World Bank’s US$1.7 Million Fish Landing Cluster in Robertsport does all but serve the artisanal fishing community it was built for.
In 2017, the World Bank with much fanfare dedicated the Fish Landing Cluster in Robertsport City, Grand Cape Mount County. The facility, built through the West African Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP), was meant to tackle fish post-harvest losses within the fishery communities in Grand Cape Mount County.
But three years later, the US$1.7 million facility, which boasts a landing site, an ice plant, cold store rooms, drier room, and a fish market center, appears to be missing the target impact.
Inadequate processing space and inconsistent operations of cold storing components leave residents figuring out other coping mechanisms. During weekdays, residents in the coastal city are seen processing fish in different sizes of makeshift structures that they themselves built, instead of smoke drying in a cluster built with operational components that include a landing site for canoes, an ice plant, cold store rooms, drier room, and a fish market.
Sonnie Torkpa, who sells fish wholesale, fears failing to meet market demand if she dries trying to use the Robertsport Fish Landing Cluster due to its infectiveness and high cost.
“I am sending fish to Monrovia three times every week. Here, at my house, I have many ovens to dry the fish in time so that I can meet the market schedule. At the facility, there are not many ovens to dry fish there, and I do not have the time to wait,” Torkpa says.
Torkpa’s fear, which is shared by many fishmongers, comes due to inconsistent operations of the facility, market schedule, and the cost of drying fish at the facility.
For Elena Sheriff, a mother of two children, processing fish in the back of her yard allows her to dry the fish to her preference without any charge. Elena further adds that when she smoke-dries her fish at home, she also has the chance to perform other home duties.
“You can dry fish at World Bank (Robertsport Fish Landing Cluster), but that comes with a huge cost attached. I don’t have that extra money to pay,” she added. “Another reason why I chose to dry fish at my house is that I have time to do other homework like cooking or washing clothes. But at the World Bank, you will have no chance to do any other thing. You will come home to other tasks after spending the entire day or night drying fish. It is really tiring.”
Despite the disturbing news about the facility, Charles Sampson, Chairman of the Co-Management Association, a community arm that is co-managing the facility, defended its operation and disclosed that the facility is serving its intended purpose.
However, not for local fishmongers but for “fishmongers who travel to Robertsport to buy fish,” according to Sampson.
“We have ovens that cannot take all those fish that these fishermen captured from the sea. The drying section is only meant for travelers who have had challenges in drying their fish. These people do not have dryers here and the facility is the only place for them,” he says.
But Sampson’s accusation is a far cry from the explanations of the then WB Country Manager to Liberia, Larisa Leschenko, who said the project will result in coastal fishing communities seeing much-increased fish resources.
“The World Bank, in support of the WARFP, provided the needed funding to develop the infrastructure at Robertsport to assist increase value-added fish product with the view of improving the fish value chain and trade,” Ms. Leschenko said during the project dedication in 2017.
The Robertsport Fish Landing Cluster, which started in March 2014, was built with the aim of improving the socio-economic conditions of artisanal fishermen and women in that part of the country, since fishmongers were experiencing high post-harvest losses along the fish value chain, thus making fish less available to the consuming public and loss of revenue for the communities.
But three years later, the value addition Leschenko spoke off seems to be far from reality as Grand Cape Mount County fishmongers still experience pre-facility losses due to self-drying. Even though the US1.7 million dollars facility comprises of various components, the oven is the most active component. Therefore, fishmongers have to travel to the Kru Town Community to a private processing factory to store their fish for the market day even if they used the facility.
This, Sampson attributes to equipment that the facility lacks.
“One of the major components to have is the blaster machine. It freezes the fish very fast, [within] 30 minutes. And it is what the customers want,” says Brown, the CMA Chairman.
Similarly, in 2018, fishmongers in the King Gray Fishery Community in Paynesville, Montserrado County, expressed frustration about the FAO’s US$2 million project that was completed in 2012.
The Food Security through Commercialization of Agriculture Project (2008-2012), built four post-harvest fishery technology platforms in Grand Kru and Montserrado Counties, two of Liberia’s nine coastal counties. Despite the presence of the post-harvest facility in their midst, fishing folks of the King Gray Community are still struggling to preserve and cold store their excess catch.