Voices from Sanyang: Habibatou, the gardener

We started experiencing more flies when the factory started operating; when it operates it smells and flies come. We don’t grow as many tomatoes and bitter tomatoes as a result. We believe the smell of the factory which processes fish, attracts the flies […] which stand on tomatoes putting something on […] we think it’s eggs.


Habibatou, a woman probably in her fifties wearing a long fuchsia dress, spoke to Amnesty International as she carried on working, drawing water from the well, hurrying to water her plants. She had little time to spare to stop and talk – there are more mouths to feed in her home now that her daughter and her children have moved back in following her son-in-law’s death.

Like many women in Sanyang, in the West Coast Region of Gambia, Habibatou works cultivating the land near to the beach area. Most of the women have been working there for more than 20 years, growing cabbages, tomatoes, rice and cucumbers to pay for their children’s school fees.

She described how, one day back in 2017, as the women arrived at the gardens, they saw bulldozers destroying the community rice fields. A few weeks later, construction began on a fishmeal factory. None of the women Amnesty International spoke to had been informed or consulted about the arrival of factory; most negotiations, including the ones about compensation, were carried out without them.

No one told us the factory will be there […] This factory is not good. The smell affects our health and then we will not be able to work. They sold the place without giving us notice.


The factory is one of three fishmeal and fish oil factories in Gambia. These factories transform pelagic fish into fish oil or a powder called fishmeal, which is then used to feed farm animals and other fish, like salmon, in the aquaculture industry, usually in Europe, Asia and the Americas. It takes about 4.5kg of fish to make 1kg of fishmeal. Fish oil is also used to make food supplement capsules. The land on which Habibatou and others had used to grow crops is now the site of a factory of Nessim Fishing and Fish Processing Co. Ltd, a Mauritanian-owned company, the last of the three such factories to be opened in Gambia.

The women now work cultivating the remainder of the gardens around the perimeter of the factory. Habibatou described how, in addition to the land lost, the gardens around the fishmeal factory have been seriously affected. She complained that since the factory arrived, she has noticed that her plants produce less fruit and that the harvest is smaller, so her income has gradually declined.

She is convinced that the smoke and the smell coming from the factory also affect both the quality of her plants and her well-being. She has had to use more pesticides to try to control the increasing number of flies, which she and the other women attribute to the smell coming from the factory. The flies lay eggs on her tomatoes and infect them with pests. The cost of the pesticides on top of the lost crops has reduced profit margins even further.

Without effective government action to address the environmental degradation engulfing the area, Habibatou’s future looks bleak, and that of her children and grandchildren bleaker still.

* A pseudonym has been used to protect the interviewee’s security and privacy

Listening to the voices of Sanyang and the stories of suffering from members of the community, it is hard to understand why the Gambian authorities are failing to act to defend the human rights of the people affected by the fishmeal factory and foreign trawlers. Clearly, the voices of those championing the benefits of profits are louder and stronger – but the profits are not reaching the people paying the price for mass exploitation of Gambia’s coastal waters.

No matter who shouts loudest, the Gambian authorities have responsibilities that they must fulfil – including ensuring the rights of the population to food, work, health and a safe environment.

The Gambian government has a duty to protect these rights and pass legislation requiring companies to conduct human rights due diligence in their operations and supply chains and ensure proper monitoring of Gambia’s waters. It also has an obligation to ensure transparency and allow easy public access to information about fishmeal factories and foreign trawlers and investigate the possible detrimental impact of their operations.

The Nessim fishmeal factory must be transparent about its activities, regularly consult with the community and follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including by putting in place an ongoing and proactive human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and address the factory’s impact on human rights. Given the potential high economic and environmental impact of its activities, it must phase out the use of fish that according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization are already overexploited, such as sardinella and bonga fish.

Companies in the supply chain of fishmeal factories also have a role to play. They need to conduct supply chain due diligence and publicly disclose their due diligence policies and practices, in accordance with international standards, and take action, in cooperation with other relevant actors, to mitigate or remediate any harm caused.

Responsibilities for the situation also lie further afield. The international community, including countries that have signed fishing agreements with Gambia, need to regulate the aquaculture industry to limit the use of fishmeal and fish oil made from already overexploited species and increase transparency regarding their supply chain. They cannot carry on closing their eyes and ears because the sights and smells of Sanyang are far from them – out of sight must not mean out of mind.

Join Amnesty International members and supporters in their campaign to protect Gambia’s coastal waters, marine resources and communities. Act now by emailing the President of Gambia, Adama Barrow, to demand that he ensures the implementation of Amnesty International’s recommendations.  

VOICES of sanyang: #SaveGambianSeas #ProtectGambianCommunities

The members of the communities affected by the overexploitation of the seas through the activities of Nessim Fishmeal Factory and foreign industrial trawlers are sharing their stories with us. These firsthand stories are meant to let you know more about why we’re standing with Sanyang to save Gambian seas and protect Gambian communities rights.

Read MORE and act now.

published on worLd ocean day – 8 JUNE

Adja, the fish smoker

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Habibatou, the gardener

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Barry, the lodge owner

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Ibrahima, the artisanal fisherman

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Mohamed, the activist

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.@BarrowPresident, you have a duty to #ProtectGambianCommunities against human rights abuses by all actors, including fishing companies. You can act now to mitigate the adverse socio-economic and environmental impact of overfishing on #Gambia coast.