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Can strengthening fishing communities decrease migration?

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Coastal communities and improving the lives of vulnerable fishing families is central to all FAO fisheries work

Speaking on the BBC last week and addressing the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans spoke about new initiatives to manage  migration in the Mediterranean region better “by helping the fishermen to start to fish again”. Within the work of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, the work of strengthening coastal communities and improving the lives of vulnerable fishing families has consistently been a core  area in  its  work programme. Fishing communities in developing countries are often fragile and more vulnerable than other rural communities. Yet work in fisheries and aquaculture can provide important opportunities for small-scale fishing communities.

FAO has a long history of working with fishing communities to improve their methods and increase productivity, to assist them in managing sustainable fisheries, and building their capacity to add value to their products and provide greater opportunities to women working in the post-harvest sector. Furthermore, FAO has worked over the years to improve trade opportunities for fishers in developing countries, helping countries to develop their capacity  to meet international quality and safety standards that would allow them to export  their fish and fishery products into major markets in developed countries.


These principles are also firmly established in the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, negotiated by member countries and adopted by FAO’s Committee on Fisheries in June 2014.

According to Árni M. Mathiesen, Assistant Director-General of FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, “Commissioner Timmermans’ comments were well appreciated by those of us working in fisheries and aquaculture at FAO, since these views reflect our ideas and priorities for strengthening coastal fishing communities and ensuring decent work and livelihoods to rural populations in developing countries, both in the Mediterranean and other regions.

This is a central tenet of our Blue Growth Initiative, which carefully weighs the environmental, economic and social aspects of all our work in strengthening fisheries management in countries, and placing coastal communities at the center of our policies and field programmes.” “In many developing countries, work in capture fisheries and aquaculture present opportunities for vulnerable communities, with the potential to create employment for rural populations, especially young people.

Being able to provide decent work to young people in these vulnerable communities can contribute to decrease rural to urban migration, or migration abroad. But with the changing patterns and challenges of migration we face today, we are quickly learning that we must look beyond only providing employment opportunities.

Strong coastal communities are key to ensuring that the communities themselves do not fall prey to trafficking rings. Stronger, more resilient communities, with adequate food security and decent work opportunities will be more prone to protecting those communities they have constructed. Like Commissioner Timmermans, we believe that helping the fishers to fish again is an important first step to building these stronger, more resilient coastal communities.”

This area of work is increasingly an area of FAO’s work with small-scale fishing communities, including a few recent examples:

Adopting simple technologies – such as FTT ovens for smoking fish – that can improve quality of the final product, decrease the environmental footprint, and safeguard the health of the post-harvest workers spending large portions of their days over smoking ovens. The Coastal Fisheries initiative is exploring this and other simple technologies with coastal communities in Cabo Verde, Cote d’ivoire and Senegal.
FAO is working with European seafood importers to establish a direct supply chains to women clam fishers in Tunisia, in order to create direct value chains that would lead to fair trade and higher incomes for the women’s associations.
This inland aquaculture project close to Haiti’s coastline as part of a larger Farmer Field School project has made a significant difference to the food security and livelihoods of the participating communities.

The FAO-GEF Coastal Fisheries Initiative – The western Africa component managed by FAO is part of a larger, GEF-financed, multi-partner programme focused on strengthening coastal fisheries communities in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The FAO project component is being implemented in partnership with the governments of Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

The project is working with governments to identify their priorities, including better management, capacity building and training for the coastal fishers, increasing trade opportunities, and strengthening women’s associations and helping them to improve post-harvest work, adopting simple technologies – such as FTT ovens – that can improve quality of the final product, decrease the environmental footprint, and safeguard the health of the post-harvest workers spending large portions of their days over smoking ovens.

According to Jacqueline Alder, Chair of the Coastal Fisheries Initiative Global Steering Committee, “We have been carefully tailoring this project alongside the governments and the fisherfolk themselves to meet the needs of the specific communities, and we are convinced that we can build strong, vibrant projects in all three countries that can benefit the men, women and children who make up these coastal communities.”

Shortening value chains for women clam fishers in Tunisia – A project working with a women’s clam fishing cooperative in southern Tunisia was suspended five years ago, following the Arab Spring. Recently, conditions in the region have improved and the project is beginning once again, working to create shorter value chains that would allow the women clam fishers to gain greater profits from their work.

The women work grueling hours under the hot sun, walking long distances during low tide to harvest clams by hand, generally earning 0.30-0.40 euro cents per kilo for clams that go on to sell for 6-7 euro per kilo to European importers. These are the Tapes decussates clam, indigenous to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Morocco, where they are harvested by hand (said to ensure a higher quality).

There is a strong market for these clams just across the Mediterranean Sea in Italy. FAO is working with Italian seafood importers to establish  a direct supply chain, in which the women would collect the clams, clean them and package them, thereby earning higher incomes for their labour. Supported by  marketing activities  and fair trade labeling, the project  could have a big impact on these women clam fishers – with  a positive impact on  family earnings thereby , strengthening this vulnerable coastal community.

Promoting aquaculture among vulnerable communities in Haiti – As the poorest country in the northern hemisphere, with two and a half million Haitians living in extreme poverty, food security, malnutrition and unemployment are serious concerns in rural areas of Haiti. FAO has been working with an EU-financed project promoting Farmer Field Schools in an inland, rural community close to the coast. Alongside agricultural practices, rural communities participating in this project are also taking part in aquaculture activities in a local lake.

The fish farmers are growing red tilapia in cages, and have seen impressive results, growing their fingerlings from 1 gramme to 150 grammes in only two months. Within the project, the fish farmers are working to market their tilapia within the area, providing a direct supply chain to local restaurants and hotels, and selling their product at local fairs, alongside other products grown within the Farmer Field School activities. Activities with small-scale fishers clearly show that constructing a vibrant, resilient fishing community – so-called ‘blue communities’-  can certainly help to strengthen those communities and  decrease the pressure to migrate from rural to urban areas, or eventually abroad. 

Robust coastal fishing communities are a benefit for society, boosting food security and nutrition, providing opportunities for gainful employment and income generation, providing safe and nutritious food for the local population, and furnishing fish and fishery exports for abroad that can have a positive impact on national economies.

FAO will continue to work to strengthen coastal fishing communities, and we are pleased that international debate is beginning to address the important role fisheries and aquaculture can play in strengthening livelihoods in developing countries.

The Haitian fish farmers in this FAO-EU project are growing red tilapia in cages, and have seen impressive results, growing their fingerlings from 1 gramme to 150 grammes in only two months.
Fishing communities in developing countries are often fragile and more vulnerable than other rural communities. Yet work in fisheries and aquaculture can provide important opportunities for small-scale fishing communities.

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