“For us women, everything gravitates around the mangroves. Though we exploit its resources through oyster harvesting and fishing, we also work to preserve the ecosystem by planting new mangroves to foster greater biodiversity. Our livelihoods depend on it,” says Rama Diatta, coordinator of the Biodiversity Conservation and Reduction of Poverty Program run by the Fédération Régionale des Groupements de Promotion Féminine (the Regional Federation of Women’s Empowerment Groups, or the RFGPF) based in Ziguinchor.
Financed by Senegal’s Agence National de l’Aquaculture (National Aquaculture Agency or ANA) and the World Bank, the FRGPF is an organization composed of over 30, 000 women working to empower and employ local women. The goal is to help these women achieve financial independence and enable them to fulfill the needs of their families.
“Indeed the oyster value chain has a huge potential for generating increased revenue for women in Casamance, especially with improvements in the production system allowing them to sell fresh oysters instead of smoked oysters, which are in high demand by hotels and restaurants in the region. A pilot project is planned to experiment the cooperation between three oyster farms and disgorging facilities, in order to drain and clean fresh oysters prior to taking them to market, and thus boosting the entire value chain,” explains Demba Balde, World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist in charge of the Casamance Development Pole Project.
As a testament to their success so far, ANA and the prefecture of Ziguinchor held a ceremony to recognize the recent oyster harvest from Anastasie’s work site that according to ANA General Manager, Magatte Ba, will bring in between four to five million West African CFA francs.
The ceremony also included the awarding of the following equipment: 100 knives, 48 pairs of boots, 50 pairs of gloves, 250 oyster lantern nets for oyster fattening, and two pirogues. All of which will greatly improve the challenging and sometimes dangerous working conditions of these women and contribute to greater food security in the area.
“Supporting these female oyster farmers with additional equipment and financing means that they can work in deeper waters, which enables a quicker growth of quality oysters for local consumption and export,” says Mr. Ba.
This initiative, along with the restoration of Casamance’s deteriorated roads, the reviving of its rice industry, and the establishment of crucial peace and reconciliation programs, all form part of the Casamance Development Pole Project (CDPP) launched by Senegalese President Macky Sall on March 17, 2014.
With a World Bank credit of 40 million US dollars, the comprehensive Casamance Development Pole Project aims to “create jobs and improve the quality of life of local populations, develop economic activities in Casamance, and above all support and contribute to the resolution of the crisis,” stated Vera Songwe, the World Bank Country Director for Senegal, during her speech at the project’s inauguration at Aline Sitoe Diatta square in Ziguinchor.
For the people of Casamance, the CDPP is a beacon of hope signaling what could potentially be the beginning of a lasting peace and prosperity. For women like Anastasie in particular, it brings the promise of stable employment and the ability to provide for herself and her family in the future. Despite the physical and emotional hardships that conflict has imposed on her and her fellow female farmers over the past years, these resilient women remain full of optimism and determination, making them the real pearls of Casamance’s oysters.