Fishing for More than Just the Catch of the Day

Feb 5, 2015

MANOKWARI, West Papua, Indonesia  – Dorsila Wanma is a West Papuan fisherwoman in her 60s. Her whitish, frizzy hair crowns a face free of lines. Like those belonging to a strong swimmer, her muscled arms and legs tell of a discipline which she admits to having followed every single day of her adult life. Dorsila is awake by 4am every day. She gets out and pushes her thin, rickety boat across a white sand beach in the village of Menyumfoka, and into the seawaters, before getting into it.

From her home in the North Manokwari coastal region, she has a clear view of Pulau Kaki, a strip of bright bushy green of an island, uninhabited. After fishing all day, she sells her fish and comes home with not more than 300,000 rupiahs each day – if that.

“It depends on what the sea has to offer up. I am dependent on that and I have depended on that all my life. But, not anymore,” Dorsila, who refers to herself as ‘Mama’, told a consultant of the United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] during a visit on Thursday, 23 October 2014, to North Manokwari.

Dorsila, and 11 other women like her, are beneficiaries of a UNDP project funded by NZAID for boosting the local economic welfare of indigenous West Papuans. With this particular program, the focus is on teaching the women in the coastal regions like North Manokwari, how to produce fish-based processed products. She explained that they had learned how to make fishcakes, floss, meatballs and fish crackers, as a result of learning from the trainers brought in by the UNDP – something which had resulted in bringing in more money into their lives, and helped them to organize themselves better.

“We have been taught how to make fish meatballs and crackers and nuggets. Today, we worked from 9am to 2:30pm. We have to dry the crackers first before we fry them,” Dorsila said.

“The process of making these crackers is not difficult at all. It depends on us whether we want to make it or not. Before we did not know how to make these crackers. So we are very thankful to Perdu and UNDP for teaching us about fish-processed products.” The crackers are sold at 15000 per packet.

Separately, Delilah Isabel had spent that day with her friends cooking fish floss, in a homemade factory in the Pasir Putih area of Manokwari. Delilah learned about producing fish floss nearly a year ago through working with the UNDP. She and her friends have never gone back to just selling the catch of the day. “The cleanliness and order of the food production are aspects that is developing, and so we hope to pass the certification process from the government soon,” Delilah said. The fish floss she sells within the North Manokwari area is packaged into three package sizes – 200 grams [sold at 40,000 rupiahs], 100 grams [20,000 rupiahs] and 50 grams [10,000 rupiahs]. In September, her group of 10 women, including herself, made a profit of 679,066 rupiahs, which was divided among the 10 members.   

Floss, Crackers and Meatballs

This programme does not focus on fish floss alone, said Mangapul Sinaga, the local economic development specialist of the People-Centered Development Programme. It involves vegetables and fish-based processed products, and the fisherwomen are taught to produce crackers, meatballs, nuggets, dumplings, fishcakes and how to properly smoke fish. The program also focuses work on vegetable products in locations such as East Manokwari and the Arfak Mountains.

For the processed food project, Mangapul said, the aim was to create food products that could become a culinary trademark of Manokwari and could possibly be sold as souvenirs. The target was smoked fish and one of the fish-based products like fish floss, or fish skin crackers. Also in development are trademark products from beets. The hope is that these products can enter the market and receive demand from supermarkets, hotels, stores and airport shops.    

There are around 120 mothers who are involved in the project. Forty-five of them are involved in the vegetable program while the rest are part of the fish processing program. The latter is scattered in three different regions in the Manokwari coastal area - Pasir Putih, North Manokwari, and East Manokwari. Most of the women are indigenous Papuans but a few of them are also migrants from South and Southeast Sulawesi.

“We are developing micro-businesses in Manokwari. Our targets are women who sell smoked fish and beet-based products. They are 29 of them who are located on Jalan Borobudur. We build their capacity so that they can sell their products properly,” Mangapul said.

“Because this involves smoked fish and smoked tuna, the quality of the fish is dependent to a ripening process that can attract fungi and maggots if the fish is not ripe.” The women are also taught how to process beets into different products. Previously, the beets were crushed and mixed in with coconut shreds.

“We teach them how the same ingredients like soya beans, beets, sugar potatoes can be made into a variety of products like brownies, cupcakes etc. We hope they can make food products that can become culinary trademarks. We also teach them how to work on packaging.” He added that hygiene was also a crucial part of the program, since the health department required consistent use of ingredients and implementation of recipes.

“They should be no change in recipe and ingredients. They also monitor the health quality of the factories, their walls, their flooring and proximity to animals,” he said.

On vegetable products, he said the intervention was aimed at improving the management of farmland so that the output could be higher. Farmers were introduced to the use of fertilizers and pesticide from local products or simply called organic fertilizers and pesticide.

“Under the label of agricultural intensification, we hope the farmers no longer move around. We want them to settle besides meeting the demand for vegetables. The demand for vegetables in Manokwari is still high while the supply depends on shipment from outside the Papua region.”  [Yogita Tahilramani]

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