Confident to challenge

Seenythamry Thangarajah; Secretary of the Fishermen Cooperative Society

Two thirds of the households in the Mullivettawan GN Division in Batticaloa are engaged in the fisheries sector. They fish from a small canoe using a hand net or by installing a stationary lift net at a specific depth for a period of time. However, the fisheries sector in the area was severely affected recently following the heavy rains and the subsequent floods that battered the Eastern Province.

“Usually we fish everyday but these rainy days we couldn’t even go out and float our canoes due to the heavily lashing rainfall,” said Seenythamry Thangarajah (72), Secretary of the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) of Mullivettawan GN Division. The situation worsened with the considerable decline in the haul of fish due to the rise of water levels of the reservoirs in the area. With fishing being a seasonal job, many fishermen engaged in home gardening or farming. However, with these livelihoods also destroyed, as a result of continuous rains, the villagers were faced with many hardships. Yet, Seenythamry maintains a positive stance on the community’s future.

“This village is a favourable location to fish; it is close to the reservoir. On the other hand, it is far from the market. So the fishermen depend entirely on the buyers who come over to collect the fish. Before the internal road of our village was reconstructed by the UNDP, to improve access to the main road, we had to bring our catch to the collection point on foot or by bicycle. Sometimes we lost our chance to sell the fresh fish in hot weather, but now that’s an old story,” he said.

When the joint rapid assessment was done in Mullivettawan by UN agencies including UNDP, FAO and ILO, repairing the internal road and constructing a fisheries store building were identified as unmet needs of the villagers to recover their livelihoods. Thus, under the Recovery Coordination Initiative Phase 2, funded by the UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR), the access road to the village was constructed last year and the fisheries store will be soon handed over to the community.

Thangarajah noted that the society plans to use this building as a fish collecting place, charging a small fee from the users. The money obtained from the user fee will be lent to the fishermen, when they need it urgently. In addition, it will also be utilized to purchase new nets or materials for traditional festivals required by the society members. The store will also enable fishermen to demand a common price from the buyers for the fish as the fishermen will now be gathered at one place. Previously, with fishermen scattered across the area, fish was bought at undervalued prices, with buyers paying just Rs. 140 per kilo, whereas in the market, the same kind of fish was priced at Rs. 300 per kilo. Thus, the FCS society members estimate that there is room for raising the wholesale price of fish now.

 “Under the support of the UNDP, our members of the society could have financial training on how to keep records of sales and savings and work together in a cooperative way. We have learnt a lot from the training, and we are now more confident than before,” he said.