Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

Strengthening the role of fisherwomen

Rehema Bavumu and Margaret Nakato, WFF and the Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT), Uganda.

The understanding of fishing as an activity that involves men going into the lake with boats, ignores the enormous work done by women, in processing, distribution and marketing of fish. Responsibilities for provision of food to fisher households disproportionally rests on women who fend for fish for household consumption as the men are more motivated to fish for the market to service the credit for fishing supplies and income to support livelihoods. Women have to supplement food requirements with agriculture and they operate the numerous food restaurants in fisher communities to feed the mobile fishing community. While the fishermen establish homes at the landing sites, but often move from one site to another in search of more lucrative fishing grounds, women often settle on particular fish landing sites and take on all household responsibilities.

Unfortunately, challenges such as conflicts on land and water in fisher communities lead to loss of access to fishing grounds, as new landlords extend their ownership to the lake and restrict fishers to access such grounds. As a result, women lose land for processing fish, leading to post harvest losses and less fish available in the fisher communities, both for consumption and sale. Lives are directly affected as families have to separate, when men are arrested for trespassing on restricted fishing grounds and the burden of rescuing them rests on women.

Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) has subsequently engaged women in addressing land issues to ensure that they are included in local land pressure groups, to understand and become active in resisting evictions from land. Women are further supported to acquire knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods, including improved fish processing technologies, developing marketing strategies, access to credit as well as working in groups to address social cultural norms that impede women’s autonomy.

To cause and trigger change, sustain the change and transform lives, women need to be involved in development initiatives in fishing communities. Their enormous efforts must not only be recognized, but boosted as well.

Voice from the field 2

The case of El Molo

Christiana Saiti Louwa, El Molo Forum and Thibault Josse, Mafifundise, Kenia.

El Molo is a traditional fishing community living around Lake Turkana situated in Northern Kenya, near the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. For El Molo, fishing is life — it is cultural practice, spiritual well-being and the main source of sustenance. El Molo practices traditional fishing methods such as net casting, hooking, harpooning, and basket fishing. Indigenous fishing knowledge has been preserved and passed on through oral traditions and practices from generation to generation. The fishery is managed by the elders of the community, applying rotational and migratory fishing. The weather, wind, moon and the waves tell El Molo where, what, and how to catch fish.

Fisheries policies in Kenya were mainly formulated for marine fisheries without the participation and involvement of fishers, fishing communities, and their organizations, failing therefore to recognize the rights, interests, and traditional knowledge and customary fishery management. Later, inland fisheries were merely added without any substantial implication. Also when the policy was reviewed in 2016, the word “inland” was only cosmetically added throughout. The policy, for example, addresses conservation and management of breeding grounds in Lake Navisha, but the government promotes tourism and industrialization around lakes. Regular conflicts between government and fishing communites are caused by the lack of focus on small-scale fishing in the policy. This, however, is starting to change now following sustained advocacy and lobbying of small-scale fishers. El Molo fishing representatives are now using the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines (see Box 2) and the Kenyan Constitution to push for a policy that will truly recognize the traditional fishery management.

Voices from the field 3

Struggle for traditional and customary land

Herman Kumare, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), member of WFFP, Sri Lanka.

“This is the land where we lived, this is the land where we will die.” Community member from Lahugala

On July 17th, 2010, Paanama people from 5 villages in Lahugala divisional secretariat in Ampara District were forcibly evicted from their 1200 acres of coastal lands and lagoons by unidentified masked persons who were equipped with machineguns. In nearby villages, around 365 acres of land was captured by the Air Force and demarcated with an electric fence, while additional 860 acres of land from three other neighbouring villages were captured by the Navy and also enclosed by a fence.

Later, the villagers have witnessed the development of a tourist resort “Paanama Lagoon Cabana” on the land from which they were dispossessed. The tourist resort is run by the Navy who also pockets the profit. The land acquired by the Air Force was turned into the Air Force base. Also, the areas acquired by the Air Force and Navy were connected with the Lahugala National Sanctuary, which is an elephant sanctuary area as well as a forest conservation area. In addition, the Navy has restricted and even banned fishing activities during daytime and night in some areas. The forcible displacement has affected the livelihood of 350 families who depend on paddy farming, fishing and traditional agricultural practice known as Chena cultivation. The villagers lost their entire source of income and their lifeline was cut.

In order to campaign against these land grabs and to demand the fulfillment of their human rights, the Paanama people established the Organization for Protection of Paanama Paththu (OPPP), in which National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) facilitated to form the same. On February 11, 2015, the Paanama people witnessed the first ever victory of their struggle — The Cabinet issued an order to release 340 acres among the 365 acres of land taken away by the Air Force. However, the decision was not executed by the local authorities even after 13 months, thus anxiety was raised among the Paanama community who, then, decided to occupy their own land even without having legal backing. To date, 35 families have forcefully re-occupied their lands since 26th March 2016 and started cultivating the land.

By forcibly displacing the Paanama people, the Navy and Air Force have grabbed the people’s traditional and customary land on the pretext of public purposes. However, the construction of Air Force base and hotels cannot be considered as public purposes. Further, present and past actions have confirmed that the Paanama coastal land grabbing is well organized and supported by government officials, and the forceful evictions have taken place with the knowledge of the Divisional Secretary, the Police, the Special Task Force, and the Navy and Air Force. Today, the OPPP continues to fight for their lost land by launching advocacy and lobby campaigns and taking legal actions. Specific actions such as determining and firming up land ownership documents are being undertaken as well as expanding the base of supporters within Sri Lanka and internationally.