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Despite their importance, fisheries are not yet a priority for many African countries

10 November 2013

An interview with Sloans Chimatiro, Senior Fisheries Advisor, NEPAD

Dr Sloans Chimatiro has been Senior Fisheries Advisor at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency since 2006. Dr Chimatiro was previously Director of Fisheries in Malawi, and has more than 20 years’ experience in fisheries research and management. He has also been managing a number of regional and continental development programmes for fisheries.

Q: How is NEPAD involved in fisheries?

You could say that it was the NEPAD ‘Fish for All’ Summit, held in Abuja in 2005, that provides the mandate for our action. The Abuja Summit brought together African decision-makers, and prioritised the need for African countries to address the challenges of fisheries governance, so that benefits from fisheries could be improved.

To facilitate the necessary reforms, the Partnership for African Fisheries (PAF) was formed in 2009, with funding from the UK Department for International Development. PAF contributes to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). 

For fisheries, the next milestone was the first Conference of African Ministers of Fisheries and Aquaculture (CAMFA), held in Banjul in 2010, which recommended the development of a Comprehensive African Fisheries and Aquaculture Reform Strategy. This strategy, approved by African Union Heads of State, will be presented at the next CAMFA in February 2014.

Q: How do you explain that, despite all of this, fisheries are still not a priority for most African countries?

Indeed, fisheries are not a priority for most African countries – despite the importance of fisheries for fishing communities’ livelihoods, food security and trade. It is very telling that, in development cooperation with the EU, in the programming of the European Development Fund, no African country has put forward fisheries as a priority sector for support.

In my view, the main reason for this is that fish is taken for granted by most African governments. It has always been there, so why bother to manage it? The truth is that most African countries have yet to realise the value of their fisheries natural resource capital and the need to invest in fisheries management, to avoid overexploitation. Given the state of exploitation of many of our resources, we need to provide incentives not to increase resource exploitation, and to optimise the benefits provided by our fisheries.

Q: What type of incentives are you looking at?

Access conditions to fisheries have to be reformed, in a way that allows countries to sell access rights to the ‘highest bidders’. For this, there has to be an economic valuation of the fisheries resources, so that African Union members realise how much wealth is currently wasted, and how much could be generated if fisheries were managed properly. A large proportion of our resources are taken by distant-water fleets, which should end up paying more for their access.

But equally important is the need for African Union members to be able to guarantee that local fishing communities involved in small-scale fisheries will have sustainable access to resources.

This means protecting their access rights, providing them with adequate support, but also introducing limitations for small-scale fisheries, in a way that does not hamper their sustainable development prospects.

All this requires difficult political choices to be made. It’s indeed tricky to find the balance between maximising benefits from the presence of the foreign fleets and securing the livelihoods of coastal communities.

Q: How do you think such choices could be facilitated through NEPAD?

The promotion of good governance – particularly transparency in fisheries management and harmonisation of access conditions at regional level – is key. In that area, we can certainly also look at examples of good practices, such as those laid out in the Convention on Minimal Access Conditions recently ratified by the West African Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission.

This should also help to avoid duplication of effort between different initiatives. We have an African fisheries coherence mechanism with the objective to review and share existing information on initiatives, programmes and relevant stakeholders. Such an information sharing system will help to strengthen effective communication channels for fisheries and aquaculture policies and strategic dialogue in Africa. Another important ingredient is the reinforcement of Monitoring Control and Surveillance, and the fight against IUU fishing.

Finally, regarding the creation of an enabling environment for African small-scale fisheries, I think it will be important to promote the implementation of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (VG SSF), which will be presented for adoption at the next FAO Committee on Fisheries, in 2014.

Q: That’s an area where African civil society organisations have been particularly involved…

Indeed, NEPAD greatly values CSO involvement, including in the development of the Pan-African Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy Framework and Reform Strategy.

To achieve this, the NEPAD Agency in collaboration with the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources and other partners has promoted a think-tank approach to encourage transparent and home-grown advice for the sector. Working groups have been established in five key policy areas: good governance, trade and access to markets, aquaculture, finance and investment, and illegal fishing. These groups draw on experience from various stakeholders, including fishing communities, industry, governments, experts, etc.

Think-tank events were held in various African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, and, based on their results, we are proposing a pan-African fisheries policy and aquaculture framework and reform strategy.

But still, the participation of African CSOs could be improved. I personally think CSOs can play an important role in advocating for the alignment of national and regional fisheries policies with the FAO VG SSF guidelines mentioned earlier.

Such advocacy is also desirable, in my view, to ensure better inclusion of fisheries in post- Rio+20 sustainable development guidelines.

Another area where CSOs are playing – and will continue to play – an important role is in promoting coherence between fisheries policies and food security policies, given the strategic importance of fisheries and aquaculture for food security in Africa.

This was already reflected in 2006, when agreement was reached by African Union Heads of State, at the NEPAD Food Security Summit, to make fisheries and aquaculture products strategic commodities, alongside rice, maize and other staple food products. Importantly, next year – 2014 – will be the African Year of Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition.

I feel this provides a golden opportunity for us to focus the outcome of the next CAMFA on how fisheries can best promote food security and livelihoods.

Q: How will the future African common fisheries policy affect the fisheries relations with the EU?

One of the CAMFA recommendations was to move towards the development of a common fisheries policy for Africa. The EU itself has a common fisheries policy and is therefore well aware of the importance of developing a common policy in this area.

For us, there is still a long way to go, but we are definitely progressing towards that objective. As part of the process, some dialogue should be established with distant-water fishing nations, including with the EU.

The architecture for such a dialogue exists: the African Union Commission and the EC regularly meet to discuss cooperation. That’s what we wish our future fisheries relations with the EU to be based on: cooperation and partnership. And I’m convinced the process of developing our own common fisheries policy will help this to become a reality.

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