The over-exploitation of Nigeria’s rivers and oceans through illegal and unregulated fishing has necessitated alternative ways to safeguard this country’s resources, while ensuring food security and sustainable food resources.
According to Veronica Omenwa, an Alumna of the Ocean Governance and Sustainable Fisheries Short Course at the Australian National University in 2016, the present economic reality in Nigeria, coupled with environmental degradation and the urban sprawl that is associated with oil exploration and exploitation, has caused a sharp decline in the amount of farmland, forests and rivers available for traditional indigenous occupation. Women in the Niger Delta’s mangrove forests depend on fishing and gathering seafood through community-based approaches for their livelihoods.
These mangroves and other freshwater swamp systems in Nigeria are severely affected by environmental degradation, and as a result, these women are losing their source of income. Veronica, a Senior Research Officer in the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, is involved in a project relating to the economic viability of fishery activities compared to alternate sources of income for women in Ikwerre in Nigeria’s Rivers State in the Niger Delta.
“I aim to address some of these issues by training women through the use of existing knowledge and expertise on aquaculture, expanding aquaculture training through the use of existing well-equipped aquaculture facilities, launching a campaign to promote government policy on aquaculture, and leveraging and raising government funding to women farmers,” she says.
The project was part of her mandate at the Institute, but was not funded by the Institute. However, she was permitted to use the Institute’s resources. She helped women run programmes to clean up their environments so as to enhance their aquaculture practices, and increase the willingness of women farmers to diversify into aquaculture by establishing communities of practice.
“My project targets women farmers in order to support their fishing activities by monitoring and offering relevant information and guidance. The project also targets women who are willing to improve their livelihoods by gaining technical and entrepreneurial skills in order to make decisions about issues that concern them,” she says. This was a new initiative, but it ended due to a lack of funding.
Veronica confirms that the leadership and communication skills she acquired, as well as a greater understanding of strategic planning and project management, have greatly enhanced her work and productivity. She is now sharing these skills with the women she is training to improve their livelihoods. She also learned that networking is a very powerful tool that can be used to gain information and remain on top of one’s work. She consulted with two of her fellow Australia Awards Alumni, including Dr Geoffrey Nwabueze of the National Institute for Freshwater Fisheries Research (NIFFR) in Nigeria, and their valuable contributions contributed to the success of the project.
“The Nigerian government places a high value on food security and sustainability, as well as gender equality,” she says. Fisheries is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and a large number of women involved in this industry makes it an important sector. “The government encourages all forms of farming, and aquaculture will lead to economic growth, while meeting the demands and expectations of consumers.
This will bring about a stable and transparent market and, in the long run, the sustainable development of fish supply chains in Nigeria.” While 150 women were targeted in the first phase of this project, she was only able to train 23 women due to a number of challenges experienced. These include a lack of funding for the practical sessions, as well as the fact that some women could not come to the training due to scheduling conflicts.
The recession in Nigeria also made the women reluctant to attend the training without incentives at its conclusion. Of the women who completed the training successfully, 15 have their own fish farms. Veronica has followed up with ten of the participants, based on their potential for success, and some achievements have been recorded.
Although the training the women received has increased their income and raised their self-esteem, some are hampered by a lack of capital to start their own fish farms.