Women Shellfishers and Food Security in West Africa

Inspired by two women’s shellfish co-management successes in West Africa, this session will present how the USAID/Women Shellfishers and Food Security project implemented by five partner organizations is addressing the need to understand and document cross sectoral linkages between sustainable shellfisheries, mangrove conservation, and food security that have potential for win-win synergies and scale up across West Africa. Presenters will discuss findings to date from site-based research at 3 sites in The Gambia and 3 sites in Ghana that inform the theory of change, “IF women’s shellfish livelihoods in coastal mangrove and estuarine ecosystems in The Gambia and Ghana are improved through gender and nutrition sensitive co-management and linkages made to community based forest management in the land/seascape, THEN mangrove protection and estuarine biodiversity will be improved, AND IF approaches for sustainable food producing livelihoods within the coastal mangrove land/seascape contribute to a nutritionally balanced local food supply, THEN household resilience, sustainable food systems, and nutrition will improve.” A participatory regional assessment of women’s shellfisheries across coastal countries from Senegal to Nigeria will also be discussed, including the situation, promising approaches, and potential sectoral and cross sectoral benefits.



Karen Kent and Brian Crawford, University of Rhode Island, USA

Fatou Janha, TRY Oyster Women’s Association, The Gambia

The TRY Oyster Women’s Association case and field context
Women oyster harvesters in The Gambia are poor, not literate, often widows, single head of their household or primary provider for their household. Among the vulnerable of The Gambia, these women are among the most vulnerable. They work under dangerous conditions with high effort for low returns. Handling and processing conditions are unhygienic. Harvester communities were isolated and disbursed not working together. Still, these women know and understand that they have to protect the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend. With the founding of the TRY Oyster Women’s Association in 2007 and the support of the USAID BaNafaa Project from 2009 – 2014, the women engaged with each other, community, and government stakeholders in an action research, capacity building, and shellfishery co-management planning process. It resulted in the Government of The Gambia granting TRY exclusive use rights to the cockle and oyster fishery in the Tanbi Wetlands National Park in a gazetted co-management Plan signed by 5 stakeholder agencies. The plan institutes shellfish management measures such as an annual 8 month closed season. Value chain improvements, diversified livelihoods training, microfinance, literacy, access to health services, and mangrove replanting were associated activities. Results included 6,300 ha of oysters and protected mangroves better managed, value chain improvements and a 250% oyster price increase. Most importantly, women gained knowledge and power in decision-making on sustainable natural resource management for food security and livelihoods. Through peer-to-peer exchange and technical assistance from TRY and with support from the USAID Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project, women shellfishers in the Densu River Delta in Ghana adopted and adapted this co-management approach. It resulted in a gazetted community-based shellfish co-management plan signed in 2020 delegating exclusive use rights to the oyster fishery to the Densu Oyster Pickers Association and instituting an annual 5 month closed season, mangrove replanting, and other management improvements.


Lalisa Duguma and Stepha McMullin, World Agroforestry, Kenya

Changes in the mangrove ecosystems in The Gambia and Ghana and the associated drivers
Mangrove forests are among the most important coastal vegetations as they provide numerous ecosystem goods and services to millions of coastal communities and others dependent on the value chains of coastal resources. Mangroves are breeding grounds for various types of fish, including oysters and other shellfish types. Therefore, any damage to this vegetation has a significant impact on the livelihood of the people who make a living out of fishing. We present the findings from the assessment of 20 years (2000-2020) of change trajectories of mangrove ecosystems in The Gambia and Ghana with local insights into the drivers of change and the threats to this important vegetation type. In The Gambia, the net change in mangrove area is approximately 78 square km in the period studied with an average annual gain of about 3.9 square km. This positive development is mostly due to the strong investment in restoring the mangroves through government initiatives, community efforts and bilateral projects. On the contrary, Ghana experienced substantial mangrove loss of up to 539 square km in the 20 years with average annual loss of 27 square km. This poses a serious threat to the coastal community livelihoods especially those dependent on shell fishing and other fishing activities around the coast. The main drivers of loss are expansion of human settlements and exploitation of the mangroves for various uses including conversion of mangrove areas into other highly profitable land uses such as real estate and factories.

