Sunday, 10 August 2008

Casting the net beyond the lagoon

Overfishing in the lagoons of Mauritius and Rodrigues has a destructive effect on the coral reef and the marine life it harbours. To increase the incomes of small-scale fishers and relieve pressure on depleted marine resources, the IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme has encouraged fishers to give up lagoon fishing.

Policy framework for managing fisheries resources

Because of the depletion of lagoon fish stock, the fisheries sector faces a number of challenges. To meet these challenges the Mauritian fisheries sector is striving to put in place a policy framework for sustainable management of fisheries resources.

The authorities provide support to fishers who fish in the open sea outside the lagoon and encourage them to engage in agriculture and other income-generating activities. The authorities are also exploring alternative options such as aquaculture.

The island of Rodrigues has about 1,900 registered fishers. "Seventy per cent of the registered fishers are real fishers," says Jacques Davis, Fisheries Department Head in Rodrigues. "We need to encourage fishers to find alternative sources of income."

"Mauritius Island has 2,300 fishers, of which 1,500 are active off-lagoon fishers," says Anand Venkatasami, Principal Fisheries Officer.

"The challenge ahead is significant. Most of the fishers have been in the fishing business for generations and are reluctant to change,” says Davis.

"We are trying to find alternative solutions. Recently, the Fisheries Commission of Rodrigues undertook a feasibility study to explore the potential of aquaculture,” Davis adds.

Aquaculture is the farming of fresh and salt water organisms such as molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants under controlled conditions. It is the so-called agriculture of oceans.

"It looks like sea cucumbers and seaweed are two viable candidates for aquaculture," says Davis.

"Early in August we are fielding a mission to Madagascar to learn more about seaweed technology and to explore a possible collaboration with our Malagasy colleagues," says Davis.

Fish aggregating devices for good ocean fishing

The IFAD-supported Rural Diversification Programme has financed several fish aggregating devices (FADs) to assist small-scale fishers when they fish in deeper seas beyond the lagoon. FADs are man-made devices that attract ocean fish such as tuna.

The installation of the devices has encouraged fishers to leave the lagoon and convert to FAD fishing in the open sea. The programme provided capacity-building and training for fishers in off-lagoon fishing techniques, boat handling and safety measures.

"The training helped fishers make the transition from lagoon net fishing to fishing in the open sea," says Venkatasami. "As a result, in Mauritius there are now only 200 lagoon net fishers."

The FADs are installed 12 kilometres from the shore and are relatively close to one another. "The fishers usually go to the closest FADs and they use mobile phones to communicate with one another, " says Venkatasami.

The fishing village of Tamarin on the western coast of Mauritius has about 200 FAD fishers who fish in the vicinity of four FADs. Most of them are second generation fishers and they have their own boats, which they were able to purchase by taking out loans.

"We used to do net fishing in the lagoon, but with the installation of FADs we've moved to off-lagoon fishing," says Patrick Marrison, president of Albion, an association of fishing villages.

"When we fished in the lagoon our catch was between 7 and 15 kilograms. With FAD fishing our catch ranges between 100 and 200 kilograms."

"We fish during the summer months, which go from November through April. Usually we fish 20 days a month," says Manuel Ricot, a fisher in Tamarin.

"Thanks to FAD fishing our catch is better in terms of both quality and quantity and we are able to make more money," Marrison says. The first thing the Tamarin fishers did with their increased income was to invest in building more solid homes to protect their families against cyclones.

The many challenges that fishers face include the effects of pollution, climate change, bad weather, depleting fish stock, unregulated fishing practices and recreational fishing. FAD fishers face additional challenges such as the risk that big vessels and trawlers may damage FADs when passing over them, or that a FAD may be lost when a fisher's line cuts the device’s anchor line.

"When FADs are damaged, we have to wait for the authorities to repair or install new ones," says Marrison. "We would like to learn how to repair them ourselves so that we do not lose any fishing time."

Live baits: a local innovation

A typical day for the Tamarin fishers starts at 3 a.m. when they set off for the open sea, with two or three fishers in each boat. They fish until 3 or 4 p.m. And they have increased their daily catch thanks to their innovative method of catching and preserving live bait.

