Liberia: Traditional Harvest Threatens Women’s Health in Small-scale Fisheries

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The Coronavirus pandemic has brought another setback to every sector of life across the world. In Liberia’s challenged health system, many women are said to be ignorant of the threat that smoke poses to their health while drying fish.

Experts say smoke creates blindness and other eye problems for people, and Gabrielyn Mombo, resident of West Point, is one of those involved with drying or smoking fish that is the major occupation of people in West Point.

“I buy at least 7to 8 cartons of fish Hiat the cost of L$6000 each, and carry it for drying. We use firewood to dry it for about 3 to 4 hours daily.”

In the midst of the outbreak of COVID-19, she has reduced the number of cartons purchase daily.

From the sale, she earns about L$400 which is equivalent to 2$US as profit on each carton, depending on the buying.

When asked whether she was aware about the health hazard post-harvest activities pose to her health; she answered, saying: “I am aware of the danger, but for now there is no option because this is my only source of income.”

The 40 year-old woman, who has over 15 years of experience in post-harvest activities, said that at age 20, her older sister (Evelyn Mombo) introduced her to the business and informed her about the side effects in doing such business.

“I am very tired of this job. With the smoke associated with this business, at my age, I can no longer see from a distance clearly, as my sister told me before,” she re-emphasized.

“I have 13 children supported by this business,” she stated. She appealed to the government and other partners to provide a modernized machine that will reduce the burden and high risk associated with this business.
However, the setback created by COVID-19 on small-scale businesswomen cannot be over-emphasized.

“Because of this virus we no longer go out to do business as usual, how will our kids survive,” Edwina Siryon asked.

As basic commodity prices are escalating day and night, it is not a surprise that the prices of fish will also rise. Miss Siryon said in her appeal to the authorities, especially the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), to prevail on importers of fish to reduce their prices.

She expressed frustration about the way things are going around the world, even in Liberia. It may be recalled that, on April 10, 2020, the government of Liberia declared a state of emergency to curtail the spread of the virus as is being done by other countries in Africa and the world at large.

Since the declaration by President George M. Weah, buying, processing, and selling have automatically reduced due to the increase in the prices of basic commodities on the local market.

Miss Siryon, who buys and processed fish for local markets from small-scale fishermen and cold storage, provides a link between the fishery and consumers.

In Liberia, about 60% of Liberians small -scale fishers are women. This means that women play a key role in the country’s economy, thereby mediating social relations and livelihood dynamics.

Fisheries are a major contributor to Liberia’s economy because they provide a relatively cheap source of animal protein for the consumption of the population.

Fish currently provides about 65% of animal protein intake and it is significantly cheaper than meat or chicken in Liberia.

Despite small scale business women’s dependence on post-harvest activities in the fishery sector and the potential importance for food security, they are proud of the contributions to the Liberian economy.

Sarah Davis is also a small scale businesswoman in New-Kru Town-Monrovia; she explained her experience to me in this report. She complained that there are numerous challenges that are associated with drying fish traditionally.
She named the lack of electricity and storage facilities that could allow her to store more fish for several days. Madam Davis who is also a victim is gradually losing her eyes sight, “I am 72 years old, I have been in this business for about 38 years now. I was able to build two houses and ensure that all of my children are educated,” she added.

Meanwhile, considering these problems that are coupled with such business, there is a need for the relevant authorities to create the necessary awareness ensuring a safe environment.

However, amid the internal and external shocks on the Liberian economy as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, NaFAA, in consultation with major fish importers in Liberia, recently reached an agreement to have a reduction of US$2 in the prices of the fish products.

The agreement follows several calls by citizens for the reduction of prices of some basic community especially fish on the local market.

The decision was part of efforts to ensure continuous food security in Liberia, especially now as residents of Liberia are grapple with the constraints of finding affordable food kinds during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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