fish meal processing plants threaten food security in gambia

Posted by fierce at 2020-03-09


Louise Hunt

Overfishing and environmental pollution caused by fish meal factories have a negative impact on Gambia's tourism industry, so despite more jobs, local people are increasingly resistant to these foreign factories.

The establishment of three fish meal processing plants has led to the disintegration of the originally peaceful communities along the southwest coast of Gambia.

At first, many locals thought that the new industry could bring much-needed jobs, and the old people in the village welcomed the factory's commitment to invest in building roads and markets. But slowly, the untreated sewage from these factories has raised concerns among local environmental groups. A number of young people demonstrated and clashed with factory supporters, leading to the arrest of several protesters.

In July 2018, Suleyman Boyan and four young people participated in a protest against the golden lead fish meal factory in gongjul and were arrested without charge. "Because I was involved in the operation, my family has abandoned me," he said. My mother doesn't talk to me as often as she used to because she thinks I don't listen to her. "

Fish meal processing plants raise local fish prices

Groups of local women stood on the shore with plastic basins, waiting for the fishing boats to come ashore and wash their catch. But asan ndong, the fisherman standing by, said: "now sometimes we can't catch any fish in a week. "

However, the beach of gunjur village, where ndong is located, is often full of rotten fish: the fishermen fish without restraint, thinking that they can all sell to the fish powder factory, but they often catch too much, which exceeds the processing capacity of the processing factory, so they can only dump it. The beach is full of rotten dead fish washed ashore by the waves.

Ndong and some other locals increasingly feel that these new fish meal processing plants are the main cause of their declining catch. In September 2016, golden lead became the first factory in gunjur. Later, two Chinese owned fish meal factories settled in saniyan village and kalton village. Both fishing villages are located on the 30 km long coastline of the southwest coast of Gambia.

Traditional artisanal fishermen like ndong have found themselves unable to compete with mechanized trawlers on the one hand. On the other hand, the factory also used cash to buy some fishermen to give priority to the supply of fish meal processing plants. Traditional artisanal fishermen are not their rivals. Most of these trawlers and pre paid vessels come from neighbouring Senegal and Guinea Bissau. They target sardine and small sardines and other small pelagic fish, which are also the traditional main fish in Gambia's rich biodiversity waters.

"A local fishing boat can catch 100 baskets of fish a day, and a trawler can catch up to 1000 baskets," ndong said. "If this unsustainable fishing method continues, our fish resources will definitely run out. "

Gambia is the smallest country in Africa, surrounded by Senegal, and the Gambia River with the same name flows slowly around the border. With the rapid development of fish meal and fish oil (fmfo) industry on the northwest coast of Africa, Gambia has also become a global hub of the industry. Gambia's fish oil and fish meal products are mainly exported to China, which has the largest share in the booming aquaculture market. In addition, fish oil and fish meal can also be used as animal feed.

Recently, two independent surveys conducted by two international non-governmental organizations, the international green peace organization and the market development foundation, warned that the scale of fish meal and oil production in Gambia is unsustainable, and if not contained, it is likely to threaten the country's food security.

Greenpeace (Africa) released a report entitled "a waste of fish" in June this year, which examined the fish meal processing industry in Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. In recent years, 50 fish meal processing plants have been set up in the above countries. It is estimated that 4 to 5 kilograms of fresh fish will be consumed for each kilogram of fish meal produced.

The report stressed the recommendations of the FAO and called for the reduction of the catch intensity of the fish and sardine in the sub region as soon as possible, because this is very important for the food security and livelihood of the countries mentioned above, especially in Senegal and Gambia. "

Dr. Ibrahima Cisse, senior marine activities manager of Greenpeace (Africa), said that despite the small scale of Gambia's fish meal industry, "the situation here is more serious. For Gambians, even a single fish meal processing plant is a big problem. In Senegal, there are more trade activities. "

"Our food security is under serious threat," said Ahmed ManJiang, a gonjul environmentalist. Most Gambians live on less than $2 a day, and locals are facing direct competition from fish meal processing plants. "

"A very unsustainable industry"

Over the past two years, in communities affected by the processing of fish meal and oil, local environmental protection and fishermen's groups have been pressuring the government to close processing plants. But for now, their efforts are bound to fail.

In September, James Gomez, Minister of Fisheries of Gambia, reiterated the support of the government for fish meal production in the national assembly, saying that it would not immediately consider shutting down these factories. He repeatedly stressed that the reason why he insisted on the above position was that the annual survey data of small and medium-sized fishery resources such as the Gambia and the sardine, showed that "the maximum amount of water in the waters of the sea can be up to 5. Raw material supply of fish meal processing plant.

This is the opposite of the proposal of the food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). A senior U.N. fisheries official, who asked not to be named, also disputed Gomez's claim, saying that "no scientific fisheries research has been conducted in the Gambia region at present" according to the market development foundation.

Fisheries Associations have also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of information. "We have been calling on the government to obtain data on the production of fish meal processing plants," said doda Senne, a marine biologist and head of the Gambia Association for the development of artisanal fisheries. But no one has been able to provide that data. The government let these factories do what they want. "

In May 2019, by visiting some environmentalists and local people and analyzing the official data, the market development foundation gave us some understanding of the obscure Gambian fish meal and oil supply chain.

"What we've seen so far shows that it's a very unsustainable industry," said Natasha Hurley, campaign manager at the market development foundation. According to the statistics, we are shocked to find that the annual production of golden lead alone consumes 40% of Gambia's annual fishing catch, and it is only one of the three fish meal processing plants. "

The survey also found that although these fish meal processing plants have been operating in Gambia for several years, neither the FAO nor the Gambia government has a record of the production or export of Gambian fish meal and fish oil.

