The intersecting needs of women and mangroves in coastal Guinea
This study explains of the relationship between women and mangroves in the Republic of Guinea.
In Guinea’s coastal lowlands, the subsistence needs of indigenous women and the health of the mangroves they depend on for their families’ survival hang in the balance. Women from the Bagas, Soussou, and Nalous ethnic groups depend heavily on products from the fragile mangrove ecosystem, which is at risk from overharvesting, land clearing, and the impacts from predicted sea-level rise. A comparison of Landsat images from 2002 and 2022 shows the extent of recent mangrove forest degradation. The failure to maintain the stability of dykes built in past decades and integrate climate-related concerns into coastal policy planning has exacerbated the issue. Today, mangrove-dependent women find it increasingly difficult to meet their socioeconomic needs from this once abundant resource. The question is what actions can policy makers take so that mangroves and coastal people can thrive together.
A World Bank consultancy in early 2022 sought to better understand coastal women’s utilization of mangroves and their potential role in mangrove conservation and rehabilitation. Conducted under the West Africa Coastal Areas (WACA) program’s Resilience Investment Project, the consultancy involved research and fieldwork at sites in three areas of Guinea’s coastal lowlands: Kaback (six sites), Kanfarandé (three sites), and Kamsar (two sites). Data was collected through household surveys, interviews with key informants from government ministries and nongovernmental organization (NGOs), focus group discussions (FGDs), and observational interviews.
The study found that all women in the three study areas depend highly on wood harvesting and other mangrove-centric activities for family income and consumption. Harvesting of mangrove wood for fish smoking—especially Rhizophora racemosa and R. harrisonii, which have flavor-enhancing and preservative attributes—is practiced by 46 percent of the women surveyed in Kaback, 33 percent in Kamsar, and 28 percent in Kanfarandé. In Kamsar, 42 percent reported harvesting wood for traditional salt extraction. In Kaback, 25 percent practice “bushcrafting” (cutting and selling mangrove wood); while 21 percent in Kanfarandé are engaged in market gardening. Rice farming, which depends on mangrove bunds to protect crops from excessive flooding, is practiced by women in all three study areas. Fishing is an especially important activity in Kanfarandé, which lies in the Marine Protected Area of the Tristao Alcatraz Islands. Women’s secondary mangrove-centric activities include soap making, production of palm and coconut oil, oyster collection, and honey harvesting.
Women are aware of the need to protect the “wealth” of the mangroves, but lack conservation skills and alternative sources of sustainable income. A majority of the women surveyed reported that mangrove-dependent incomes have dropped significantly in recent years, and can no longer cover all or most of their family’s primary and secondary needs. Coastal degradation in Kaback, for example, has led to sharp rises and declines in fish catches, creating enormous income uncertainty for fish smokers. Gendered division of labor in the three study areas means that women are responsible for household-related harvesting of mangrove wood and sometimes risk physical injury associated with cutting and carrying wood. Most of the women have a large number of household dependents (7–20 on average), no formal education, and little or no experience in mangrove conservation and restoration activities. Even though all have long been engaged in mangrove-centric activities, most of those surveyed are willing to switch to alternative forms of sustainable income generation to protect the health of the mangroves.
Reducing over-exploitation of Guinea’s mangroves requires supporting women’s needs for financing and capacity building. Ninety percent of the women surveyed in Kanfarandé and 80 percent in Kaback expressed a desire for entrepreneurship training and financing to start up alternative enterprises and income-generating activities; while the other 10 percent and 20 percent, respectively, prefer assistance in modernizing their mangrove-centric practices and techniques, particularly for fish smoking, salt extraction, soap making, and oil production. In Kamsar, virtually all survey respondents engaged in fish smoking and salt extraction wish to continue with these activities and expressed the need for sector support. Also, women who practice market gardening requested inputs and fertilizers to increase their profitability during harvest. Ninety-eight percent of the women surveyed belong to informal lending associations, known as “sèrè;” however, some have encountered financial difficulties or have been victims of embezzlement.
The study results confirm the need to put women’s socioeconomic needs at the heart of programs and projects designed to strengthen community resilience in Guinea’s fragile coastal areas. Striking the right balance between the conservation and sustainable exploitation of mangroves requires a combination of solutions that can reduce pressure on the natural resource while improving the lives of mangrove-dependent women and their families. Women need support in modernizing their current mangrove-centric activities and financing alternative businesses, including setting up economic interest groups recognized by the prefectural authorities in their respective localities. Better mangrove management and protection also require strengthening the enforcement of nature conservation laws and regulations.
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from World Bank’s PROBLUE Trust Fund. We are grateful to Ms. Norma Adams for her help in writing the blog and Jose Diego Hopkins for his initial support in the project.
Authors: Yalikhan Camara, Jose Diego Hopkins, Susmita Dasgupta, Juan Jose Miranda