"We know that to catch larger fish it is important to use live bait," says Manuel. "We cannot buy live bait, so we had to find a way of farming it ourselves."

The members of the community devised an innovative way of catching and storing live bait. The fishers catch the bait while they are on their way home in the afternoon, and they keep the bait in special containers in the sea.

"In this way, the next morning we have live bait ready for our next fishing expedition," says Manuel.

Access to markets

Like most of the other fishing communities in Mauritius, the Tamarin community does not have direct access to the market. And the fishers' boats are not equipped to preserve fish on board.

As a result the fishers are forced to sell their daily catch to the middleman, or buyant.

"The middleman buys a kilogram of fish for 70 Rps and then sells it for 140 Rps," says Manuel.

"Our boats are 6 to 8 metres long and they are not big enough to accommodate an icebox or to be equipped for other types of preservation techniques," he says.

"So we have no way of preserving our catch and are forced to sell the entire catch to the middleman.

"We cannot even sell directly to hotels, because the hotels want a continuous and consistent supply," says Manuel. "So we are forced to deal with the buyant."

The members of the Tamarin fishing community are not organized into an association or cooperative, and they do not have direct access to the market. They are trapped in the net of the middleman.

If they could sell to a cooperative at a fixed price or, even better, if they could sell directly to consumers, they could increase their income significantly.

Sailing in the rough seas of rising fuel prices

Rising fuel prices have changed the behaviour of the members of the Tamarin fishing community. Now the fishers rarely go out during the winter months.

"With the rising price of fuel, we cannot risk going out and coming back empty-handed," says fisher Theo Hingal. "During the summer months we try to catch enough so that we can afford not to fish in the winter."

Fuel prices have more than doubled in the last eight months. "Eight months ago, we paid from 800 to 1,200 Rps for petrol, and now we pay from 1,500 to 1,800 Rps," says Hingal.

"We cannot afford to raise the price of our catch, because during the summer months there is far too much competition," says Theo. "If we increase our prices, on a good day we risk being left with 200 kilograms of fish on our hands!"

To respond to rising fuel prices and allow fishers to cut fuel costs, the Ministry of Agro-industry and Fisheries is encouraging fishers to use sail on their boats.

Looking forward to a brighter future

Tamarin and the other fishing communities in Mauritius look forward to implementation of the newly approved Marine and Agricultural Resources Support (MARS) programme funded by IFAD.

This programme will introduce sustainable marine resource management and help poor households in coastal communities establish profitable enterprises that do not put the resource base at risk. It will investigate and develop alternative activities such as small-scale aquaculture.

The programme will introduce the fishers to the value chain concept and build their capacity for business management so that they can cast their net beyond the buyant, or middleman.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Mauritius: tackling social exclusion on Rodrigues Island

In the 1980s Nobel laureate Amartya Sen challenged fellow economists by stating that poverty has important "non-economic" dimensions. He said, "No concept of poverty can be satisfactory if it does not take note of the disadvantages that arise from being excluded from shared opportunities enjoyed by others."

Today there is consensus within the development arena that poverty is multidimensional. "Development needs to focus on freedom in a holistic sense, not just freedom from misery, hunger, illiteracy, illness and poor housing, but also freedom from being disrespected, undervalued and from being denied choice, information and opportunity," says Eveline Herfkens, Executive Coordinator of the Millennium Development Goals Campaign.

The IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme has been reaching out to more than 15,000 poor smallholder farmers, artisanal fishers, microentrepreneurs and women in rural regions of Mauritius and the island of Rodrigues, where rural poverty is widespread. The programme has established a direct link between livelihoods and rights by creating opportunities for the most disadvantaged and socially excluded people to help them improve their living conditions.

Maryline Legoff, a single mother, lives on the island of Rodrigues, which is 640 kilometres from the island of Mauritius. Legoff engages in a number of agricultural and agro-processing activities. A born leader and entrepreneur, she strives to rise above poverty.

"I am an independent and free woman," she says. "I know that as a single mother, I need to stand on my own two feet."

Learning and earning

As part of its capacity-building programme, the Commission for Agriculture, Natural Resources Rehabilitation and Water Resources of Rodrigues organized a series of training courses. They include topics such as fruit and vegetable production, seed and seedling production, weed and pest control, use of pesticides, irrigation and water management, quality control and post-harvest techniques and livestock raising. "We are building local capacity and raising awareness of good farming practices," says Jean Thomas Genave, Departmental Head of the Commission. "Only by building our own capacity will we be able to bring about change and eradicate poverty."

