The last rays of sunlight are slowly fading in Katenga, a fishing village a few hundred meters from the fishing port of Lomé. But, for Jeanne Amematsro, the day is far from over. After two days of absence due to illness, Mrs Amematsro tries to catch up with her fish processing. Aided by a fifteen years old girl and a young man in his twenties, she places smoked fish in baskets. In a few weeks, these baskets will reach inland localities of Togo but also of Benin to be sold.
Mrs Amematsro is the President of the Women Fish Processors Union. She has worked as a fish processor for many years: “we buy the fish from the women fishmongers working at the fishing port. Carriers bring the fish on the processing site. Once we receive the fish, we spread it on the racks and leave it in the sun for some time. Afterwards, we put it over the fire. We lay the racks one on top of the other and we rotate the order over time. We pay attention to the color, so it is nice to look at”.
Jeanne Amematsro uses wet coconut skin to give the smoked fish its golden color, which is highly appreciated by the customers. She has a particular profit-making strategy. When the fish is abundant, especially between September and November, she stores the smoked fish, to be sold in a period where the fish is scarce. “From December onwards, the winds of Harmattan start blowing. Many fishermen move elsewhere. At that time, we get no more fish to process. So what I have already processed and stored, that’s what I sell in January and February. The price is more interesting on the market as there is not enough fish to meet the demand”, she explains.
“Over the year, there are three months when we have easy access to fish. If this period passes and you have not been able to buy fish from the fishermen, you will have nothing to sell for the rest of the year”, explains Mohamed Fati, Member of the Women Fish Processors Union. “Those who have the money to buy while the fish is available to process, store and sell later, those are the ones making profits”, she adds.
The experience of Jeanne Amematsro attracted the attention of Amegnyglo Selom, a young student who now works with her. “I am currently training to prepare my dissertation for becoming an agronomist. I have done almost two months here. Initially, I came just to make my investigations and thought it would last about a week. But I got really hooked by that work, so I jumped in. So I help her, and I do my writing as well”.
The student has learned a lot during his internship with Mrs Amematsro: “I saw that the work is difficult, but also profitable. I started to negotiate to see if I can stay with her, to be her trade agent. I would like to study the market to see where we can best sell our processed products.”