It is midday in Mora and the unrelenting sun beats down on the dusty streets. Halima is sitting in the shade of a tree in the compound outside her house. She looks down at a large basket of peanuts, passes her hand through them and in a swift motion, grasps a handful, effortlessly shells them and tosses them into a separate basket.
“I’m really happy now,” she says, smiling shyly. “All that I couldn’t have before I can have now.”
Until recently Halima’s life was quite different. Five years ago, armed attacks and explosions forced her to flee her hometown of Amchide with her four children. Her husband disappeared in the chaos. Five years have passed, and she has still not heard from him. She fears he was killed that night.
She fled to Mora, a town only 27 km away, but far enough south to be safe from the constant threat of violence. In Amchide, Halima had worked as a seamstress, but she had to abandon her sewing machine when she fled. She arrived in Mora with nothing to her name and no means of providing for her children. She got by only through food distributions from humanitarian aid organisations. It was a tough time for her and her children.
But things would not remain this way for Halima. Her fortunes were about to change. And this change would have everything to do with fish.
Cameroon’s Far North Region has a dry and arid climate in contrast to the lush, green landscapes of many other parts of the country. This makes finding fresh fish in towns like Mora quite a challenge. With the nearest body of water, Lake Maga, 140 km away, fish sellers are forced to make the long journey there and back to sell fish in Mora’s weekly markets. These transportation costs would force sellers to sell the fish at inflated prices and by the time it arrived at the markets, the produce would no longer be fresh.
It was in this context that Boucar Adji, a native of Mora, had his eureka moment. Adji was an entrepreneur keen to start a business that would meet the demand for fresh fish in Mora, while also helping his community prosper.
His idea was to construct a small fishpond in Mora and raise fish there until they were big enough to sell. To this end, he founded the Mora Fish Farming Association. Starting with one pond, he began to raise catfish. These were then sold at reasonable prices in the markets in Mora.
As Mora had become a host to thousands of displaced people from conflict-affected parts of Cameroon, he wanted his business to primarily employ Mora’s newly arrived displaced people.
When the Norwegian Refugee Council’s teams in Mora came across the association that Boucar Adji had founded, we were excited to partner with him. As Leila Hommal, Food Security and Livelihoods Assistant for NRC Cameroon says, “we knew that if we provided support to this association’s fish farming activities, the whole community would benefit. [Adji] was not simply waiting for different NGOs to come to the aid of his community. He already had a clear idea of how his association would help his own community.”
With the financial support that he received from NRC, Adji was able to expand his business. He built a second pond and hired assistants to help him clean the ponds and feed the fish. His assistants are all displaced women. One of them is Halima.
“When the fish farming association approached me and asked me to participate in their activities, I agreed,” Halima says. “My job is to clean the ponds and feed the fish along with the other members of the association.”
With her sewing machine gone and with no other means to provide for her family she was grateful for the opportunity. Halima receives a salary for her work at the fish farm. But as a member, that’s not all she receives. She and the other members of the association are given some of the fish they are raising to take home. So now Halima and her family can eat fresh fish on a regular basis.
Two sources of income
In addition to providing financial support to the association, our food security and livelihoods team also provided financial assistance directly to some of the most vulnerable displaced people in Mora. Halima benefitted from this cash transfer and was able to use the money to purchase millet and peanuts which she sells.
“Now, by God’s grace I have two sources of income – the fish farming, and the sale of peanuts,” she explains. “And it is because of this that I am able to feed my family and provide for my children’s needs.”
Halima is proud of what she has been able to achieve. She says that her daily work at the fish farm and the stability it has provided has allowed her to forget the hardship she has been through.
Our food security and livelihoods activities in Cameroon involve providing support to similar associations in other areas. We have provided support to groups involved in livestock farming and others involved in the storage and sale of fertilisers. We believe working in this way is not only effective, but also sustainable, as the local groups we support will be there long after we are gone.