Legoff attended the training courses and passed the certification test with good marks. After completing training she set up a nursery to produce strawberry seedlings and plants. She sells her seedlings for 75 rupees (Rps) from April until June and from October until December. "From July until November I sell the actual fruit. I sell 100 grams of strawberries for 300 Rps. Last year my strawberry plants yielded 20 kilograms of fruit," she says. "Today I am the association's chairperson and a trainer. So far I've trained 18 other women."

Promoting effective marketing

The IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme, in collaboration with the National Empowerment Foundation in Rodrigues, organized a training programme to introduce women to the concepts of business management and teach them the techniques of agro-processing and compliance with hygiene and sanitation standards. As a result of the training, most of the women who engage in agro-processing have created personalized labels for marketing their products.

Legoff is one of the women who has benefited from the training, and now she produces preserves and pickles under her own "Mary food" label.

Working in partnership with the National Empowerment Foundation, the community-driven component of the IFAD-supported programme co-funded a number of community centres that serve as meeting point for women. The centres are equipped with the implements that members of the women’s associations need for agro-processing and packaging activities. The centres also serve as shelters during storms and cyclones for people like Legoff whose dwellings are not solid.

Women's associations now produce and package a wide range of pickles, preserves and honey. The challenge that they face is to expand marketing of their products from Rodrigues to Mauritius.

Legoff soon realized that in Rodrigues she was just one of many women selling the same products in the local market. Her entrepreneurial instincts told her that to make a good income she had to export her products. She identified Mauritius as a potentially viable market.

"I started asking how I could get my products to the main market," she says. "I found out that once a year a big supermarket in Mauritius sponsors a regional fair promoting local products and culture.… I got together with other women and we decided on a range of products to take to the fair".

"We agreed on the inventory, did some calculations in terms of what we had to buy and how long it would take us to make the products. We then made our price list," says Legoff. The next step was to find a way to get their goods to the main island.

"The best way to get our products to Mauritius was by boat," says Legoff. "I paid 2,450 Rps for a round trip ticket and 12,000 Rps to rent stalls at the supermarket for a week."

The women contributed both in kind and in cash. They each contributed 1,000 Rps and they also cooked Rodrigan lunches to sell to the people who visited the stands. On the first day they took in 4,000 Rps.

For the fair, the women:

  • prepared and packaged 300 jars of preserves and pickles. They sold 200 jars of sweet and sour lemons for 50 Rps, and 100 jars of chutney and chilis for 75Rps each, for a total of 20,000 Rps
  • bought 11 kilograms of fish for 770 Rps and paid 1,000 Rps for drying and salting the fish. They then made 42 100-gram packages of fish, which they sold for 150 Rps per package. Their net gain was 4,530 Rps
  • bought 10 kilograms of fresh octopus for 700 Rps. The women dried and packaged the octopus into 15 100-gram packages and sold them for 75 Rps, making 425 Rps
    bought 10 Rodriguan artisanal straw hats made of Vacoas for 500 Rps and sold them for 750 Rps

Before returning from Mauritius the women spent 50 Rps for perfume that they resold on Rodrigues for 90 Rps. In all, their net gain was about 26,000 Rps.

The Mauritius expedition taught the women that to overcome competition and to raise their profit margin, each woman should specialize in one product, rather than producing several.

Building a better future

Legoff continually takes on new challenges and broadens her horizons. She has begun to plant and sell flowers. "I want to learn how to make flower arrangements, so that I can sell not only flowers but also flower arrangements," she says.

"My dream is to have a truck so I can transport my products easily. I am working hard to build a better house for my son and myself," says Legoff. Her own determination and the support of the programme have enabled Legoff, a single mother, to overcome social and economic obstacles and seize opportunities to make her way out of poverty.

With the support of the IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme, women like Legoff and other poor rural people are learning how to become successful entrepreneurs. Their new skills empower them to share in the opportunities from which they were previously excluded.

