Seynabou Diop is one of the thousands of women in Senegal who earn a small living from finding mangrove oysters.
The mangrove swamp near Joal-Fadiouth, a fishing village in southern Senegal, teems with oysters. But hunting for shellfish treasure among gnarly tree roots in brackish water is a lot of work.
Thousands of people—the vast majority of them women—make a living from oysters in Senegal, usually at a small and informal level.
But experts say the tropical West African state has huge prospects for ramping up oyster output to far greater levels. “Oyster production is falling short of its potential,” said Boubacar Banda Diop, in charge of the oyster sector at Senegal’s fisheries ministry.
According to a World Bank metric, about 40 percent of Senegal’s population of 17 million people lives below the poverty line. In a nation where fish is a traditional staple, the country also suffers from overfishing and food insecurity.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2017, farmers plucked about 15,600 tonnes of oysters from Senegal’s mangroves. They also gathered about 400 tonnes from oyster beds.
By comparison, the world’s largest oyster producer, China, harvests about 3.5 million tonnes per year, according to the French research institute Ifremer.
‘Enormous’ prospects Senegal’s government has a development plan for the oyster industry, while the FAO and the European Union are putting forward ideas for techniques and breeding programs to enhance production.
Ousmane Fall left, has started an oyster farm in the Somone lagoon in southern Senegal.
Mamadou Bakhoum, the head of an association of villages in southern Senegal, said high water salinity caused by climate change meant there were fewer oysters than before.
The Potential For Oyster Farming Is Enormous
But, he said, “if people get serious about it, the potential for developing oyster farming is enormous.”
Boubacar Banda Diop is in charge of oyster farming at the Ministry of Fisheries, and according to him, “Marketing is mainly informal, as the sector does not meet international sanitary requirements.”
So the little export that takes place is informal and limited to the sub-region, for a small quantity compared to the overall production.
Senegal’s government has a development plan for the oyster industry, while the FAO and the European Union are putting forward ideas for techniques and breeding programs to enhance production.
A small business in the Soune lagoon south of Dakar has already begun to apply some of the project’s recommendations.
“We have doubled our production capacity compared to last year, going from three to six tonnes per year,” the head of the business, Khadim Tine, told AFP. But such successes are rare—and the hurdles for those who want to make the jump from artisanal to industrial-scale farming are daunting.
Abdou Karim Sall, president of the Joal-Fadiouth Marine Protected Area, aims to help farmers cultivate oysters without spoiling the mangroves.
Joal-Fadiouth has helped several women oyster farmers to start using the technique.
Selling oysters fresh–as opposed to cooked, as is usual in Senegal–could also boost returns for farmers. Industry figures say that a dozen fresh Senegalese oysters sell for the equivalent of between seven and nine euros ($7.70–$8.20).
That’s a price that puts fresh oysters way out of reach for many in the country—wealthy tourists would be the target market for an expanded industry.
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