Developing location specific nutritious food portfolios for women shellfishers in The Gambia and Ghana 
Smallholder food production in sub-Saharan Africa is often dominated by starchy staple crops which can lead to periods of food and nutrition insecurity. The availability of micronutrient-rich crops like fruits and vegetables are often lacking and highly season-dependent, which is one reason, amongst others, for the low consumption. Using participatory research, World Agroforestry (ICRAF) developed the food tree and crop portfolio approach to enhance seasonal availability of nutritious foods in local food systems. These nutritious food portfolios are customized recommendations for cultivating and utilizing a greater diversity of food tree species with complementary vegetable, pulse and staple crops that could address month-on-month harvest and micronutrient gaps in local diets. The Women Shellfishers and Food Security project engaged with communities in The Gambia and Ghana to better understand the current status and opportunities for increasing the use of agricultural and wild biodiversity to meet seasonal food and dietary needs. This includes gaps associated with annual oyster harvesting closed seasons of 5 – 8 months in some ecosystems studied. A total of 356 households (145 in The Gambia, 211 in Ghana) were interviewed to assess on-farm food production diversity and food security. Twenty-one focus group discussions (16 in The Gambia, 5 in Ghana) were conducted with community members to further capture the use of agricultural and wild biodiversity, develop seasonal food harvest calendars and allow communities to prioritize their preferences for species to meet their food and livelihood needs. In this session, we will highlight the data generated with communities, and present the customized nutritious food portfolios which could enhance seasonal food resilience and diversify diets in the local food systems.


Ernest Obeng Chuku, University of Cape Coast/Centre for Coastal Management, Ghana

Analysis of oyster shellfisheries and associated bio-physical parameters of the estuaries
Oysters are noted to be a significant source of nourishment and livelihoods for women living near the coastal estuarine/lagoonal and mangrove ecosystems interspersed along the Gulf of Guinea Coast of West Africa. Although the scale and scope of the fishery has not been assessed owing to the fact that the fishery goes almost unrecognized and unreported in the national fisheries statistics of most coastal West African countries, some minimal data spurred by individual scientific research and a few key natural resource management and livelihoods projects has brought to light the critical need for its management within formalized national frameworks. The requisite data to support proper management strategies are not available. The USAID Women Shellfishers and Food Security Project, as part of its objective to develop a toolkit for potential upscale in the West Africa sub Region, is assessing six coastal ecosystems, three each in Ghana and The Gambia, to collect biological data on the native oysters (Crassostrea tulipa), physico-chemical estuarine water parameters including nutrient levels, and the in-season harvest pressures on the ecosystems over a 12-month period. We present preliminary findings from these field data and their implications for potential management approaches.


Seth Adu-Afarwuah, University of Ghana
Brietta Oaks , University of Rhode Island, USA

Assessment of oyster consumption, anemia, and food insecurity
Among West African coastal countries, there is a high prevalence of anemia among women of reproductive age. Anemia is a risk factor for postpartum hemorrhage, a leading cause of maternal death in Africa, and increases the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and neonatal mortality. Reducing the prevalence of anemia in women of reproductive age is one of the WHO 2025 Global Nutrition Targets. An iron deficient diet is the primary cause of anemia in West Africa. Shellfish, such as oysters, have a particularly high iron content and its consumption may help reduce anemia prevalence if it is a substantial part of the diet. There is concern that if ecosystems are poorly managed, there may be less availability of oysters and other shellfish, thereby denying communities of a potentially vital resource for addressing anemia and food insecurity. Measures to sustainably manage shellfish resources, such as annual temporary closures to allow the oyster population to replenish itself, may also have short term impacts on nutrition. Heavy metals and other pollutants potentially detrimental to human health have been documented in some estuaries. As part of the Women Shellfishers and Food Security project, we are assessing dietary intake, food security and anemia prevalence in three oyster harvesting communities each in Ghana and The Gambia. We are using questionnaire interview data to investigate what background factors might be related to anemia in our study and examine whether higher oyster consumption is associated with a lower risk of anemia. Preliminary results will be shared in this session. In addition, we have collected oysters from each study site in Ghana, which we will analyze for heavy metal contamination with support from the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish. Results from this study will be used to better understand factors related to nutrition and health that are important for resource managers to consider in the design of sustainable management actions.


Ernest Obeng Chuku, University of Cape Coast/Centre for Coastal Management, Ghana

Participatory Regional Assessment of Shellfisheries in West Africa Senegal to Nigeria
Fish and fisheries resources continue to be a critical component of global food production and nutrition. In Africa marine and inland fisheries have been at the fore of production volumes, receiving all the attention to the neglect of other important fisheries, especially of those that occur within such critical coastal ecosystems/habitats as lagoons, estuaries and mangroves. These ecosystems fall within the intertidal zones of most coastlines and have characteristically shallow areas, thus accessible to women. As a result, women are noted to dominate overwhelmingly the fisheries of bivalves and gastropods including oysters, mussels, clams, periwinkles, etc., in these ecosystems abounding along the West African coast. To better understand the scope and scale of shellfisheries in West Africa, the USAID Women Shellfishers and Food Security Project is conducting a participatory appraisal of the shellfisheries of 11 coastal countries from Senegal to Nigeria in consultation with the resource users, government, academia, NGOS and local authorities. The study consolidates, for the first time across the sub region, the gender dynamics of the involvement of coastal inhabitants along the nodes of the value chain of shellfisheries, the types of species, harvest locations, volume and value. The research further probes shellfish consumption rates among stakeholders and seasonality of exploitation, then explores existing local and national management regimes as well as the potential impacts on climate. Key findings and trends will be presented.