At Katanga, a small fishing village located not far from the Autonomous Port of Lomé, each day resembles the other. In this afternoon sun of March, after a good fishing day in high-seas, the men got together over a drink and the women are busy with their main activity which is fish smoking.
In a sandy road, surrounded by big houses that leads to the beach, Fiatepé Ami, 48 years, is lighting fire simultaneously under two of her traditional stoves for fish smoking. On the stoves, she has carefully places several plates containing fresh fish, bought some hours earlier at the fishing port of Lomé. In this slum, where most inhabitants make a living from fishing, the profession of fish smoking is transferred from mother to daughter. “I have learned this activity thanks to my mother, who was also taught by my grandmother,” relates Fiatepé Ami.
Under a thick smoke coming from coconut skin and wood from the forest, she ensures that her fish does not burn. For this, she resists to this suffocating and blinding smoke, even if this has had serious consequences on her health. “We often get sick and it’s difficult to see from far,” testifies Fiatepé Ami
“Our job is too hard. Most of the time, I suffer from hip pain,” says Akpene Koeugan, who is also a fish smoker and member of the Cooperative Union of Women who Transform Fish (UCOOFETRAPO) of Katanga, where Fiatepé Ami is the secretary general. Every day, each of the two women smokes around 20 fish basins, which are then sold in different markets in the capital, and other countries like Benin and Burkina Faso. But to respond to the increasing demand, in addition to the traditional stove, they use the improved fish smoking platform of the village.
A modern fish smoking platform
A few metres away from their houses, there is a building painted in yellow. Here, there is the main improved fish smoking platform of the village. With a cost of around 9.5 million FCFA, its construction has been made possible thanks to the determination of the women who smoke fish, with the financial support of the Togolese government. According to the Ministry of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, this platform enables the beneficiaries to modernise and improve the quality of the work and the smoking of the fish is done according to the standards of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It comprises two big modern stoves and a smoking unit. “The two stoves allows to cook the fish, and the smoking unit is used to brown the fish,” explains Fiatepé Ami. Contrary to the traditional stoves, these ones are less polluting and do not release smoke. “In fact, the new stove uses charcoal. Since we have started to use this improved smoking platform, our life has changed considerably. It allows us to cook large amounts of fish in record time,” she says.
Akpene Koeugan, a lot younger than Fiatepé Ami, was more concerned about her health before the installation of this fish smoking platform. Today, she does not plan to use the traditional fish smoking stoves like the other women. Because she has a fragile health. Despite the introduction of this modern smoking unit, many women don’t use it regularly. This is because it does not allow the 8 groupings of the UCOOFETRAPO of Katanga to smoke their fish at any time.
Multiply the platform
Life is not easy for these women who smoke fish. In addition to this hard activity, they have to cater for the needs of their family, since their husband are most of the time unemployed. Some years ago, to respond to the demand of their clients, they had to put in more time in the activity. But since some months, their misery has decreased. But this is however not enough. Being aware of this, the women are working to multiply the smoking platforms. Since their last general assembly in February 2017, they have created another cooperative of women fish smokers in the village. The objective of this cooperative is to transform in some coming days into a federation. This transformation will allow them to benefit from loans from the government or banks to put into place new and improved fish smoking platforms.