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Food security, trade and the economic health of fisheries

09 December 2011

At the third FAO ad hoc fish price index workshop, a presentation was made by the FAO on ‘Food security, trade and economic health of fisheries’. It shows that ‘progress in reducing hunger in the developing world is being reversed’. Fish consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is currently the lowest in the world and the region has one of the highest rates of food insecurity. Fish has the potential to be an enormous asset in the diet of SSA populations, especially as it is often less expensive and more affordable than other animal proteins, specifically when it is preserved by drying or fermenting methods.

The presenter explained that, generally, ‘Fish can improve food security through a variety of ways’: directly, through consumption – fish provides animal protein, essential fatty acids and is a good source of many micronutrients; and indirectly – fish can increase food security through the generation of income and employment, as income from fish can be utilised to purchase other food commodities, including lower cost staple foods. He later emphasised that ‘The World Fish Centre recently conducted a review of studies which identified the impact of capture fisheries on dietary intake and nutritional status. They found that capture fisheries are vital for seasonal part-time occupation in fishing communities. However, a high prevalence of under-nutrition in fishing communities has been documented, and the review suggested that, in some cases, cash income from fish – used for compensating for the shortage of staple foods, thus keeping households from serious food insecurity – may not have been enough to allow the purchase of non-staple foods, and therefore the nutritional status may still remain inadequate.

The presenter also reiterated the argument that marine fisheries can only provide social and economic benefits, including food security, if they are sustainably managed. Sustainability issues also relate to aquaculture, including resource constraints (fish feed, etc) and environmental considerations. Because of these constraints, ‘aquaculture is facing an enormous challenge in order to produce the extra 30-40 million tonnes needed in 2030 to maintain present average consumption levels’.

He also highlighted the fact that ‘Fish exports can generate foreign exchange and create employment and income in the primary and secondary sectors, but on the other hand, fish exports decrease the availability of the traded species for domestic consumption, and raise its local price due to reduced availability’.

Another consideration is that many countries that are large exporters of fish also import fish. Africa for example, despite its exports, remains a net importer of fish in volume and is therefore dependent on fish trade in general, and fish imports in particular to achieve local food security. In many instances, the proceeds from exporting more expensive fish can be used to import less expensive, but equally or more nutritious, fish. 

Editorial comment

Price is a determining factor for ACP fish producers in the sustainability of exploitation and of food security. Given the state of over-exploitation of many ACP resources caught by local fishermen, the only way to maintain sustainable fisheries is by diminishing the fishing effort, and the level of catches. This suggests that the price of fish at the beach level needs to rise, if fishermen and their families are to get a decent revenue from their activity. It is also necessary in order to improve food security, as highlighted here, where at the moment cash income from fish may not be sufficient to cover the purchase of non-staple foods. Identifying ways to ensure a better price for their fish producers is therefore an important issue for ACP countries, both in the context of developing sustainable fisheries exploitation, and reinforcing food security in these communities.


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