Liberian fishermen, mainly artisanal fishers, can now experience increased incomes from their fishing businesses as the result of the use of outboard motorized engines donated by the government and people of Japan.
The government of Liberia launched the outboard motorized engines over the weekend at a ceremony held in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, attended by President George M. Weah and other top government officials, international partners, private sector members, and fishermen from the nine coastal counties of Liberia.
It can be recalled that in 2019, a Liberian delegation headed by President Weah visited Japan and negotiated among other things assistance for the overall development of the Liberian fisheries sector. The Japanese government agreed to assist the country's fisheries sector with 520 outboard motorized engines.
The free outboard engines distribution affects paddle canoe fishermen established into fisheries cooperatives by the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) in collaboration with Cooperative Development Agency, (CDA).
The Fisheries Cooperatives comprise fishermen, canoe owners, fish processors, fish sellers, safeguards and other fishing community residents/dwellers are drawn from the nine coastal counties in Liberia, where fishing activities are on the increase.
Speaking during the distribution exercise of the first batch of engines, President Weah stated that the initiative is meant to improve the fisheries sector in line with the country’s development agenda.
“This endeavor is the result of my visit to Japan, where I sought assistance in August 2019. I would like to thank the government of Japan, on behalf of my government as this assistance is a direct support of our national development plan; the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. Today, I am delighted to witness this occasion and present the engines to the fishermen,” he explained.
President Weah said because he had learnt that Liberian fishermen could not compete with other fishermen, he was moved to negotiate with Japan for the upgrading of fishermen activities to improve their lives.
“Fishermen once told me that if they were provided with outboard machines, they would move faster to improve their catch with more safety and less physical efforts,” he informed his audience.
“They also told me that this will make them more profitable, thereby improving their standard of living. I assure you that the government was aware of their plight and have already taken steps to address the situation,” he added.
President Weah who described himself as a ‘Talk and Do leader’ said that he remains committed to improving the lives of his citizens. He used the occasion to thank the management of NaFAA for their leadership roles and called on them to ensure that systems are put into place to strictly monitor the use of the machines for the improvement of the fisheries sector.
Presenting an overview of the project, Mrs. Emma M. Glassco, Director General of (NaFAA), said the intervention is intended to take the paddle canoes fishermen from “Paddle to Engine”.
“This will provide hope and empower Liberian local fishermen thus putting them in a position to compete with their foreign counterparts,” she said. “In keeping with the overall goal of this initiative, which is meant to boost fish production, increase local fishers’ daily earnings and supply the dietary protein needs of the Liberian population through the transitioning process of Paddle to Canoe initiative, this distribution shall also improve livelihood in fishing communities.”
At the same time, Madam Glassco disclosed that the Cooperatives are a harmonized framework comprising all actors in the sector, including fishermen, canoe owners, fish processors, fish sellers, safeguards and other fishing communities and residents.
The Liberian fisheries expert stated that the concept of giving the outboard machines to fisheries cooperatives, instead of individual fisher folks, will ensure accountability and effective monitoring to measure the impact of this initiative over time, and to identify other areas of arising needs.
She also indicated that, at the national level, the initiative of transitioning 600 paddle canoes to motorized canoes will go a long way in narrowing Liberia’s import-export fish deficit gap of 33,000 metric tons per annum, while increasing Liberians net per capita fish consumption which currently stands at 9.49kg, compared to the global per capita fish consumption of 23.5kg.
Moreover, Madam Glassco explained how the current challenges are being encountered in the Liberian Fisheries Sector.
“It’s been a long and challenging journey, especially addressing the plight of the masses of the fisheries workforce which constitute the vast majority of Liberia’s population, given that Liberia is endowed with water bodies of which fishing is a customary practice and traditional cultural norm of the society.”
She recalled that, as the result of the President’s engagement with the Japanese government for assistance, she was involved at the regional fisheries ministerial meeting organized by ATLAFCO (Africa Ministerial Committee on Fisheries Boarding the Atlantic Ocean) in Abidjan, where discussions were held with counterparts on gains and lessons learnt within the sector.
“I noticed that most of these countries within the sub region had attracted bilateral support from Japan. As such, I used that same opportunity to request a meeting with the JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency) representative in Abidjan, where they have their regional office, to explore how our fisheries sector can attract the same support,” Madam Glassco stated.
She mentioned that the Liberian fisheries delegation was extended an invitation to attend the Sustainable Use Meeting in Japan 2018, where she had the opportunity to meet the Japanese Authorities responsible for fisheries and its related matters so as to attract their support through the strong cooperation of the Foreign Minister of Liberia.
According to her, Liberia acceded to certain international conventions/protocol which were some of their benchmarks to become eligible for such grants to the fisheries sector after which the country submitted its proposal through the local base JICA office in Liberia for onward submission to the government of Japan.
The Liberian Fisheries Boss said: “Our project proposal was well received and approved and they were in two folds; the construction of a landing and storage site in Buchannan and the outboard motor engines. Both projects are valued at US$7.6 million.”
She used the occasion to thank President Weah for ensuring that such an initiative from paddle to machines became a reality, especially according to her the President being the first Liberian leader to focus more attention on the fisheries sector, particularly artisanal fisheries.
The Liberian fisheries boss also expressed thanks to the managing director of National Port Authority, Mr. Bill Twehway, for his support in allotting five acres for the port land in Buchannan for the construction of a landing and storage fish facility, which she explained was a criterion for approval for assistance by the government of Japan.