Inoussa Maïga | December 7, 2015
The last rays of the sunset are fading over Katenga, a fishing village a few hundred metres from Togo’s main fishing port, Lomé. But for Jeanne Amematsro, the day is far from over.
Mrs. Amematsro is trying to catch up on work at her fish processing plant after taking two days off sick. Aided by a fifteen-year-old girl and a twenty-something man, she packages smoked fish in baskets. In a few weeks, she will send the baskets to inland areas of Togo or export them to Benin for sale.
Mrs. Amematsro is the president of the Union des groupements de femmes transformatrices de poisson, a co-operative society of women fish processors. She’s been in the industry for many years. She describes her work: “We buy fish from traders in the port and bring them to the processing yard. We lay out the fish on wire gratings and leave them in the sun for some time. Then we place them above a fire. The gratings are stacked on top of each other and then turned from time to time. Once [the fish] turn an eye-pleasing colour, they are ready.”
Mrs. Amematsro uses coconut flesh which has been soaked in water to produce the golden colour that customers like. She has a strategy for making a good profit: when catches are abundant—especially between September and November—she fills her store with smoked fish to sell them when fish is scarce.
She explains: “The harmattan winds start in December. Many fishermen go elsewhere. At that time, I can no longer get fish. So I sell what I have in stock in January and February. The price is better too, as there is not enough fish in the market [to meet the demand].”
Fati Mohamed is a member of the Union. She says: “There are three months in the year in which you can get fish easily. If you do not buy the fish [then], you will have nothing to sell during the rest of the year.”
Ms. Mohamed adds: “Those who have money to buy fish for processing when it’s available and store and sell it later, [make the most profit].”
Mrs. Amematsro’s experience caught the attention of Amegnyglo Selom. The young student works with her as an intern. He explains, “I am currently writing my thesis to graduate as an agricultural engineer. I will complete a two-month placement here.”
Mr. Selom adds: “Initially, I had come just to do some research, and thought I’d be here one week. But since I became really interested in the work, I completely threw myself into it. So I help [Mrs. Amematsro], and I am doing my writing at the same time.”
The young student says he has learned a lot during his time with Mrs. Amematsro. He says: “I saw that it is hard but profitable work. I’m pushing her for a job—to be her marketing agent. I’d like to do some market research to see where best to sell our products. But I’m still working on that.”
Mrs. Amematsro wants to inspire other members of the Union to think and act like Mr. Selom. She plans to organize training sessions to build up their awareness.