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close this bookMarine Fisheries Case Studies (Peace Corps)
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Togo Case Study

Togo, the smallest French speaking nation in Africa, stretches


Source: Togo Official Standard Names Gazette No. 98, United States Board on Geographic Names, 1966.

360 miles north to south between Benin (Dahomey) on the east and Ghana on the west, and is bordered by Upper Volta to the north. Lome, the capital and largest city, is located along the 35-mile-long coastline bordering Africa's Gulf of Guinea. At one time a German colony, Togo became a French protectorate after World War I, and finally was granted its independence on April 27, 1960.

Togo is a very poor country; in 1962 the average per capita income was only US $80. Today Togo is considered by the U.S. Congress to be one of the 49 countries most in need of development assistance. Togo's biggest problems relate to a lack of capital to finance development, and include inadequate medical care and facilities, poor housing and environmental sanitation, and illiteracy. The biggest problem, however, is the lack of adequate protein in the diet and the resulting malnutrition. These problems 1 are exacerbate by the high rate of population growth. As a result of these problems, in 1962 Togo began to consider improving several aspects of agriculture, including fisheries, and invited the Peace Corps to participate.

Fisheries in Togo: An Overview

Although Togo has a coastline and therefore access to the sea, the country does not have a history of involvement with marine fisheries. Togo's coast is primarily a low, smooth sandy beach, broken by occasional marshy creeks and mangrove swamps. The port at Lome, built by the Germans in the last century, is the only major facility available for large ships. Most coastal fishermen in 1962 were using small boats or canoes called pirogues, which were carved out of a single tree. Pirogues were heavy, difficult to handle, fairly unstable and often capsized in the heavy surf that characterizes Togo's shoreline. Fishermen would row these boats out and cast their nets in areas close to shore. Most fishermen were able to catch only enough fish to feed their families, but sometimes a few fish were left over to sell at market. Although there were good fishery resources in the deeper waters off the coast, most small fishermen could not go out that far to fish. Often commercial fleets of other nations would trawl within sight of shore, and sometimes these trawlers would dock in Togolese ports and sell the fish they caught in Togolese waters at prices that undercut the small fishermen. The Togolese government recognized the need to improve the fishing methods of coastal fishermen in order to allow them to take more fish and sell them at lower prices, both to provide more income for fishermen and to provide protein at a price more people could afford. Because Togo lacked the expertise and the financing necessary to develop their coastal fisheries, the Togolese government asked for assistance from the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps Involvement with Togo Fisheries

Upon the request of the Togolese government, in 1962 the Peace Corps recruited eight volunteers from the Gloucester, Massachusetts area of New England. All of these volunteers had some commercial marine fishing experience. For example, one volunteer had spent 15 years in a Federal government agency designing fishing methods and equipment, while others had gone out on commercial fishing vessels as crew members. Together with 39 other volunteers who would be teaching English in Togolese schools, these volunteers went through a training period at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The volunteers were taught French, the official national language of Togo, and given a minimal amount of information on the culture of the country. The marine fisheries volunteers were not given any technical training since it was assumed that they already had the necessary experience for their jobs.

Upon their arrival in Togo, the eight marine fisheries volunteers were divided into three groups, each of which had a different site location and different objectives. Four volunteers were assigned to the coastal town of Anecho to engage in the general improvement of the fishing techniques and gear used by coastal fishermen. Two volunteers were assigned to the town of Togoville to concentrate on demonstrating trap fishing and the use of gill nets. Two others were assigned to Dapango in northern Togo on a long-range project to develop inland fisheries. All eight volunteers were assigned to work through the Togolese Fisheries Service, the Service des Pe, an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The two volunteers assigned to inland fisheries development had difficulties from the beginning since they had experience and training in marine fisheries rather than freshwater fisheries. However, they attempted to apply their knowledge of fishing equipment and methods to the freshwater situation and had some success. In the course of their work they discovered that the French had tried to introduce fish culture in ponds during the 1950's, and had built four fish stations, which were abandoned when the French left. These volunteers began working with these stations, but could not do very much since they had no real understanding of the principles of fish culture and freshwater fish species.

During the first year of the project, the six volunteers assigned to work with coastal fishermen attempted to teach the Togolese basic equipment maintenance such as how to mend nets and rig tackle, and new fishing techniques including how to make cages and traps for lobsters, and how to use a gill net. One volunteer, noticing that fishermen used too much energy pulling and dragging their pirogues up onto the beach, introduced the use of rollers under the boats. All were able to introduce the use of nylon nets and plastic corks and other synthetic fishing gear. The equipment used was provided by the Peace Corps and by private commercial manufacturers who gave large discounts and occasional donations for this program. Support from the Service des Pe was minimal; the agency was very new, understaffed, with few people trained in fisheries biology, and was not able to provide either material goods or trained counterparts for the volunteers. The request for marine fisheries volunteers had not come from the Service, and it was not convinced of the need for such projects. One volunteer worked with a fisheries expert from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations who was assigned to the Service des Pe. The Togolese government, however, did provide housing for the volunteers.

Several volunteers tried to promote the use of outboard engines to enable the fishermen to 1) get farther out to where fish were more plentiful, 2) spend less time and energy fishing for an equal amount of fish or increase the catch per unit effort and 3) have leisure time during which they could be taught other techniques and methods to improve the catch or decrease the amount of time spent fishing. However, this didn't work for several reasons:

Pirogues often capsized, wetting the engines which required dismantling the engines, drying and reassembling them. Few fishermen had the abilities or interest to take on such a job.

