Photographer Julia Cumes recently visited the ICOF Hatchery Project in Zanzibar and shared with us her images and reflections on her time with Ikawa, one of the women farmers. Currently, the women have to walk miles to harvest wild shellfish. A successful shellfish farm will be more accessible to Ikiwa and the other women farmers, and will provide a more dependable source of protein and income for the farmers and their families.
The remarkable photograph of Ikiwa walking across the flats will be one of the featured items in the Friends for Haiti Silent Auction on September 8, 2012.
From Julia Cumes:
Ikiwa Abdulla walks out almost a mile onto the shellfish flats to gather shellfish in Fumba, Zanzibar. The temperature is scorching and Ikiwa, along with other women from her village, spend most of the day bent over double, digging into the sand to find clams, cockles, oysters and conchs. As Zanzibar’s shellfish stocks become more and more depleted, women like Ikiwa have to walk out further and further into the ocean at low tide to reach the wild shellfish that remain.
Over the last two winters, I spent some time in Zanzibar working on a story about an aquaculture project that hopes to help women like Ikiwa. A collaborative effort by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Island Creek Oysters Foundation, both based in Massachusetts, the project hopes to teach rural women in Zanzibar how to cultivate shellfish and help replenish shellfish stocks in a part of the world where protein is in shorter and shorter supply and economic opportunities for rural women are few and far between.
While I spent quite a bit of time documenting the scientific aspect of the project in the shellfish hatchery where experiments are being done to find the best way to cultivate a healthy, consistent local species of shellfish seed, the most extraordinary part of my experience was the time I spent with Ikiwa. Except for her cell phone, Ikiwa’s world appeared to me much as I imagined it must have been for the people of Zanzibar hundreds of years before. The home she shares with her extended family is made of stones, sticks and straw. She cooks over open fire and the house has neither electricity nor running water.
After spending a day on the shelffish flats with Ikiwa and the other women, I noticed how labor-intensive their work was and how little food they returned home with. There is a long tradition of harvesting shellfish in the wild in the coastal villages of east Africa. Typically the women who harvest them bring them back and boil them to extract meat from the shells. Without access to refrigeration, this renders the shellfish meat in a form that is relatively easy to keep for a few days without spoiling.
While the women use some of the shellfish to feed their families, they sell most of it at the daily food market. Witnessing Ikiwa’s struggle to bring home enough shellfish to feed her family and also make a small profit, the aquaculture project’s potential impact on her life really struck me.