Dear Mr. Swaminathan,
I am writing to you in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the right to food pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 13/4.
I note that the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), at its 39th session,
recognized the significant role played by fisheries and aquaculture in food security and nutrition, and requested the High Level Panel of Experts for Food Security and nutrition (HLPE) to undertake a study on the role of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture for food security and nutrition to be presented to the CFS plenary in 2014. In this connection, I understand that an e-consultation has been launched to seek views, public feedback and comments on the pertinence and relative importance of some key questions that the report proposes to address.
I welcome this decision by the CFS to address such a timely and salient issue
because, too often, a gap has existed between the import role played by fisheries and aquaculture and the degree of attention it is given in discussions concerning food and nutrition security. In order to address this gap, I prepared a report on fisheries and the right to food that I presented to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2012 (enclosed). The report assesses the contribution of fisheries to global food security, and examines how the right to food can guide our efforts toward sustainable fisheries.
I would like to seize the opportunity of the e-consultation to contribute two of my reports on fisheries and women’s rights, which I hope will be useful to the HLPE. I also offer the following comments on the questions raised in the e-consultation.
The right to food is primarily the right to food oneself in dignity, and is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. The right to food is universal and applies to all sectors. For example, the importance of applying the right to food is evidenced in international policy discussions on fisheries. The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries advanced the obligation of States to promote food security and the rights of small-scale fishers. In 2007, the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) committed to promote a human rights-based approach, arguing that “the recognition and adoption of human rights principles can help achieve poverty eradication and facilitate the adoption of responsible fisheries practices.”
The commitment to human rights is being developed further in the proposed
FAO “International Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries,” which follows the recommendation made by COFI during its 29th session (February 2011).
This process is based on the increasing recognition of small-scale fisheries as a major contributor to poverty alleviation and food security, an acknowledgment that figured prominently in the Global Conference on Small-Scale Fisheries in Bangkok in 2008, which also reaffirmed that human rights are critical to achieving sustainable development in the field of fisheries management.
It would seem to me essential to link the content of the HLPE report on the role of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture for food security and nutrition to the norms and standards of international human rights law, including the right to food.
1. How can the implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Aquaculture be further improved globally for sustainable aquatic resource management?
As awareness has grown of the threat posed by overfishing, international
agreements and guidelines have been drawn up to address various dimensions of the problem, including the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries,
which adopt precautionary and ecosystems approaches to fisheries. Coastal
States and landlocked States with inland fisheries should respect existing
international instruments, and involve local fishing communities in the design, implementation and assessment of the fisheries policies and interventions affecting them. See for developments A/67/268, paras. 43–46, 60 and 61.
2. How will nations maintain the integrity of the resource base (the source of food) in the face of these pressures, and the livelihoods dependent on them?
Global marine and inland fisheries play an important role in the food security of millions of people, providing a vital source of high-quality dietary protein and supporting individuals’ livelihoods and income. It is widely acknowledged,however, that the productivity of global fisheries as a source of food is in a state of decline, which is primarily caused by unsustainable and destructive fishing practices and perverse subsidies, and is aggravated by climate change, pollution and habitat loss. States will have to strike a balancing act in the face of the emerging challenges that are emerging. In doing so, States should involve local fishing communities in accordance with human rights norms and standards. See the developments in A/67/268, paras. 20–28, 60, 61(c), (e), and 62(a),(b),(c),(d).
3. What are the key socioeconomic issues which affect the sustainability and
development of fisheries and aquaculture?
The contribution made by the global fisheries sector to the right to food and food security it critical, as noted in paragraph 113 of the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 66/288. Yet, in part because data are insufficient, it is often underappreciated. Nonetheless, fisheries play a role as a source of income security and poverty reduction. This latter function can be seen where fishing operates as a safety-net for groups vulnerable to poverty and food security.
Food security is a matter of political economy and social inclusion. In many
places, those reliant on the fisheries sector face enormous insecurity and high levels of poverty, and the contribution that this sector could make to food security at local and national levels are seriously limited by current policies and practices. There are a range of contributing factors, such as poor access to education, declining or absent infrastructure, limited access to credit (or credit provided on unfair terms), lack of preferential access to fishing grounds, tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade, competition from cheaper imports, corruption in fisheries management, etc. Improving the socioeconomic functions of fishing and the contributions made by fishers to poverty reduction and food security requires active steps to secure all aspects of human rights for fishing communities; including the rights to food, health, education, information, participation, equality and non-discrimination and access to justice. See the developments in A/67/268, paras. 6–8, 10–19.
4. To what extent can contributions be made to policy development and have
considerable impact on securing small-scale fisheries/artisanal fisheries in their fundamental rights and creating benefits, especially in terms of food security and poverty reduction?
The small-scale sector, particularly in developing countries, plays a significant role in food security for millions of people, both through income security for fishing communities and also through the supply of fish for local, national and increasingly international markets.
