The Darwin Sherbro Oyster Project

This three year Darwin funded project is working with selected communities around the Sherbro River Estuary in Southern Province, Sierra Leone to offer alternative sustainable income earning opportunities for local women in mangrove oyster cultivation and sales.

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Darwin Initiative

Helping women in Sierra Leone find income opportunities from sustainable mangrove-oyster production and marketing

The Darwin Sherbro Oyster Project, funded through the Darwin Initiative (2014-2019) is working with remote communities in the Sherbro River Estuary in Southern Province, Sierra Leone to offer sustainable income for local women through the culture, processing and marketing of native mangrove oysters.

Mangroves here remain in relatively good condition. Mangroves act as a nurseries for many of fish and shellfish species and, as one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet mitigate climate change. In 2012, the Sherbro Estuary was designated a “Marine Protected Area” (MPA). Promotion of environmental stewardship by decentralised local management committees relies on development viable alternative livelihood options to offset MPA restrictions on harvesting of aquatic resources. To address this challenge, the project brought together experts in social and environmental sciences, food technology and marketing from the Institute and partner Sierra Leone institutions Freetown and Njala Universities.

Working closely with female oyster gatherers, the project explored collective ways to increase the value and profitability of their products which could in turn incentivise environmental stewardship. Remoteness and limited mobility result in value-chains are short and unspecialised. Producers, mainly women, harvest, process and stockpile sacks of smoked oysters for wholesale at the nearest mainland weekly market (‘lumi’) for modest gain. The project has supported a Sherbro Women's Oyster Marketing Association (SWOMA) to develop and retail more profitable smoked oyster snacks tailored to requirements of strategic (less price-sensitive) inland markets. The project is also raising harvester awareness of the adverse effects of cutting roots on which the oysters grow and helping create a brand that rewards more prudent management and fuel-efficient processing. The 'Sherbro brand' is being promoted through local radio and annual ‘Bonthe Oyster Festivals’ staged in the district capital. UK commercial partner, the Whitstable Oyster Company, has committed funding to sustain the marketing cooperative, including staging a further five annual Bonthe Oyster Festivals.

A report on the most recent mission covered on BBC Worlds ‘Focus on Africa’ program is available on our publications and media page.

Please donate

We welcome any donations to support this on-going initiative