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Project objectives

Mangroves within the Sherbro River Esturary in southern Sierra Leone remain in remarkably good condition with good stands of all four main species and like all mangroves they act as nursery for many species of finfish and shellfish. The Sherbro River Estuary mangroves have been given general protection under the “Marine Protected Area” by a Gazetted Cabinet Conclusion (CSF/394/CP (2012)19).

Enforcement of these regulations relies almost entirely on “local management committees” (LMCs), the success of which relies in large part on there being alternative livelihoods available to those prevented from harvesting aquatic resources in strictly protected areas.

With few livelihood alternatives many of the poorest women in the MPA rely entirely on seasonal harvesting and sale of smoked mangrove oysters to supplement income from equally seasonal male fishing. It is a hard and dangerous life, injuries such as infected cuts from roots and shells are common.

As population pressure increases so does pressure on the environment and whilst oyster stocks appear relatively resilient, mangrove trees are damaged by the harvesting and use as fuelwood for processing and habitat for other species is disturbed. Most of the commercial fish species in Sierra Leone depend on the mangroves as spawning and nursery area.

We aim to support the work of the Marine Protected Area by providing alternative livelihoods based on extensive culture and value-added marketing of native mangrove oysters. http://www.darwininitiative.org.uk/project/21013/

Project contribution to wider objectives

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

    Project objectives are also highly consistent with national CBD objectives underpinning establishment of the Sherbro MPA. No contact has been made with the local CBD focal point as yet; this is being prioritised by local PI Dr. Sankoh and will be an agenda item on future joint missions. The project aims and progress to date and summarised above are consistent with the 3 main Conventions on Biological Diversity goals as follows:

    • Conservation of biological diversity: In the short to medium term and under prevailing environmental, market and artisanal gathering practices; oyster populations appear relatively resilient to over-exploitation. The project will focus greater attention on the negative impacts of gathering and processing practices on the health of mangrove assemblages which underpins wider ecosystem health.
    • Sustainable use of its components: The economic rationale for investment in aquaculture appears questionable under prevailing resource conditions (further assessment is underway). The proposed shift of emphasis toward post-harvest supply chain interventions especially value-added product options, will also be designed to limit extraction pressure and secondary impacts on mangroves.
    • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources: exploratory analysis has identified the most resource-poor dependents on the oyster fishery in remoter satellite communities lacking land-connections to Bonthe. These same reasons and their greater population transience make such communities a challenging intervention target. Risks of centralising post-harvest options (in Bonthe for example) are well recognised and attempts will be made to mitigate them learning from other local development projects. Nevertheless poverty levels are universally high and interventions may be merited even if the poorest of the poor are difficult to reach. Any interventions must still consider food-security implications for these most vulnerable and a ‘do-no harm’ ethos has also been described above. 
  • Gender Equality

    The project is highly gender focussed with female oysters gatherers (and their households) being the primary target beneficiaries. Preliminary research has increased understanding of female access rights, both formal and informal to oyster resources and markets for steamed and smoked product forms. As oysters in the Sherbro MPA essentially remain an open-access resource, female access is highly dependent on mobility characteristics linked to canoe ownership and sharing arrangements with males, geographic safety factors and competition for oyster beds in more populous areas. Although females are responsible for most gathering and almost all processing and marketing (with little evidence of supply-chain specialisation) early findings suggest male participation and competition may increase as fishing yields decline. 

  • Poverty Alleviation

    This project aims to achieve direct impacts on livelihoods through value-added production and supply chain interventions (described above). Female oyster gatherers in and around Bonthe Town and their households are the direct target beneficiaries. Interventions will also be designed to limit extraction pressure on mangrove populations bringing indirect benefits to a wider range of resource dependents. 

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