In Ghana, women play a key role in fisheries

The fisheries sector  serves as the main occupation for a lot of women and men in the coastal communities of Ghana. Credit: Naana Nkansah Agyekum/Oxfam

Writen by: Naana Nkansah Agyekum, Media and Communications Lead, Oxfam in Ghana

The occupation is often seen as a male dominated area. But a closer look at Ghana's fisheries sector reveals that women play a huge role in making fishing the economic engine of Ghana's coastal communities, where 10 percent of the population depends on it, according to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development.  For most of the women in these fishing communities, their occupation is not just for a livelihood but a tradition that needs to be kept. The trade is mostly handed over to them by their mothers and great grandmothers and has become their way of life.

In spite of this, Ghana’s fisheries sector has dwindled over the past years as a result of illegal fishing activities. Experts have warned if nothing is done to reverse the current trend; the sector will collapse by the end of 2020. The fisheries sector  serves as the main occupation for a lot of women and men in the coastal communities of Ghana.

Statistics show that the fishing port of Sekondi in Ghana alone sustains more than 3,500 people per day. The collapse of such resource will therefore pose a huge socio-economic problem for most of the people especially women within the fishing communities.

Some women within Ghana’s coastal regions have expressed concern over the current state of the sector. Madam Emelia Abaka Edu, a fish monger at Axim stressed the need for all her colleagues to have a common voice to demand for proper infrastructure from their political leaders to safeguard their occupation.

But the dwindling fish stock is just one of the many problems these women are confronted with. One other challenge is the high level of smoke they have to endure when processing their fish.

In my recent tour in some coastal communities in the Central and Western Regions of Ghana, I visited the shed of a fish monger in Dixcove and the smoke I had to endure within the few minutes I spent there turned my eyes red while gasping for breath. I walked out feeling sorry for the dozens of women who go through this daily to ensure we get the smoked fish that we love so much.

Research has shown that the recommended oven that will ensure safety for the women is the ‘ahotor oven’. The ‘ahotor oven’ is energy efficient which help women fish processors reduce the quantity of firewood in smoking fish. It also improves quality of smoked fish and reduces the content of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PaH) contamination level, usually found in smoked fish. The combustion chamber in the oven ensures efficient combustion or efficient burning of wood.

The same cannot be said of the chorkor oven which is quite popular with most of the fish mongers because of the huge quantities of fuel wood for the smoking. It poses a health risk to fish processors as they have to endure the high rate of combustion.

“We need special training on handling of fish hygienically and support in the construction of the improved ‘ahotor’ ovens for smoking our fish. The old ‘chorkor’ ovens are not good for smoking as the fish absorbs a lot of smoke in the process. We need the government and private sector to subsidise the cost in the construction of the ‘ahotor’ ovens to make it affordable for most women”, Madam Emelia Abaka, a fish monger pleaded.

Fish smoked with the ‘ahotor oven’ also passes the standardization test and makes them acceptable for the other formal markets like the supermarkets. Quality fish that meet the standardization mark is not only healthy but increase the profit margins for the fish mongers.

Oxfam and partners conducted a research on Gender Enterprise Marketing within the fisheries value chain and recommended the need for standardization of smoked fish to attract the formal markets for the women. The research recommended that women should get support in the area of trainings and capacity building in order to establish profits and ultimately improve their livelihoods. 

Oxfam and partners through the Far Ban Bo Project, a fisheries livelihood project supported by the European Union has in the past three years interacted with fishers in five fishing communities on sustainable fisheries management.

The Project is calling on Government and other fisheries stakeholders to come up with s structured training and a framework to ensure that in the next few months, all fish mongers are migrated onto the ‘ahotor ovens’.