industries and the community as a whole, they have largely been forgotten in the country’s social and economic development policies. The disparity between men and women puts women in a weak position, and excludes them from making decisions about management and conservation issues that affect their livelihood.
Because these issues affect fishing communities in much of West Africa, including Abidjan, FAO is in the process of drafting guidelines for small scale fisheries in order to increase their contribution to local food security, economic growth and deterrence of poverty. FAO aims to provide a set of norms to encourage the self-sufficiency of these communities, to give vulnerable groups, such as women, the means to participate in the decision-making process, and for communities to bear responsibility for the sustainable use of resources.