SFLP: arming fishermen with GPS to combat poachers
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CTA. 2004. SFLP: arming fishermen with GPS to combat poachers. ICT Update Issue 16. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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Peter Lowrey describes how small-scale fishermen in Guinea have traded in their submachine guns for GPS devices to combat foreign trawlers poaching in their fishing grounds.
Only a few years ago, when the subsistence fishermen of Bongolon sighted a trawler poaching in their fishing grounds, they stood helplessly, sometimes firing submachine guns at it in frustration. The trawler would haul in its nets and leave without fear of penalty. Today, ICTs have come to the rescue of the members of this small community on Guinea´s northern coast, in the form of global positioning system (GPS) technology. Upon sighting a poacher, the fishermen can now calculate its exact location using a hand-held GPS receiver, and radio the information to the nearest coastguard station. The coastguard then dispatches a patrol boat to intercept the intruder. Fishermen say that poachers now flee at the sight of them, now they know how quickly they can summon the authorities. A two-year experiment using the GPS and radio-assisted community patrols has proven so successful in Guinea that the approach is being adopted by other West African fishing nations. This development has come not a minute too soon - poaching is a problem that affects the entire West African coast, an important and highly sensitive fish breeding area. Experts predict that, if the poachers are not stopped, the region´s coastal fisheries will be exhausted within 10 years. The situation has already reached crisis proportions in the coastal zone of Guinea, where 30,000 people depend on small-scale ocean fishing. Foreign industrial trawlers destroy the nets of local fishermen by dragging heavy steel trawl nets over them, and regularly collide with their wooden canoes at night, wrecking the boats and injuring or killing their crews. To help Guinea address this problem, in late 1999 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched the Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme (SFLP), with funding from the UK´s Department for International Development. Already, government figures confirm the success of the programme. In 2000, before community patrols began around Bongolon and two other fishing villages, industrial trawlers made 450 illegal incursions into the area, where they collided with several canoes, injuring 12 local fishermen. Since the GPS-equipped community patrol boats began operating, the number of poachers has fallen dramatically - only 56 incursions were recorded in the first six months of 2002. The key to the programme´s effectiveness lies in the partnership between small-scale fishermen using their own motorized canoes and the Guinean coastguard, which lacks the equipment and resources needed to patrol 300 kilometres of coastline effectively. Although ICTs are playing a vital role in keeping the poachers at bay, the community patrol system now needs to be institutionalized, with an adequate budget for staff, equipment and training, to ensure that the technology is used to benefit the poor and protect the environment. As part of the programme´s participatory approach, a National Coordinating Unit (NCU) has been set up to bring together technicians, government officers and members of key civil society organizations that represent the interests of fishing communities. The members of the NCU act as advocates within the fisheries sector on behalf of the community patrol concept. Mamadou Moussa Diallo, NCU member and socio-economist at the Boussoura National Centre for Fisheries Science, has carried out a study of the impact of the community surveillance project, which demonstrated its success. ´I think I am getting through to my colleagues about the system, the methodology and how it works. They are interested.´ The coast of Guinea is guarded by the National Centre for Fisheries Surveillance and Protection, whose budget allows for only six or seven patrols per month. According to Mohamed Sidibé, the Centre´s Assistant Director-General, community surveillance has been a great success. ´Now our boats can intervene when there is a call, and do not have to patrol at random´, he says. ´In the beginning, patrol officers were sensitive about the project - they thought they might be replaced by the village patrols - but now the spirit has changed. The system isn´t perfect yet, but we can improve it.´ ´The Centre doesn´t have the means to expand the patrol network, but community surveillance has now been included in the government´s poverty reduction strategy´, he notes. ´The government will find the means to pay for its expansion.´ One possible source of funding is the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, a comprehensive approach to debt reduction initiated by the IMF and World Bank. Meanwhile, the SFLP community patrol system is being adapted for use in the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Mauritania, and Cameroon has also expressed interest. Little by little, fishermen throughout West Africa are benefiting from the opportunities offered by ICTs to end the threat posed by foreign trawlers and to safeguard their livelihoods. Peter Lowrey is a multimedia officer at the FAO. For more information, visit http://www.sflp.org" www.sflp.org and http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/focus/2003/sflp1.htm www.fao.org/english/newsroom/focus/2003/sflp1.htm
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