TRY Association Aims High to Improve The Lives Of Gambian Oyster Women

When Ms. Fatou Janha Mboob hears women's voices coming from the mangrove wetlands of The Gambia, she hears the sound of progress. As coordinator of the TRY Oyster Women's Association, Fatou knows many of the women who collect oysters from the mangrove roots and sell them along the Banjul-Serekunda highway in this coastal area.
Before the Association was established, the women struggled independently to make a living in poor working conditions. In 2007, Fatou and 50 of the women oyster harvesters joined together to form TRY and have been moving forward ever since to achieve a common goal: to become self-sufficient through improved cultivation techniques and marketing of the oysters they collect in the Tanbi wetlands near the capital of Banjul. In 2009, USAID lent its support to the program, providing much needed funding and management to help the women move that much closer to realizing their goal.
USAID supported the TRY Association as part of the five-year Gambia-Senegal Sustainable Fisheries Project, or Ba Nafaa, which means "benefits from the sea" in the local Mandika dialect. With USAID/Ba Nafaa support, TRY expanded training programs for women in both aquaculture and business management. As a result, Association members now learn fishery management and oyster cultivation techniques, such as how to build racks and floating baskets to improve yields.
They participate in community meetings to learn their roles in, and responsibilities for, managing the fishery. They help develop co-management plans and learn techniques to resolve conflicts among oyster harvesters and other resource users. Ba Nafaa is also working with the TRY Association to develop credit and savings schemes for its members and to help the Association with fundraising and business strategies.
Through visionary leadership and skillful fundraising, Fatou has led TRY from a single community organization of 50 women into a model of coastal co-management in West Africa that includes over 500 members from 15 communities.
In describing the challenges she faced in developing the Association, Fatou points to the difficulty of organizing women from different backgrounds and often marginalized communities, to work together. But she also credits those women with having the vision to organize the Association and the dedication to make it work. "Although they lack formal schooling, these women are very intelligent and receptive to new ideas and technologies," she said. "When given the opportunity to participate in the Ba Nafaa project, they quickly embraced it with conviction and dedication. Now they are realizing the economic and social benefits from their activities."
Those benefits include better equipment for oyster harvesters and an increased capacity to manage a profitable fishery. With expanded access to credit, the women have been able to purchase canoes, gloves, and life jackets, allowing them to safely harvest oysters. They also bought processing and storage equipment to diversify oyster products and transport them to regional markets.
The Ba Nafaa/TRY Association partnership also provides environmental benefits by maintaining the ecological integrity of the Tanbi National Park mangrove ecosystem and associated fisheries. Mangrove trees provide a critical habitat for oysters, which grow on their roots. With Ba Nafaa support, TRY members are developing an oyster fishery management plan that will include community-managed, exclusive-use zones for oyster harvesting.
"These women are in tune with nature and realize that their livelihoods depend on conservation of the mangroves," said Fatou. "So they've stopped chopping down the trees."
Sponsored by the USAID/West Africa Regional Mission, Ba Nafaa aims to develop sustainable artisanal fisheries through an ecosystem-based management approach that includes local citizens and stakeholders in decision-making processes. In this way, Ba Nafaa seeks to provide economic and social benefits to local communities, while maintaining the integrity of the coastal ecosystem. The Ba Nafaa project is implemented through a cooperative agreement with the University of Rhode Island's Coastal Resources Center and the World Wide Fund for Nature's Western African Marine Eco-Region programme, in cooperation with The Gambia Department of Fisheries.
USAID hopes the project will serve as a model of co-management that empowers women to directly manage their own fishery, while protecting the mangrove ecosystems of coastal West Africa. As for Fatou, she hopes that each TRY Association oyster woman will build a house of her own and send her children to university. In order to make these dreams come true, Fatou will continue to work together with other Gambian oyster women to speak in a single voice that raises the standard of living for all people across coastal West Africa. 
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Last updated: September 26, 2013

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