Emptying Senegal’s Seas

Fadiouth is a small village on an island made entirely of seashells, connected to the mainland town of Joal (150 kilometers south of Dakar) by a long wooden bridge. The island is home to the indigenous Seerer community, who over time has developed a food culture based on the convergence of agriculture and fishing, the land and the sea. The main producers of Sunnà millet, the Seerer make their living from agriculture and fishing in the sea and the lagoon. After washing the millet in seawater, the Fadiouth women patiently follow a long, laborious process to make salted couscous, which is only sold and eaten locally, usually fresh. The most common dish pairs the couscous with a sauce of mangrove flowers, peanuts and meat or shellfish. In 2011, the couscous became a Slow Food Presidium because it is one of the many examples that we have collected in recent years of small economies surviving in harmony with the natural resources.

Sadly, Senegal also offers many contrasting examples. Those same resources, so carefully preserved by the local communities, are subject to constant plundering, primarily by European powers. It is no secret that the fish stocks in West Africa’s seas are on the point of collapse. Local and international organizations have been making repeated denunciations in the media over the past few years. Unfortunately, they have obtained no concrete results. The European Union continues to meet its demand for fish by exploiting the Senegalese seas, with the result that in 2012 the fish market in Joal had 75% less fish than in 2002. This alarming figure is one reason why environmental organizations are saying that if current trends continue, Senegalese fish stocks will soon collapse, and in less than a decade the Senegalese could be facing an unprecedented food crisis.

The coordinator of the salted couscous Presidium, Cyprien, anxiously describes the situation that has led his community to turn to activities that supplement the increasingly scarce resources from fishing. “Years ago, the elders went fishing, and everything they caught they would share with the other families in the village. The fish usually wasn’t sold, and whoever went fishing would fish for the whole community. They went to the open sea, and when the fish reached the island, it was for everyone. Once, no fisherman would ever come back from the sea without bringing fish. It was an asset for the whole island, but things have changed, and now everyone catches fish only for their own family and there is no longer enough fish for the whole community. Sometimes they get enough for their neighbor, but there is not enough to sell.”

Kharim, a fisherman with an open smile, recounts how the situation has become more difficult over the years: “It used to be easier, you could fish less than 5 to 10 kilometers off the coast and there was lots of fish. Now there’s always less fish so we’re forced to go 30 kilometers off the coast to be able to catch something. Now there are Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian ships in our seas. Only their names are Senegalese. They’re plundering Senegalese resources, hiding behind the Senegalese.” He offers the most pessimistic prediction for the future of Senegal’s seas: According to him, they will be empty in just three or four years.

Their words help us better understand a grave threat that is jeopardizing the African people: ocean grabbing, the seizing of fish resources by foreign powers who for too long have seen Africa as an enormous banquet from which they can grab whatever they want, without a thought for the environmental consequences, let alone the social repercussions, of this criminal behavior.

Slow Food, for its part, continues to denounce the situation, to work alongside local communities, to set up projects that can offer hope and to support the political commitment of people like Haïdar El Ali, the environment minister, who is working to try to reverse the path of a government that has been selling off its resources for too long. “Here it is possible,” he says. “You can turn a negative into a positive. This is the message, this is the opportunity.”

If you would like donate to the Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous Presidium, visit old.slowfood.com/donate

Photo: © Paola Viesi

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