Blog by Luke Smith, Trinidad & Tobago
Our field trip began with a visit to the old prime ministers house where we paused for a few minutes and took some photos. We then drove to the bridge close to the Nigerian boarder. Upon crossing the bridg some members of our group were warned about taking photos of the armies’ boats or as one local called it “war boats”. An army personnel got agitated with visitors using their cameras and phones, for a few seconds it was tense so we left abruptly. What a start to our field trip, this set the mood for an action filled day ahead.
We entered the village of Ideneau where we met the smoke fish common initiative group. Smoked fish isn’t something new to me as it come from the Caribbean, but I have never seen the process of production. Our bus maneuvered skilfully through the village road. It was clear that we were noticed as everyone at the roadside stopped and stared with curiosity.
For those who are unsure, simply put smoked fish is basically fish that has been cured by the process of smoking. There were several smokehouses within the village. Here we meet the village women who took us to their smokehouses where they smoked and stored the fish to support their daily livelihoods. We moved from smokehouse to smokehouse at times drawing a crowd of young children who seemed to enjoy the attention.
The highlight for me was the fact that they were well organised and had a women’s group. The women explained that they were Ghanaian immigrants in Cameroon for approximately 40 years. They receive no support from the government to access credit and rural extension services was not forth coming. Even so, it may do more harm than good if government were to help considering their illegal immigrant status. The women explained that the smoked fish was purchased regularly by costumers coming to the village. They come together and set a standard price on a given day for the fish to be sold. As explained by the women the fish is both for sale and for their own consumption. The money earned is reinvested into their venture and also used to send their children to school. The men bring in the fish whereas the women smoke them and handle all sales transaction.
Because the fish is smoked they have access to protein all year round. Fish also allows for easy packing, transporting and storage. The advantages of smoking fish are diverse: prolonging shelf life, enhancing flavour and increasing utilization. It reduces waste at times of bumper catches and permits storage for seasons where fish catch is low. We spoke to one women in particular called Mama, she explained that they learnt smoking fish from their parents and if capital was available she would expand. Mama pointed out they suffer from health complications from the smoke, particularly their skin and eyes.
Training to be a more than a Fishrman
We left the village and proceeded to a training centre that taught young men over a 2 year period to be fishermen. These young men are taught a wide range of skills from repairing nets to operating fishing boats. Our host explained that the majority of persons in the fishing industry are not local Cameroonians and Cameroon imports a large portion of fish to satisfy domestic demand. Hence, this program intents to build up capacity of the local Cameroonian fishing industry, giving the trainees pratical skills and knowledge about fishing. The program consists of 32 Cameroonian males who were selected by a criteria process. The young men are not trained as mere fishermen but taught to become master fishermen with entrepreneurial skills. These trainees would have the opportunity to received incentives on equipment upon completion of the training program.
Rural Women Farmers and Climate Change
During our visit to the fising training centre we also meet a group of rural women farmers. The women have been farming for many years and grow mainly cassava and maize. Interestingly enough they grow three harvests of maize per year. Rainfall is constant all year round and leads to good crop yields but also causes postharvest problems due to moisture build-up on harvested crop. Their current strategy is to hang the maize in their houses. Because they practise shifting cultivation they have problems with elephants trampling their crops as they are slowly encroaching on the elephant area.
We drove along the road and stopped at the roadside. We climbed an incline at first it looked like bush but the women took as to where they grew their cassava, it was noticeable that a few plants were infected by a disease. We drove some more to where the women lived, they took us through their village and then to view their pig pens. Some of the pens were practically falling apart and there was feed was wasted. We explained that the feeding method they used was not sustainable and they should create troughs to better utilise the feed.
We stopped and had lunch on some rocks along the coastline. Our trip began with a tense moment and ended with a serene view.