Bossaso: Training women to strengthen fishing communities

Bossaso, 17 October 2017 - Canab Mumin Farax fled Mogadishu 16 years ago at the height of the civil war that was triggered by the collapse of the Siad Barre regime. Today she lives with her family in a temporary settlement camp in the Puntland city of Bossaso.

Canab is one of the more than 70 women training under the Joint Programme on Youth Employment Somalia (YES), which, in the case of Bossaso, has been implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Puntland State government to help develop the fish value production chain in Somalia. Beneficiaries are identified within disadvantaged communities and trained in the processing and marketing of dried fish, thus adding value to this product.

For Canab, this could signal an end to trekking under the scorching sun to sell cooked fish at a market next to the bus station in Bossaso, in order to sustain her family.

“I have acquired knowledge and skills that I previously lacked. I hope it will also transform my life and my family. Previously, I would bring fish from the landing site, clean, cut and cook the fish and sell in the market. Today, I clean our workstation and the fish. The work is less tedious than what I used to do before,” she says.

Canab is a member of a community group of internally displaced persons who process sun-dried fish at the Ajuuran B camp on the outskirts of Bossaso. The group comprises six women and two men who sell the final product to nearby businesses and inland city markets.

Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa, measuring over 3,000 kilometres. For that reason, fisheries hold a great potential for the country, which can help improve livelihoods for hundreds of residents.

Although the Gulf of Aden port town of Bossaso has a vibrant fishing sector, the many challenges fishermen face there make it difficult to develop this industry into a major contributor to the economy. The FAO project addresses some of these problems in order to help establish a sustainable fishing industry.

Michael Savins, FAO Head of the Fisheries Infrastructure and Fleet Renewal Unit in Bossaso, says the lack of cold storage facilities and the challenges involved in the proper handling of fish often lead to a high level of spoilage.

Mr. Savins explains that processing sun-dried fish is a cottage-industry approach to enable fishing communities to reduce spoilage and ensure better utilization of Somalia’s abundant marine resources.

“With dried fish processing, you are breaking down a whole fish to a sixth or eighth of its original weight. You are reducing the volume so as to transport it to a market elsewhere. It cuts refrigeration costs and other overheads. It’s very appropriate for environments like Somalia,” he explains.

FAO has distributed tools that include packaging materials, tables, drying racks, knives and cutting boards to facilitate the processing of the fish.

On a normal day, the team begins work early in the morning, when fresh fish is delivered from the landing site in Bossaso, and is stored in ice coolers. The team members clean the fish and slice off the fillets, which are then laid out on racks to dry in the sun. Another team oversees the drying process and fends off cats and other animals.

It takes about 14 to 16 hours for the fillets to dry before they are packed and sealed. The dried fish is then sold in supermarket outlets around Bossaso under the brand ‘Kalluun Qalajisan’, meaning dried fish.

The dried fish is thus commercialized, but the fish remnants are also completely utilized. They are used to cook and provide a highly nutritious and low fat meal that is then distributed among the community, which has some of the most disadvantaged households in Somalia.

FAO also supports associated women’s groups to market the dried fish products in inland districts such as Carmo, Qardho and Ufeyn, and even as far away as Kenya.

Canab’s colleague, Halima Mohamed Nur, traveled to Bossaso from the Lower Shabelle port city of Marka to train in fish processing. She hopes to return home to introduce the processing techniques in her community.

“I came to Bossaso in the hope of finding a job. Now I can say that I have gotten a job from the training. I would also like to share with other people the skills I’ll have acquired from the training,” Halima says.

Bint Samatar, the chairperson of the group, is optimistic that members and trainees will become agents of change in their communities and the project will help boost household income from fish sales.

Furthermore, as part of a holistic approach to support the fish value production chain, FAO is partnering with a boat-building company in Bossaso to design and build modern, fuel-efficient fiberglass boats that will strengthen the capacity of local fishermen.

The YES is a joint programme of FAO, the UN International Labor Organisation, the UN Development Programme and UN-Habitat, and is supported by the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund ((MPTF).