From time immemorial fishermen and women in Liberia have been forced to suffer a major disadvantage in the handling of one of the most perishable commodities, fish.
They have risked their lives in the waters, most especially the often rough Atlantic Ocean, looking for fish; and when they are able to bring their catches to shore on the beaches of Liberia’s 350-mile coastline, they are able to sell some of the fish. The rest, for which they often find no buyers, they have to smoke or dry on the beaches or in town. In the process, they lose a lot, some from falling to the ground to be eaten by dogs and other animals; and others so badly charred, and impossible to sell.
The wood the fishermen and women use to conserve their unsold fish is not ordinary wood, but a special kind of red wood, which expensive because it is not readily found.
Today, at long last, there is hope—a lot of it. The West Africa Fisheries Project (WARFP), with financial assistance from the World Bank, is engaged in building landing facilities throughout West Africa that have dramatically eased the plight of our fishermen and women.
The first place Liberians saw such a facility was in The Gambia, where many of them settled during the war. There WARFP built several landing facilities along the country’s many beaches. But it was not just landing facilities, which made it easy the fishermen and women to land their boats and canoes smoothly. Far more than these, the WARFP built a multipurpose building to provide for a cold storage to preserve the fish, repair of canoes and nets and training in marketing, preservation and other business strategies.
These provide serious empowerment to the fishermen and women to better manage their business, thereby making more profit. The cold storage enables them to better handle their unsold fish, which can be kept in storage for as long as a year. So the fishermen and women are not forced to resort to drying their fish.
The building provides a clean and comfortable space for selling the fish immediately after the boats or canoes dock.
One such facility is now under construction in Liberia, our first. Last month, government, WARFP and World Bank officials found their way to Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, for the groundbreaking of this facility, estimated to cost US$1.7 million. Most people who attended the ceremony were surprised that Liberia’s Agriculture Minister, Madam Florence Chenoweth, did not attend the ceremony, even though it took place in their own town, Robertsport. She instead sent her Deputy for Technical Services, Sizi Subah.
The project is expected to complete within a year.
Other such facilities for Liberia are in the pipeline. The next to be built is scheduled for Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, and should have been started by now. But the problem has been finding the land on which to build it. The first plot that was found was legally contested by a prominent Grand Bassa family, which said the land was theirs and they not permit such a project to come there. Both the people and the government were very disappointed. Now, the fishermen and women in Grand Bassa are appealing to the government to find another piece of land on which to build the fish landing facility. Our Fisheries Correspondent Edwin Fayia, who visited Buchanan last week observed a sense of desperation on the faces of the fishermen and women. It was through him that they channeled their SOS call to government to do something as soon as possible to facilitate the construction of this much needed landing facility.
We pray that the President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, will put pressure on the relevant GOL officials to find the land for this project, money for which is immediately available. And who are these officials? The City Mayor of Buchanan, the Superintendent of Grand Bassa, the Ministers of Agriculture and Lands and Mines and the Chairman of the Land Commission.
But the government official who holds the key to it all is Agriculture Minister Chenoweth because the project is in her sector. We hope that she will do soonest what she has to do to relieve our fishermen and women of the plight that has plagued them for more than a century.