The Gambia is the smallest nation on
the African continent and it is poor, so the promise of development
and jobs by a Chinese company was welcomed as a way of providing for
many of its population of about two million.
though it is surrounded by Senegal, it has access to the Atlantic
from its 50-mile-long sea coast, and therefore, it has in the past
depended for its protein on the once-abundant wild fish stocks not
far off its shore. For Gambians, fishing for their primary species of
fish has collapsed and they are blaming the collapse on the Chinese
fish meal plants that have been built in recent years.
plight of Gambia is one repeated around the world and its story
encompasses global economics, local economic and social disruption,
and environmental degradation at both the local and world level. It’s
a classic and it could be a case study of collapses of other
ecological systems around the world, which also have profound effects
on societies and nations, such as The Gambia.
are fishing ships that are licensed to operate in Gambian waters,
within the limits that most nations have set for legal fishing, but
there are non-licensed ships that are also operating in those same
waters and The Gambia is not rich enough to have its own vessels and
personnel to police the waters and see that fishing boats are
operating in a legal manner. It is difficult, if not impossible for
any nation, let alone one as poor as The Gambia, to keep track of
fishing stocks and trying to determine what is sustainable and what
is not, and who is acting legally and who is not.
woes and sustainability are just a part of the problems of The
Gambia. The Independent
newspaper in October 2013 reported: “And the Gambia is poor,
cripplingly poor, with over a third of its population of 1.7 million
surviving below the United Nations poverty line of $1.25 a day.
Beyond Serakunda’s busy street-side industries, and
hand-to-mouth trading, and away from Banjul’s decaying colonial
centre, around 70 per cent of the population work small plots of
village land to survive.” The political atmosphere is a place
where one man ruled for 22 years and was unseated by a man who
promised to serve only three years but has already started a new
to Ian Urbina of The Outlaw Ocean Project (TOOP), the stocks of
bonga, a type of shad that were in great abundance just off the coast
20 years ago, are now being swept up by the industrial fishing
operations that are present in Gambian waters. The TOOP was formed to
attempt to bring some law and order to the oceans, the last frontier
of lawless (and ecocidal) behavior across the globe, inexorably
destroying one of the most important elements of world stability,
ecologically and economically.
wrote recently for Yahoo!News,
“In 2017, China canceled fourteen million dollars in Gambian
debt and invested thirty-three million to develop agriculture and
fisheries, including Golden Lead and two other fish-processing plants
along the fifty-mile Gambian coast. The residents of Gunjur were told
that Golden Lead would bring jobs, a fish market, and a newly paved,
three-mile road through the heart of town.” Apparently, the
Gambian investment is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative,
which involves investment in some 70 countries, engendering the
goodwill of those countries. In The Gambia, however, the “investment”
has disrupted the lives of untold numbers of people who live a
subsistence life and many are now dependent on the fish meal
factories which pollute their surroundings.
increasing worldwide demand for seafood has made the fishmeal
industry lucrative for those who own the industry. For example, the
bonga, a staple for Gambians, are caught within their coastal waters
and brought to the Golden Lead factory or one of the others,
processed into fishmeal and sold to other countries where the fish
are raised on “farms,” either China, Vietnam, or even
Norway. Some of those fish raised in aquaculture operations are
brought back to places like The Gambia to be sold in the local
markets. Too often, the retail price of those same fish is too much
for the average Gambian.
of the most popular fish to raise in fish farms is tilapia. Even at
that, the industrial operations have turned nature upside down, for
the tilapia, a Gambian fisherman pointed out, is an herbivore, but
the fish farms have forced them to eat the fish meal processed
thousands of miles away.
collapse of fisheries is nothing new. In the 1970s, fleets of
industrial fishing operations plied the coast of Peru, scooping up
the plentiful stocks of anchovies, which could have fed the people of
Peru. Peruvians largely depended on the fish for their economy.
Instead, the catch was taken to be processed into fishmeal to supply
feed for the voracious poultry industry that was growing rapidly in
the U.S. Although it is difficult to determine when a fish stock
collapses, the people who depend on those fish for food know it is
happening. The west coast of Africa, according to Urbina, “is
among the world’s fastest-growing producers of fishmeal: more
than fifty processing plants operate along the shores of Mauritania,
Senegal, Guinea Bissau, and The Gambia. The volume of fish they
consume is enormous: one plant in The Gambia alone takes in more than
seven thousand five hundred tons of fish a year, mostly of a local
type of shad known as bonga - a silvery fish about ten inches long.”
China is doing with its Belt and Road Initiative is what powerful
nations have done through their empires over the millennia: conquer
or otherwise assume power (nowadays mostly economic) over weaker
countries and extract from them what they want, whether it’s
mining for minerals, forests for lumber, fish stocks, oil and gas, or
the best arable land, no matter who or what lives on it today. For a
communist country, it has enthusiastically adopted the capitalist
policies of its most powerful competitor, the U.S.
the U.S. is hollowing out its citizens and the nation by supporting
some 800 bases around the world, mostly military, and the untold
billions it costs to maintain them, the Chinese are expending a small
fraction of that cost in about 70 countries with their Belt and Road
Initiative, creating goodwill, at least among the leadership of those
nations. Whether that largesse and goodwill filter down to the people
of those countries is another matter. If The Gambia is an example,
the bulk of the people do not benefit but are permanently harmed by
the actions of a greater power.
learn well from one another.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John
Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who
lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor
work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the
land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land
Mr. Funiciello and BC.