By Samuel Hinneh
More than 100 fisher folks, mostly women and traditional leaders from Tsokomey, Bortianor, Oshie, Faana, Kobrobite communities in the Ga South Municipal Assembly in the Greater Accra Region have expressed the readiness to adopt community co-management plan to boost oyster harvesting to alleviate poverty.
They participated in a two-day Oyster Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) from January 30th to 31st, 2017 to institute a community co-management plan for the harvesting of oyster resources in the Densu Estuary. The appraisal assessed the ecological and socioeconomic status and prospects for development of a community based management plan for oyster harvesting as a sustainable livelihood and food security venture in the Densu River estuary. The Densu Delta was designated as a Ramsar site in 1992, recognizing it as a protected wetland of international importance under the International Convention on Wetlands.
They shared local knowledge of the history of oyster fishery in the Densu Estuary, identified significant harvesting sites, shared their experiences with using the river resources, and identified the opportunities and challenges in sustainable oyster harvesting and conservation management.
The PRA was facilitated by Development Action Association (DAA), Hen Mpoano, and the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Science of University of Cape Coast (UCC), all implementing partners of USAID Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) and Consultants from Try Oyster Women from the Gambia. USAID Sustainable Fisheries Management Project is 5-years food security program which aims at rebuilding targeted marine fish stock in Ghana.
The Try Oyster Women's Association in The Gambia brings together over 500 female oyster harvesters with primary aim to raise the standard of living and improve livelihood opportunities for women.
Oysters have very high essential vitamins and minerals such as protein, iron, omega three fatty acids, calcium, zinc, and vitamins C. Another important benefit in eating oysters is, it poses no danger to the cholesterol levels in the human body. A research done by University of Washington shows, oysters raise good cholesterol levels and lowers bad cholesterol levels. Madam Fatou Janha Mboob, TRY Oyster Women’s Association Coordinator, reiterated their support for the management plan. "If we are doing it accordingly, we can process it and export some to upgrade income. Comparing the oyster sizes in The Gambia and Ghana the sizes in Ghana are bigger than The Gambia and lots of profits can be made if done properly to increase earnings. The hardship in the communities is too much, we will help to address economic hardships," she stated.
The women who represent the target group for the DAA/SFMP sustainable livelihoods initiative mostly engage in low value-added activities such as fish cleaning and carrying loads of fish on their heads from the landing site (fish porter). These women mostly young women in their 20s and 30s are at times the poorest in the community. Although oyster harvesting is common among this group, it is not considered a significant source of income. One of the participants summed it up this way "I came to Tsokomey from Volta region specially to carry fish load because I heard that it is a lucrative activity. Here in our community, oyster harvesting is not seen as an occupation."
Peter Oblitey Amui, secretary to the Sukumortsoshishi family in charge of the River says he was happy of the proposed co-management plan and will solicit support from the traditional heads to ensure that the programme is a success. "Though I had heard many misconceptions about the whole programme, what I have seen clearly shows greater commitment from the women oyster harvesters and we as traditional authority in this area and in charge of the river will give them our full support."
Women Oyster harvesters face many challenges, among them are: inadequate protective working gear, lack of personal boat for harvesting (this mostly applies to women oyster pickers), inadequate diving skills, inadequate sustainable fire wood for broiling oysters, extended shucking time (scooping of oyster “meat” from shells can be time consuming for a large volume of oysters), low price of fresh oyster “meat”, lack of access to external markets, and lack of value addition of the fresh oysters (processing into other finished products) Lydia Sasu, the Executive Director, Development Action Association (DAA), says it is the hope that the women would take up oyster harvesting as a business to alleviate poverty and subsequently achieve food security.
She stated that, this appraisal is only the beginning and with the support of the Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) and the USAID, various trainings, oyster value additions in their processes, mangrove planting and many other activities would be embarked on to strengthened the women harvesters for them manage their resources themselves in a more sustainable way.
"Our overall goal is to assist these women and the community at large to use their own resources in a sustainable way and to improve their living and family standards, we are at DAA care about rural women and we want to see them happy," Mrs Sasu said.