Empowerment of women through RFLP in Sri Lanka distinctive
By Harsha Udayakantha Peiris
Several selected fisherwomen in Negombo were recently assisted by the Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme (RFLP) in Sri Lanka with equipment worth of Rs. 0.3 million.
RFLP is a Spanish-funded project executed by Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and is implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development. The function to distribute the equipment for the fisher women was held on 12 July 2012 at Wellavidiya Kudapaduwa Ekabaddha Fisheries Society in Negombo and with the objective of producing quality and value-added dried fish that would boost their current income.
Beneficiaries included 40 fisherwomen from Negombo region alone. RFLP had earlier provided them with practical and theoretical training on producing qualitative dried fish. It is expected that the equipment they received at the function would help them to put their knowledge into practice.
The equipment handed over includes vacuum pack machines, polythene sealers, balances, various types of plastic wear, and other tools such as knives, cutting boards, aprons, caps, and gloves, which are required for the process.
The value added dried fish programme was initiated with the objective of assisting selected women’s groups in Negombo and Puttalam fisheries districts to increase their income through enhancing their dried fish production by improving its quality and by linking them to existing market chains. A total of 120 beneficiaries engage benefits from the initiative, including beneficiaries from Kalpitiya Islands where receipt of external assistance is minimal due to its isolated locality.
Dr. Champa Amarasiri welcoming the participants at the event stated that the assistance extended to fisherwomen would enhance their capacity and knowledge in producing qualitative dried fish. “This will not only improve the income the community receives, but also will provide a better choice for dried fish consumers. We also expect to mobilise the participants to engage and work not only as producers of dried fish but also as entrepreneurs,” she said.
The programme is primarily initiated as a response to the adverse situation prevailing in the regions where dried fish is produced using sea water and non-purified salt, under poor hygienic conditions. Consequently, shelf life of fish dried in the manner is short in duration due to microbial infections. In addition, the poor storing and transport practices also add to defects of the final product. Whilst enhancing the livelihoods of fisher women, the project will also contribute to supply qualitative products to the market.
Don Griffiths, the Chief Guest at the event, addressing the audience said that he had visited several other countries that RFLP worked in where men became the prime beneficiaries in most occasions.
“I am glad to see many women benefiting from RFLP assistance in Sri Lanka. I hope this assistance will help the participants to increase income in future. The production will contribute to increase the current low fish consumption in the country as now the participants have received required facilities such as vacuum pack machines which allow them to store fish and at the same time fish can be sold during off seasons at higher prices,” he added.
He also pointed out that the booming industry of tourism in the country would make a better potential market to which the fisher community could cater its products.
Assistant Director of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development (DFARD) – Negombo office Ranjith Bandara emphasising on the importance of building up a good reputation in the industry said that Kalpitiya Dried Fish had been a recognised brand name for better dried fish in the country over the years and people tended to buy it because dried fish from the Kalpitiya area is generally considered ‘good’. “Now it is time to build our own reputation as a region where a lot of dried fish is produced,” he added.
In an exclusive e-interview on the success of RFLP in Sri Lanka, Information Officer of the Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme in Bangkok, Thailand, Steve Needham stated that a distinctive feature of RFLP activities in Sri Lanka with regard to the empowerment of women was the considerable involvement of young women in the vocational training courses being supported.
He stated that the fisheries societies had proposed the courses and helped encourage participants – almost all of whom are women. “It is clear that the men are far less interested in seeking alternative livelihoods away from fishing yet they are apparently very supportive of their female family members finding alternative income opportunities,” he said.
“RFLP works to reduce the vulnerability of fishers and their families in six countries in South and Southeast Asia that include Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Viet Nam and Timor-Leste. In all of the countries where we work, it is clear that women play an extremely important, yet often invisible, role. Fishing is usually seen as a man’s business, as they are the ones who go out to sea; yet women also carry out a huge range of tasks from helping bring in the catch, fixing nets, cleaning the catch, drying or processing the catch and then selling it. Women are also often the ones who manage the family finances, while carrying out all the child care and other domestic tasks. In all six RFLP countries, we are working to ensure that both women and men benefit from programme activities. Special efforts are also being devoted to the involvement of women in decision-making processes within the sector. We have had marked success in this effort, and for example, over the first six months of 2012, we held 228 different training and capacity building events across the six countries. Of the 9,439 participants 48% were women,” Needham said.
In reply to the inquiries made on the continuity of UN’s monitoring process of the RFLP once the funding period is over, Needham said that the sustainability of activities was of high importance.
“A key objective of RFLP is to boost the capacity of both Government staff and communities. By focusing on these types of activities such as considerable training and capacity development that have taken place for micro-finance groups in Sri Lanka rather than focusing on developing infrastructure, etc., sustainability is more likely. As in all countries, RFLP is basically ‘owned’ by its Government counterpart and in Sri Lanka it is the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The Government counterpart seeks to work closely within its mechanisms. Part of our strategy is to develop pilot groups and for example, in Sri Lanka, now we have a group producing better and qualitative dried fish, or producer groups of products such as handicrafts.
“The development and progress of these groups, along with lessons learned along the way can then be used by the Government counterpart or indeed other organisations to ensure both the continuation of activities and to replicate the process long after RFLP has closed. RFLP can therefore be seen as a longer process. The first four years from 2009 to 2013 are implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and funded by Spain, while after that, the process will be continued by local counterparts. Certainly, during the final year of the programme, we will very much focus on our ‘exit strategy’ that will see the handover to the Government, fisher organisations and communities.”
RFLP has also funded several intra-regional activities which are mainly aimed at higher Government policy level staff or instances where there has been a specific need for participants from one country to see activities in another country. At an instance, RFLP supported the attendance of a total of nine senior Government staff and Ministers from five RFLP countries, namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam at the ASEAN Ministerial Aquaculture for Food Security, Nutrition and Economic Development workshop in Colombo in July 2011. On a smaller scale the programme has also supported visits, such as a group from Viet Nam travelling to Indonesia, as they were specifically interested in seeing an auction system in action which they also wished to establish.
RFLP activities cover five broad areas such as co-management of resources between communities and governments, safety at sea, improving post harvest activities, strengthening and diversifying livelihoods and enhancing access to micro-finance services.
“The situation in each country is very different. For example, in Sri Lanka, there has been a very good progress in creating better access to microfinance where we have helped establish the Fish Finance Network, which brings together over 30 fisheries societies and marks the first time that such an organisation has been formed for fishing communities. We also pioneered the launch of micro-insurance for fishers, again a first in Sri Lanka. In other countries, progress may have been different in other areas. In addition, often activities in different countries may be starting from very different levels. For example, co-management of resources in the Philippines is already quite well developed while in other countries it is relatively a new concept,” Needham said.
Although RFLP is a regional programme, there exists no racial consideration between countries and comparing progress between countries is also not considered.
Pix courtesy FAO