It is 11 o'clock and it is very hot at the fishing port of Téminétaye (Conakry). Above the oven, surrounded by fumes, Djéinab Camara is busy smoking fish to earn an income to support her family.
Ms. Camara lives in Kagbelen, a village in Dubréka, northeast of Conakry, 35 km from her workplace. The 33-year-old fish-smoking woman says: "At the moment, I smoke fish and put them in the oven for three to four days without being able to sell them. Before the arrival of the coronavirus, people used to come and order fresh or smoked fish. Some would buy to send elsewhere, others would take it for the sauce at home. But it's all stopped”. This is also due to the restrictions imposed by the authorities because of COVID-19.
She says women fish processors are going through a very difficult time. "Our customers from inland can't come anymore because traffic is blocked. Those who used to come to export don't come anymore either.”
Before COVID-19, Camara says she could sell at least 20 captains a day. "But now I can go a day selling just one for 25,000 GNF [€2.4, editor’s note]. And that doesn't even cover my daily expenses.”
To go to her place of work, she paid 12,000 GNF, or 24,000 GNF for the round trip. But today, because of the reduction in the number of passengers per taxi, transport costs have doubled, or 50,000 GNF per day as transport costs (€4.8). Djeinab explains: "But with COVID-19 and the state of health emergency decreed, I can't even sell to get this amount. So I decided, when I come on Monday to the port, I spend the night here until Saturday. Because I can no longer bear the cost of transportation and the expense".
Ms. Camara's story is similar to that of many others involved in small-scale fishing in Guinea.
On March 22, the Ugandan government announced that, in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 - 53 people were infected at that time - it would ban all public gatherings, and close livestock markets, schools and transport. The ban was to last one month, but has since been extended. Now, the sale of livestock is only allowed on livestock farms. It was the first African government to take action against the pandemic.
Since then, others have followed. On 26 March, the President of the Republic, Alpha Condé, declared a state of health emergency to slow down the spread of COVID-19, while the first case of Coronavirus was registered on 12 March 2020. Since then, the curve of the disease has not stopped growing. On 6 April, Prime Minister Kassory Fofana put in place a plan for an economic response to the COVID-19 health crisis. Since a solution had not yet been found to curb the spread of the virus, President Alpha Condé instituted a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am. Insisting on the compulsory wearing of masks by all citizens from 18 April 2020, Alpha Condé stresses: "Exits from Conakry remain subject to strict verification of the infectious status of the applicant by a test".
These two measures are not without impact on Guinean artisanal fishing activities. At the port of Bonfi, in the municipality of Matam, like that of Téminétaye (Conakry), hand washing buckets are installed at the entrance, and the wearing of protective masks is compulsory, but in practice, social distancing is not applied. Lately, these ports only open at 6 am and close at 4 pm, whereas in the past, there were activities until 10 pm and reopening at 5 am.
This new situation does not allow fishmongers to sell their seafood products. Ms. Salématou Bah has been selling fresh fish for 12 years and says she is exasperated by the changes with COVID-19. With the containment and closure of borders, schools and restaurants, the demand for seafood - fish and shellfish - has collapsed.
Ms. Bah says the number of customers has drastically reduced. Because before the pandemic, she could buy a fish at 100,000 GNF and sell it for 120,000 GNF (€9.6-11.5). But now she buys the same fish for 60,000 GNF and sells it for 45,000 or 50,000 GNF (5.8 to 4.3€). Ms. Bah says, "We sell at a loss because people almost don't come anymore. Our big customers were coming from the towns of Coyah, Forecariah, Kindia, Mamou and Kankan. Today, with the restriction of movement, no one comes anymore. Our sales have plummeted. [...] I used to pay 8,000 GNF for transport, and now for the same route, I pay 25,000 GNF [0.8 to 2.4€, ed]. I'm now wondering if I earn 50,000 profit, whether I should pay for the transport to come and sell or leave the expense at home.”
At Téminétaye landing site, Hadja Salimatou Bangoura, a fish smoker and exporter, is in the same situation. She says she sent two tons of smoked fish to America to a client. But because of COVID-19 and containment measures, the customer was unable to retrieve his order. She says, "It's very difficult for me because I put all my money into it. And now it's all locked up. [...] Otherwise, when I export, it's very convenient for me. Because I put my children in school and made my expenses through this activity".
