On the outskirts of Benin’s capital city, Cotonou, there are vast wetlands where the Pofin people have lived and made their living for decades. As they have for generations, the men cultivate and harvest fish while the women engage in fish smoking — a simple process that preserves the fish, keeping it from spoiling in the hot climate and allowing it to be a major source of protein throughout the region.
Here, in a photo released February 28, the president and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), Shari Berenbach, prepares to board a small boat to make her way to the women’s collective in a community that is only accessible by water.
USADF supports a group of 43 women who have formed an association, Association Régionale des Femmes Agricultrices de l’Atlantique-Littoral (ARFA-AL), to expand their fish smoking operation. A grant of only $197,000 allowed these women to shift their operation to a simple, solid structure with ample ventilation, abandoning a smoke-filled house made of reeds that was not only a fire hazard but offered intolerable work conditions.
In just a little more than a year, the group tripled production and income. More importantly, ARFA-AL expanded group membership and invited several young women to join their effort.
The U.S. African Development Foundation is an independent federal agency established to support African-designed and African-driven solutions to grass-roots economic and social problems in conflict and post-conflict communities. It provides grants of up to $250,000 directly to marginalized community groups and enterprises in Africa.