· Outboard motors and gasoline were very expensive, especially when the majority of fishermen had no cash income. Credit systems to provide engines and fuel were not available.

The use of motors cut down on time spent fishing, but did not increase the catch. Time is the one thing that most fishermen had, so decreasing the time spent fishing was not an advantage to the fishermen.

After several attempts, the volunteers involved in outboard engines gave up on this aspect of their work.

While the volunteers were there, they often saw Russian trawlers fishing in Togo's offshore waters. Several times the Russians unloaded boxed, iced fish and sold them in the markets, where they were able to undersell local fishermen. Volunteers realized that, in order to compete with other commercial fishermen, the Togolese would have to get involved in commercial fisheries development. Through an arrangement made by the Peace Corps, the volunteers were provided with a large purse seine that needed repair. With the local fishermen, the volunteers repaired the net and made arrangements with the captain of a Dahomeyan trawler to go out and fish with the net. The volunteers had two purposes in mind: to convince coastal fishermen that there were plenty of fish offshore and that the use of modern equipment and methods and larger boats would enable fishermen to catch large amounts of fish and thereby change their way of life. Although it is not clear what happened, it appears that the volunteers and the fishermen never went out to fish with the purse seine. Volunteers recommended that Peace Corps provide a smaller trawler to the Togolese service des Pe to continue this work, but Peace Corps never pursued this idea because the German government had just bought two larger trawlers as part of an FAO program in Togo. The volunteers then gave up this project too.

Out of the original eight volunteers, five terminated and left Togo before their two-year tour of duty was completed. Only one volunteer stayed along the coast working with the coastal fishermen, teaching them to make lobster traps and catch crayfish, which they sold to the wives of the diplomatic corps in Lome. The two others moved into the development of inland fisheries. (Whether these are the same two originally assigned to inland fisheries development is not clear.) In discussions of this project it is called a disaster, since the marine fisheries component failed.

However, the volunteers associated with the project did not consider it a failure, since they were able to introduce new techniques such as the use and maintenance of gill nets, lobster traps, and the use of rollers to bring boats up onto the shore. But the Togolese government's main goal, to increase the amount of protein in people's diets, was not met.

Evaluation of the Project

This project was one of the Peace Corps' first technical assistance projects, and as such was given a lot of publicity. In an evaluation* done in 1963 while the volunteers were still in Togo, the evaluator made this statement: "The Togo fishing project is unquestionably the most overpublicized Peace Corps activity anywhere in the world. More nonsense has been written about these 'hardy New Englanders' and, as the volunteers themselves are quick to point out, 'No one yet has asked us the key question ... Are we catching more fish?' The answer, regrettably, is 'No."' After this project, the Government of Togo again requested fisheries volunteers, but this time they were all to work in inland fisheries. This second group of volunteers was sent to drought-parched central Togo where the lack of protein in the local diets was most critical. But these volunteers were not trained in fish culture either, and most felt unable to do their jobs. The Togolese did not support the effort to develop fish culture stations. When individual volunteers were able to begin producing fish at an old, abandoned fish station they finally were convinced that it had possibilities. As of 1966, Togo requested 15 volunteers to work primarily in fish culture, extension, and the building of dams for water supply for fish ponds and for domestic uses. However, by 1968 it was clear that the Togolese government was not supporting the fish culture efforts, and no further programming in fisheries projects of any kind was done. In 1970 the Service des Pe requested a marine biologist to assist their freshwater fisheries project but it does not appear that this request was filled.

Successes and Failures

This project as a whole was considered a failure from Peace Corps' perspective, and from the point of view of the Togolese government's goals. Several points can be made that help to identify what went wrong with the project:

· Although the Togolese government requested these volunteers for a marine fisheries project, the Service des Pe did not fully support it from its inception. The Service did not give support of any kind to the volunteers, and was not convinced of the need for their help.

· The Peace Corps volunteers were given little understanding of the situation in Togo, and were not supported by Peace Corps when they tried to change their job focus, although they did receive support in terms of money and equipment. Volunteers were trained in French, and although most educated people did speak French, they found that coastal and upland fishermen are more comfortable speaking a local language, of which the volunteers had no knowledge. In addition, there was no technical advisor assigned to the Peace Corps staff, so volunteers often went to the FAO fisheries advisor for help on technical matters. The FAO advisor ended up using the volunteers for FAO projects rather than Peace Corps projects.

· The target population of the marine fisheries volunteers, the coastal fishermen, had not asked to be given help, viewed the fisheries volunteers with the skepticism reserved for "white men", and did not feel the need to reduce the time spent in fishing, which was their major occupation. They also regarded the volunteers as guests, to the extent that they would not allow the volunteers to help with the rowing when they went out to fish.

· Volunteers did have money and equipment from the Peace Corps and from FAO, but doing the job they wanted to do required even larger amounts of money and a boat. Such support, however, was not going to be available to fishermen after the volunteers left.

Despite these problems, some volunteers were able to transfer knowledge about fishing gear and methods to the coastal fishermen. However, the major goal -- to provide more fish and therefore increase the amount of protein in local diets -- was not met.