The market development foundation predicts a surge in global demand for farmed fish feed in the coming decades. As the world's largest producer of aquatic feed, China is also related to the production of fish meal in Gambia.

"A lot of Gambian fish meal and oil products are ultimately sold to China, but not necessarily exported directly," Mr Hurley said. "

"We found that the Gambian authorities were not actually aware of what happened," added Hurley. All the information they know comes from the factory report. "

Failure to meet employment commitments

During his tenure, yehya jammer, the former president of Gambia, firmly controlled all industries in his own hands to meet his own interests. In January 2017, he was exiled in Equatorial Guinea after 22 years of dictatorship. Gambia has entered the era of democracy. Adama Barro, the current president, resolutely adopted a more relaxed management mode to encourage foreign investment.

During Jame's reign, corruption prevailed, and the Gambia's National Treasury was nearly in deficit. Most parts of the Gambia needed reform. As soon as the barrow government came to power, it immediately resumed diplomatic relations with China. One belt, one road to promote infrastructure construction and promote economic and trade exchanges, has been signed with China in Gambia. The agreement with China plans to provide $33 million in development assistance to Gambia, including investment in fisheries and agricultural development, as well as an additional $4 million in military funds. According to the report of the market development foundation, China also exempted the Gambia from US $14 million of treasury bonds in 2017.

Ma Jianchun, China's ambassador to Gambia, said before that China hopes to increase investment in the fishery sector. The Chinese government says such development will help boost Gambia's economic development and increase employment.

Chinese investors own all or part of the three fish meal processing plants (Golden lead, jxyg and Nessim).

According to an anonymous source from the Gambia investment and Export Promotion Agency (giepa), all kinds of international investors, including fish meal processing plants, usually get tax incentives as long as they can create jobs.

But these factories have failed to live up to expectations: they employ very few local people directly, and there are some low skilled jobs, such as security or temporary workers.

When golden lead, the largest of the three fish meal factories, came to gongjul in 2015, he promised to build a new fish market and lay a road connecting fishing villages and major towns. "They also promised to hire more than 600 young people," said Ahmed ManJiang. At present, they have hired 60 locals, and other commitments have not been fulfilled. "

Impact on Tourism

The production of fish meal and fish oil not only does not bring the expected social benefits, but also seriously affects the local just started eco-tourism industry. Homeowners complain that the side effects of fish meal and oil production are so great that tourists who come to experience the beautiful beaches and mangroves are scared away.

Rainbow house is next to Nessim fish meal processing plant. Owner Lamine Jolla said: "soon no one will come to saniyan beach for a tour. The beach is full of dead fish. The smell is so bad that tourists can't go to the beach to rest or go swimming. "

Tourism contributes 20% of Gambia's GDP and is one of the most employed industries in the country. In recent years, there have been about 15 eco hotels, which provide a basic living guarantee for local people. This is very important when the youth unemployment rate is as high as 40%.

Lamine Kamala, manager of Stella's adventure home in Carlton village, said he had to lay off workers because jxyg plants often stink during processing. "Tourists can't sleep in their rooms now," he said. Before the factory was built, I hired 14 young people. Now the guests are not coming. I can only let them go home. "

Both the Nessim plant in saniyan and the golden lead plant in gongjul were found to have violated wastewater management regulations by dumping untreated waste into the sea. For example, the freshwater lagoon in the bolonfenie wildlife reserve near the golden lead often turns shocking blood red.

In May 2017, environmental protection organizations first discovered a pipeline to discharge pollutants into the lagoon. Biochemist Ahmed ManJiang explains that the red color of the water surface is caused by the proliferation of algae caused by phosphate. Ahmed works in Saudi Arabia, but regularly returns to his hometown of gunjur. Environmental protection organizations led the independent detection of lagoon water samples. The results showed that there were a lot of carcinogenic arsenate in the water. They believe the pollution has killed fish and oysters in rivers and mangrove swamps. And locals also report rashes after bathing in the lake.

The National Environment Agency of Gambia (NEA) revoked the license of golden lead and filed an environmental damage lawsuit with the enterprise owner in June 2017. But after paying $25000 in out of court settlement, golden lead quickly resumed operations.

In the past few months, new sewage pipes have been found in the waters near gunjur. Dead fish have been washed ashore and the lagoon has turned red again, environmentalists say.

More and more resistance from top to bottom

Since 2017, environmentalists have held many protests on pollution. They even met resistance from within their own communities, some of whom were arrested.

These factories donate directly to the local community through the village's elderly and Development Committee, and also distribute gifts such as rice and cooking oil during the festival. As a result, community leaders and elders tend to support the factory, but opponents are skeptical of these good deeds.

"When it comes to Eid al AdhA (Islamic Festival), the factory will give money to the elders of the village," said Ramin Jesse, an environmentalist who came to zigongjul. We are trying to make the elderly understand that the money is actually to keep them silent. We must not only resist the unfair treatment of enterprises, but also reconcile the contradictions within the community. "

Cisse of Greenpeace agrees, "the community has split. Fishmeal factories have their own strategies to keep local residents quiet. The situation is complex. There are already people who are threatened or even unwilling to talk about it. The factory also has its own supporters. They have a network, but outsiders can't see it. "

Nowadays, more and more people feel the negative impact of the fish meal industry. Some people think it's a good opportunity to put pressure on the government.

Jesse added: "we are fighting for everyone. We want the whole community to have the same voice, which makes what we do more important. At that time, we will ask the government again. "

Greenpeace (Africa) supports their actions. "Right now, we are meeting with the community to help them organize and face these problems," Cisse said. We hope that all of you will come together to work out a plan of action to put pressure on members of Congress and ministers. "

Mustafa Manni provides additional reporting support for this article.