Rodrigues Island, Mauritius: Soaring food and fuel prices eat into poor people’s livelihoods

The fish stock in the spectacular lagoon of the island of Rodrigues is becoming depleted. As a result, octopus fishers like Lima Casmir need to find alternative sources of income.

Agriculture: the engine of growth

The IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme has helped Casmir diversify her livelihood. Now agriculture is her main income-generating activity.

"I know that fishing alone cannot give me enough money," says Casmir. "I could not satisfy my family’s needs because there are not enough fish in the lagoon. Now I work in agriculture.”

Near her house, Casmir has a well-kept vegetable plot. She walks through a mangrove to get to the plot where she grows onions, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes and maize. "Planting these crops ensures a secure source of income for me. Because I know that when I plant onions I will harvest onions and I can sell them at the market," she says.

"I sell my onions for 18 Rps per kilogram. Last year I had one tonne of onions!" she says. "But it is hard work, you know."

High prices for food and fuel

The main market on the island of Rodrigues is located at Port Mathurin. "Whenever I have enough products, I rent a stall at the market," says Casmir. "The market is quite far from where I live. I have to get up at 3 a.m. to be ready to be picked up by the lorry at 4 a.m."

"I stay at the market until noon, which is the closing time, and I take the bus back home."

Six months ago, Casmir used to pay 40 Rps for a round trip bus ticket. Now that rising fuel prices have also hit the remote island of Rodrigues, the ticket costs double, and she has to pay 80 Rps for the same trip.

Last week, Casmir awoke in the middle of the night, packed 10 kilograms of tomatoes, 30 heads of lettuce and 2.5 kilograms of fresh octopus in baskets and set off to the market. She sold her tomatoes for 200 Rps, her lettuce for 150 Rps and the fresh octopus for 450 Rps. That day Casmir took in 800 Rps.

"I had two baskets. The lorry man charged me 40 Rps per basket. So I paid 160 Rps for my transportation each way and 30 Rps for the stall rental," says Casmir.

"On the way back home I bought 1 kilogram of powdered milk for 150 Rps and 500 grams of dried meat for 120 Rps. In the end, after expenses, I was left with 180 Rps.

"Everything is more expensive now. Before I could afford to buy two baguettes of bread for 6 Rps. Now I can afford to buy only one, for 5 Rps," says Casmir. "This means the children have less bread to eat."

Soaring food and fuel prices have had a negative impact on Casmir's livelihoods. Her purchasing power has decreased dramatically, and at this point in time she cannot raise the prices of her products to compensate for higher food prices because of the fierce competition. As a result, her family has less food on the table and is eating less.

The increase in fuel prices has forced Casmir to sell directly from her house. "I cannot afford to pay so much to the lorry man, so now I tell people to come to the house to buy vegetables," says Casmir. "This means I do not get to see the other women as often as I would like to, and I feel left out."

Once a fisher, always a fisher

Every so often Casmir leaves the house at 5.30 a.m. and sets off for the lagoon to fish for octopus. She takes her son’s boat to go to her ‘office’ — a vast lagoon that opens onto the Indian Ocean. Her office furniture includes the boat and magnificent coral reefs.

Casmir walks the lagoon with an iron rod slung over her shoulder, and when she feels or sees an octopus, she uses the rod to catch her prey. She pulls out the octopus and fixes it to the rope attached to the rod, then continues her hunt. She works without damaging the reef.

She dries and salts her catch. The Rural Diversification Programme has trained Casmir to package dried octopus in a way that complies with hygiene and sanitation norms. It takes her an hour to cut and prepare a dried octopus pack weighing 100 grams, which she sells for 90 Rps. "At heart I am still a fisher and fishing is what I enjoy most, so whenever I get to go out and fish, I feel re-energized," says Casmir.

Challenges ahead

Rising food and fuel prices present a major challenge for poor and disadvantaged people on Rodrigues. The cost of living has almost doubled. Although food riots like those which have occurred in Haiti and Egypt are unlikely in Rodrigues, poor families there struggle to keep enough food on the table. To save on electricity some families are cooking over wood fires and others are using their vegetable plots for subsistence farming. The challenges ahead are to ensure food and nutrition security for poor rural people on the island and to avoid a reversal of the crucial gains made by the IFAD-funded Rural Diversification Programme.