The different cities in the interior of the country may also be short of fish because of the confinement of Conakry and the curfew. Idrissa Kallo, the secretary general of the Guinean Federation of Artisanal Fisheries (FEGUIPA), who is in charge of communication, explains that transporters of fish destined for Guinea's interior cities face enormous road hassles. According to him, police and gendarmerie forces block fishermen on the road.
Kallo explains: "And many women have lost tons of fish at the various roadblocks. That's why, at the moment, they don't have the courage to come and buy fish in Conakry to supply the different localities in the country. There is already a fish crisis in Kindia, Mamou, Labé and Nzérékoré, because their fish comes from Conakry".
If adequate measures are not taken within a short period of time, the situation is likely to get worse, as the artisanal fisherman predicts. Because, he points out, boat owners are spending a lot of money to get the pirogues out to sea [fuel is expensive, ed]. But today, they are afraid to take their boats out because of the risk of going fishing at a loss. This has a direct impact on the fishmongers, woman fish processors, young handlers and other related activities, and indirectly on the food access for the end consumer. Thousands of young people are at risk of becoming unemployed.
At the various landing stages in Bonfi, Téminétaye and Dixinn3 (Conakry), measures are taken to wash hands with soap and to wear masks. In these places, those in charge have sensitized the actors of the sector to keep a reasonable distance of one meter. Ms. Salématou Bah says: "It is true that there is mistrust between us, but it is difficult to keep this distance. But we don't greet each other anymore, and we don't kiss like we used to".
Respecting social distancing, however, remains a problem in the different fishing ports. When the pirogues arrive during the day, about ten of the women run towards the dock. Each one wants fish and they rush without thinking about the distance of one or two metres. On the other side, the owner of the boat only thinks of selling his fish without worrying about the disease. "It's hard to keep the distance. The authorities are only educating people about washing their hands and wearing masks. Because telling people to avoid getting too close or washing their hands when they have nothing to eat, they won't listen to you," says Ismaela Kéita, a fisherman in the port of Dixinn3.
Hand washing buckets are installed at the entry points of the landing sites and inside the port in several places. Washing hands is not the only thing to do. Ms. Djenab Camara would like the government to provide support to deal with the current crisis. "Otherwise, we and our children risk starving to death because of this disease. Because if we don't sell, we don't prepare food. Now we can't sell our products. What can we do? We still have to go out and try our luck".
Hadja Salimatou Bangoura points out that with the curfew, people are at home. But she can't afford to stop working. She reports: "Usually, the port here is crawling with people. But you can see that it is almost empty. We take the risk of going out, because it's our only source of food. If we don't work, we're not going to eat. We should stay at home until further notice, but we can't."
With the speed of spread of COVID-19 in Guinea, [1710 confirmed cases as of 4 May 2020, with 09 deaths, according to official Guinean figures, including three senior government officials, Mr. Sékou Kourouma, Secretary General of the government, the president of the Electoral Commission, Salif Kébé, and Commissioner Victor Traoré, a former director of Interpol in Guinea, ed] the capital Conakry is likely to be totally confined. At the moment, artisanal fishing activities are said to be "completely blocked". In this country of 12 million inhabitants, the majority of citizens only eat rice with fish sauce. Few households can afford to buy meat. "If you don't have fish, you can't eat. And there is a food crisis coming," warns Hadja Salimatou Bangoura.
To avoid a food crisis in Guinea because of COVID-19, Idrissa Kallo advises the Ministry of Fisheries to work with fisheries stakeholders to set up a committee. This committee, he says, should be able to identify the markets to supply, the appropriate refrigerated trucks, their conveyors and the days. It should also assist women who send fish inland so that they are not harassed at roadblocks as it is currently happening. The other strategy is to assign each landing to a locality. For example, saying that Témenetaye is going to supply Kindia. Bouloubinet will send fish to Mamou, Dixinn will supply Labé, and so on. He thinks, "with such a strategy, we will be able to prepare to avoid a food shortage in Guinea.“
Article was first published on www.cffacape.org