Mangrove Swamp Oyster from Casamance

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Swamp oysters naturally live on the roots of mangroves in the Casamance area, along the coast of the river of the same name, in the southern part of Senegal. The shell has a flat part and a curved one, where the shellfish lays, the two valves kept together by a ligament. Even after a few hours out of water the shell remains tight and allows the oyster to keep some water inside, thus surviving for some time. Mangrove swamp oysters are found in cool and not too salty waters and thrive during low tide.   In Casamance oyster harvesting, processing and sale is reserved to women from the Diola community, one of the biggest tribes in southern Senegal. This long and tiring work is done every year by some 4000 Diola women. Mangrove branches are either grabbed and held with an ewuyum (a forked stick) to collect the oysters, or cut with a machete to bring the oysters back to the village. During the high season oysters are boiled or grilled and served with a pepper sauce and rice. Oysters are often left to dry in the sun and during the low season they are consumed dried or smoked, kept for special occasions or as a substitute to fresh fish which is rare in this period. On average, around 100 kilos of oysters per hectare are harvested each year.   Oysters are mostly harvested for home consumption and they represent a very important staple food, besides being the second source of animal protein after fish. They are also a good source of income for Diola women who sell them in the local markets. They are given to honor hosts, to thank someone and are served on special occasions such as weddings. Fishermen who let women use their boat to harvest oysters will receive a basket of dried oysters at the end of the season. Moreover, the presence of traditional Kjokkenmoddings (seashells hills) are a proof of the tradition and importance of harvesting oysters in Casamance.   Mangrove swamp oysters risk disappearing because its harvesting method is bad for the environment and for the plants’ own reproduction. The cutting of mangrove roots is slowly leading to the decrease of this tree population. However, for the last 50 years a group of women (reunited on the FRDPF) has been using a new sustainable harvesting method based on building wood structures around the trees with strings on which oysters can attach. The strings are then removed after 5 months to collect the oysters, entirely preserving the trees.

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Indigenous community:Diola