NPR: Why Ghana's Clam Farmers Are Digging GPS

New technology is helping solve the entrenched problem of land rights in Africa. 

 Samuel-Richard Bogobley holds a GPS-enabled tablet to capture the location of one corner of an underwater clam "farm" belonging to Kofi Amatey, in pink, in Ghana's Volta River estuary.  Tim McDonnell /for NPR

Samuel-Richard Bogobley holds a GPS-enabled tablet to capture the location of one corner of an underwater clam "farm" belonging to Kofi Amatey, in pink, in Ghana's Volta River estuary.

Tim McDonnell /for NPR

This story first appeared in NPR.

Samuel-Richard Bogobley is wearing a bright orange life vest and leaning precariously over the edge of a fishing canoe on the Volta River estuary, a gorgeous wildlife refuge where Ghana's biggest river meets the Gulf of Guinea.

He's looking for a bamboo rod poking a couple feet above the surface. When he finds it, he holds out a computer tablet and taps the screen. Then he motions for the captain to move the boat forward as he scans the water for the next rod.

It's slow work. But once it's completed, it could pave the way for significant new legal protections for the property rights of marginalized communities across Africa.

"Before you can start to recognize a fishery, you need to have a lot of data," says Bogobley, a researcher with Hen Mpoano, a Ghanaian nonprofit that supports small-scale fishers. "These people don't have any platform to fight for what is theirs."

The Volta River is rich with clams, harvested year-round by a bustling community of several hundred fishermen and women. The meat is packaged for sale across West Africa, while the shells are ground into an additive for whitewash and chicken feed.

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