Improving the livelihoods of Try Oyster Women in The Gambia


Members of the Try Oyster Women's Association shelling Oysters for sustainable livelihood (Photo credit: UNDP in The Gambia)

Try Oyster Women’s Association, a community-based organization with a membership of over 700 women who harvest oysters and cockles in The Gambia was formed in 2007. The aim of the organisation was to enhance sustainable livelihood opportunities for women along with improving and raising their standard of living. Coastal erosion and degradation coupled with unemployment were challenges that required surmounting.  

Through action and education, members were empowered and were taught how to balance sustainable harvesting of oysters and cockles with the management of delicate mangrove ecosystems.

Highlights

  • Try Oyster Association formed to enhance sustainable livelihood opportunities for women along with improving and raising their standard of living.
  • Membership has grown phenomenally to 15 communities, each with their own organised leadership.
  • The women's association is made up of over 700 members

Membership has grown phenomenally resulting in a network of communities with organised leadership at community levels and at the apex. 15 different communities exist and efforts to improve local incomes have been complemented by efforts to reduce anthropogenic impacts on the Tanbi Wetlands ecosystem, the workplace that sustains the majority of the harvesters.

Fatou Janha, founder and coordinator provides an insight into how she started the association, “passing by the roadside where the oyster women are I realised that the women had been living there ever since I was a child under the same conditions, same environment and never any improvements” This she said drove her to find out how best she could help them improve their lives and get a better return on the hard work the put into the harvesting of oysters to generate income for the upkeep of themselves and their families.

Marie Manga one of the beneficiaries and a member of the association tells her story as to how when she joined she had been working for 50 years and “ I don’t even have my own house, instead I am renting and even the boats used to for oyster fishing are rented” she says.

Kumba Jassey narrates her experience and says “Years ago when there were no boats we went oyster fishing wading through the waters on foot. Then there were a lot of oysters nearby in shallow waters. Now to catch oysters you have to go further in the waters and if you don’t have a boat you can’t go. This means that you can leave your home to work and have no boat to go fishing. Sometimes you have to wait for the fishermen to go fishing and return and then rent their boats to go fishing”.

I started this business whilst I was going to school as a child. I paid my school fees. No parent paid my school fees because at the time people did not know what education was. However no matter how small the amount I made a living from the oyster trade”. Isatou Jarju asserted.

Madeline Sambou tells how she supports her family through the oyster trade. ”I started this business since I got married and my kids started going to school. I pay their school fees, provide their daily lunch and clothing for them. I also help with their feeding to support my husband’s contribution to the upkeep of the family”.
 
These quotes from their stories all demonstrate the trials they have contended with and the long way they have come to achieve the benefits and gains from the association have empowered members a sense of empowerment. Fatou Janha elaborates on the early beginning. “First thing was a fund raising activity to raise funds to register ourselves as a CBO (Community based Organisation). Based on that other communities heard about me and came in approached to say they would like to be part of TRY”

Madeline Sambou also clarifies the benefits of membership of the association “Before people were not as aware as they are now about the oyster trade. Now there is awareness as we have a group and our members have been exposed to the media. This was not the case previously but this has enabled us to help each other being good to ourselves and form an association. We have a President to lead us as well”.

Kumba Jassey spells out how the association evolved. “We have our small groups but now belong to the Try Oyster Association. It is made up of many oyster clusters in the country so all our groups are part of this wider Association”.

Isatou Jarju emphasises the long way the association has come to empower them.  “Before we did not recognise the business aspect of our work. So when we worked we took the money we had and spent it. We did not save or do anything with what we got. This was a great loss and disadvantage to us. For the years I spent oyster fishing if I had known what I now know from the Try Oyster Association, I would have been successful by now and we would have been talking about something else.
Try Oyster Association will help us develop because what we envisage is being done and of good to us. We are not going back…” concludes Awa Sanyang.

Success is confirmed in the following experiences from the Coordinator Fatou Janha Mboob who stated that “now with the national recognition we have created [oysters] can now sell at a higher fee. It is still not what we want but we are now developing slowly.”

About the association she said “When we started our Association, we never thought that one day we would be recognized internationally for our work. We feel very proud of our small efforts and contributions toward the protection of the environment and towards the improvement of the livelihoods of the women of The Gambia.” This is the story of the Try Oyster Women’s Association of The Gambia.