Food Security and nutrition: fisheries gets on the agenda

Brian O'Riordan, ICSF

The contribution of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture for food security and nutrition was discussed at the 41st Session of the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security Adapted from ICSF’s Samudra Report No 68, November 2014.

Fish undoubtedly plays a key role in human nutrition. Sustaining fisheries resources is vital for ensuring the well-being and food security of both current and future generations. It was therefore a welcome development that one of the most important international policy-making bodies on food and nutrition – the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – gave fisheries a high priority in the deliberations of its 41st Session (CFS 41) from October 13-18 October 2014.

ICSF food security

Landing the catch at Costa Rica                                                                            Photo Brian O'Riordan

Policy debate

Participants were asked to engage in an “open and substantive debate so as to contribute to concrete policy recommendations for consideration by the CFS’ on the role of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture for food security and nutrition.

This was the first time in its history that the CFS had given any importance to the contribution of fisheries to food security. So too, at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome from November 19- 21 when fisheries and aquaculture were in the spotlight.

According to FAO, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. By this FAO, or by any other definition, without access to fish and fishery products, there can be no food security or adequate nutrition.

Fish provides a source of essential proteins, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids (notably DHA - docosahexaenoic acid) and other nutrients not readily available in other foods. These nutrients are vital for foetal and infant development, as well as for pregnant and breast feeding mothers.

Import dependent

In Europe, we are far from food secure when it comes to fisheries. Increasingly we depend on imports to meet our food needs. At the same time, as the recent tragic loss of the Scottish fishing vessel Ocean Way highlighted, Europe’s fishing fleet increasingly depends on crews from less developed countries like the Philippines. Here in Europe, few people go hungry thanks to economic prosperity and social safety nets. What we are unable to produce ourselves we can buy in ― or in the case of Ocean Way, bring in foreign crews to catch our fish for us.

In poorer countries, large sections of the population go hungry. FAO estimates that one person in eight suffers from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life. This not because there is a lack of food in the world; rather it is because either people can’t afford it (there are no hungry people with money), or because their access to productive lands and waters has been curtailed. ‘Land grabs’ and ‘fish grabs’ are an increasing phenomenon, whereby large companies buy up lands, and fishing rights and concessions, transforming coastal areas into marine parks, tourist sites, industrial export oriented aquaculture ventures and such like.

Productive lands and waters are increasingly being transformed into commercial ventures to produce animal feed, energy, and cash crops. Here in Europe, the inequitable ownership of fishing quotas, the closure of fishing areas by marine parks, and the increasing competition for space in our inshore waters from tourism, energy production, waste dumping, and so on, have received much attention.

This is why the boots of European fishermen are increasingly being filled by feet from poorer countries; where they live there are few opportunities to earn a living wage. Indeed, worldwide, the extraction of fish from the sea and its production in aquaculture increasingly depends on migrant labour – even in poorer countries.

Redressing imbalances

Food security is therefore much more complex than just having access to food. Increasing production does not in its self lead to greater food security and better nutrition; imbalances of power in food production systems and value chains, social and economic inequality, and discrimination against women among other issues must be addressed to achieve food security for all.

Importantly, unlike other FAO committees, like the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), the CFS includes civil society and non-governmental organisations and their networks (CSOs) as full participants. This means that the voices of fishermen’s and fishworkers’ organisations can be heard in the CFS.

At CFS 41, two main organisations representing small-scale fisheries – the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers (WFF) and the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) – certainly had a chance to have their say.

Disappointingly however, resulting recommendations were quite weak and watered down. One particular disappointment was that the ‘round table’ discussions proved blind to the crucial role played by women in sustaining fisheries and aquaculture production throughout the value chain. Rather, only the work of women in the harvesting sector was recognised and to be afforded social protection.

The final recommendations were certainly not as strongly or as explicitly worded as the CSOs would have liked. But importantly, it has given the CFS a nuanced, if rather watered down, set of recommendations on fisheries and aquaculture issues that go beyond a narrow productionist focus.

Further information: FAO Committee on World Food Security CFS 41 Report: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/cfs/Docs1314/CFS41/CFS41_Report_for_Adoption.pdf

Civil Society Mechanism http://www.csm4cfs.org/ Understanding food security through a gendered lens:

http://participationpower.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/understanding-food-security-through-a-gendered-lens/

Maximizing the contribution of fish to human nutrition. ICN2 Expert Paper. http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/icn2/preparations/document-detail/en/c/242589/