The Tobor Village Women’s Federation is a Senegalese economic engagement group providing opportunities for local women to gain financial independence and take the challenge of creating sustainable, environmental development into their own hands. The group has started a program called Youlaye – the Wolof word for oysters – that encourages these women to plant mangroves along the Casamance River and cultivate the oysters that grow on them.
“We don’t work with the objective of getting rich, more just to protect our land. We work as a group in an association. All the money we make benefits all of us not just each of us. Most of the money we make is used to buy materials we use to pick our oysters, for example if we need more shoes or gloves, we take that money and use it for our purchases” – Moussoukouta Badiane, oyster farmer and Tobor village resident
Three times a week, Badian walks barefoot into the mud-lined Casamance River, trudging waist deep into the water to see about her oysters. At 32-years-old, Badian said she has spent the last three years of her life devoted to replanting mangroves and cultivating the oysters. She said she and other women from the village enjoy oyster farming but without enough gloves, a boat, or boots, she said many women have suffered injuries from harvesting the oysters.
Since 2008, projects like Youlaye have been financed by the Senegalese government and the Bank of Africa through PADERCA, The Project to Support Rural Development in Casamance. The oyster project, like others, including the self-sustainable rice cultivation project of Casamance, often start out strong but slowly die out from a lack of sustainable, local financing.
Ousmane Yoro Manga, is the husband of Harialla Manga, president of the Tobor Village Women’s Federation and a spokesperson for the group. He said there is a lot missing from the program in order for these projects to be more beneficial for everyone involved.
“For the initial project which began in 2008, they only gave us 50,000CFA, for everyone, 200-300 women. Today, these women sell their own oysters but they don’t make much money because the process is not good. Don’t get me wrong, people love oysters, but in order to outsource, to sell to major restaurants you need to have a center of dégorgeoir, so they are properly cleaned. A foreigner is not going to come and eat our oysters that come just from the river like that.” – Ousmane Yoro Manga, spokesman Tobor Village Women’s Federation
With more than 1000 hectares of mangrove already planted along the Casamance river, the project also hopes to provide a sustainable environment for the oysters that keeps out the salt from the sea and the fresh water fish plentiful. While initial funding for the project has run out, the women of Tobor continue to use the knowledge they’ve gained to produce nearly 500 kilograms of oysters during each harvest, allowing them to provide food for their families and earn enough money to keep the project going for another season.