In Sudan, fishermen reel in shared profit

03 Jun 2009

“You can always tell when you are getting near the sea, says 50-year old Ali Abu Ali. “The air feels different; cooler against your skin.”

Ali and most of the men in his village have been fishing most of their lives. For them, fishing is more than a job, it is a way of life; a topic that finds its way into almost every conversation and an activity that sustains themselves and their families.

For years in this poor, rural region of Arbaat in Eastern Sudan, the men had no proper equipment to fish. They spent their days walking to the shore of the Red Sea and renting very small wooden boats so that they could fish in the shallow coastal waters.

“We would carry the fish we caught slung over our shoulders, and walk from the sea back to the road, a distance of about 3 km,” says Ali.

The men would then wait by the side of the road for a ride. Sometimes the fish would spoil and they would return home empty handed.

But today their hands are full. In the bustling fish market of Port Sudan, Ali and his cohorts sit behind plentiful baskets of fresh, varied fish caught deep in the Red Sea.
They have just returned from a week long fishing trip in one of the three motorized fiberglass boats provided by the Recovery and Rehabilitation Programme (RRP). Ali points to dozens of different types of large, colorful fish on display for local hotel and restaurant owners to buy.

“These are fish that can only be found in the deep sea,” says Ali. “Before the small wooden boats we rented weren’t strong enough to travel in the waves, but with the RRP boats we are able to go out to sea for days at a time.”

And with the three ice boxes also provided by the RRP, the fishermen are now able to keep the fish fresh for up to one week. This means they can store the fish until they are ready to sell at the market, which is a great advantage, explains Ohaj Ahmed Eimali, of SOS Sahel-one of the RRP partners in Red Sea.

The RRP is a five-year initiative (2005-2010), including four years of implementation. The largest and most comprehensive recovery programme in Sudan, the RRP is managed by UNDP on behalf of the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan with funding of € 55.8 million; € 49.75 million of which comes from the European Commission, and € 1.5 million from the Government of Norway. A total of 44 national and international NGOs are working together in 10 states across the country (Blue Nile, Abyei, River Nile, Red Sea, South Kordofan, Northern Upper Nile, Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Warrap and Northern Bahr Al-Ghazal) concentrating on institutional strengthening, improving livelihoods and basic services.

In the Red Sea State; the harsh desert climate and isolation of many of its communities can make projects difficult. But despite the challenges faced these tight knit communities have demonstrated remarkable results. Part of the Red Sea State consortium’s success is because of the excellent coordination at the community level. Before the RRP began in this state, communities had already formed the Arbaat Development Association (ADA), a local organization that intended to address the region’s development needs; but meetings and activities were sporadic and poorly organized.

The Arbaat fishing project is truly community-owned, with 105 families benefiting from just three boats. Here is how it works: there are three groups of 35 fishermen; and each group has one boat. Each group is split into five smaller groups and these teams have a rotating schedule for going out to sea. Every time a group comes back from sea, the fish are sold at the local market and the profits spilt between all 35 members.

“The boats and boxes from the RRP changed so much – now we can travel three to four hours out into the deep sea to fish,” says 30-year-old Serie Abu Ali. "We can catch all kinds of fish that we didn’t have access to in the coastal waters. On a seven day trip we can catch 800 kgs of fish and then sell them for 8 SDG a kg,” he explains as he skins fish on the rocky seashore.

Ali and the other fishermen will cook it over an open fire and sleep on the beach before getting up at the break of dawn to take the boats out again. It’s a simple life; and requires a simple formula for success: “We catch more fish, we make more money,” says Ali.