It is critical for States to collaborate with small-scale and artisanal fishers and civil society in policy development. Free, active and meaningful participation of small-scale and artisanal fishers is key in the management of fisheries. It is also important that small-scale and artisanal fishers participate in wider decisionmaking processes that affect them. Linked to the exercise of participation is the right to information and transparency, which are essential to accountability.
Fishing communities must have access to information regarding relevant
policies and programmes to enable them to recognize and understand the
possible implications for them. Moreover, increasing access to information and transparency is not only necessary to facilitate participation, but also to create buy in. Lastly, it is essential to ensure accountability through adequate monitoring and follow up. States should also implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of national food security. See the developments in A/67/268, paras. 24–28, 52–59, 61(d) and 62(a).
5. How can the gender specific needs and rights of women be protected through enforceable rights over land, water resources, credit and other related matters?
Women comprise about half of the global fisheries workface, typically
concentrated in the pre-harvest and post-harvest sectors, with many coming from rural communities where alternative income activities may be limited. States should take measures that support women’s role in the fisheries sector, for instance by ensuring access to credit for women and providing adequate facilities for them at landing sites, among others. See for developments A/67/268, paras. 6, 8, 61(d), as well as A/HRC/22/50 (on women’s rights and the right to food).
6. What continuous improvements in institutional capacities (both national and regional) are critical for the success of management and governance of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture?
Global fisheries face challenges as a result of weak governance at the national, regional and international levels. Since the 1996 World Food Summit there has been a tremendous improvement in the understanding of how to address food insecurity and how the right to food should be approached at the national level.
In this regard, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has
elaborated in its General Comment No. 12 (1999) the steps States should take
towards the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all, based on human rights norms and standards that define the objectives, and the formulation of policies and corresponding benchmarks.
Accordingly, a national strategy should include the establishment of appropriate institutional mechanism, in particular to: (i) identify, at the earliest stage possible, emerging threats to the right to food, by adequate monitoring systems;
(ii) improve coordination between different relevant ministries, and between the national and sub-national levels of government; (iii) improve accountability, with a clear allocation of responsibilities, and the setting of precise timeframes for the realization of the dimensions of the right to food that require progressive implementation; and (iv) ensure active and meaningful participation, particularly of the most food-insecure segments of the population. The same can be applied to regional strategies. See the developments in A/67/268, paras. 61(b) and 61(f).
7. How sustainable aquaculture can be promoted for food security and nutrition, as well as livelihoods, into the longer term?
Food security concerns created by the decline in production from wild capture fisheries, as well as an increasing demand for seafood, has led to an expanding interest in the current and potential contribution to food supply by aquaculture (or fish farming). The positive contribution to food security by fish farming needs to be considered, among others, in terms of its environmental externalities and labour practices (the two being closely related as often it is the workers who suffer most from poor environmental regulation). Some forms of fish farming generate pollution, coastal habitat degradation, contamination of wild stocks with farmed stocks, etc. These can have negative impacts on both coastal communities and marine ecosystems. Moreover, there have been several reports of commercial fish farming in developing countries that have relied on extremely poor standards of employment, with women in particular being vulnerable to exploitation, lack of employment security and basic entitlements.
The progressive realization of the right to food is not simply indicated by
absolute growth in production, but rather how access to farmed food is provided to the most marginalized and most food insecure must be considered. See the developments in A/67/268, 33–37, 61(e).
8. What policies are necessary for fair and improved trading?
The fisheries sector has become an increasingly important, but undervalued,
economic sector, both as a source of export revenue and as a source of State
revenue from selling access to distant-water fishing fleets, particularly for lowincome food-deficit countries or developing countries. The overall economic, social and food security impacts of this increase in international trade of fish products are, however, ambiguous. In some cases trade has opened up new opportunities for increased incomes for local fishers, although the benefits are not always distributed well or reach the most food insecure populations. The industrialization of some fisheries, encouraged through an increase in exportoriented fisheries, has also worked to squeeze out some local fishers, but has also provided new jobs for those outside traditional fishing communities. For example, in some countries, increase in export fisheries has led to an impressive expansion of employment in value-added activities, particularly in the postharvest sector and in countries that have benefited from importing fish for processing and re-export. See for developments A/67/268, paras. 29–32, 47, 50–51, 61(g) and 62(b); and see A/HRC/19/59/Add.5 (on the steps for the preparation of human rights impact assessments of trade and investment agreements).
9. What would promote fish value chain development that supports food security and nutrition?
Many fishers, particularly small-scale and artisanal fishers, face difficulties in
increasing their share of profits in national, regional and international supply
chains. In many countries fishers complain that the majority of profits in supply chains are made by relatively few middlemen or export companies, while the price paid to small-scale fishers for fish can be low. There are some examples where small-scale fisheries have improved their vertical integration into national and international supply chains, which has resulted in greater profits and profit sharing in coastal communities. See for developments A/67/268, paras.61(d)(iii), (iv), and A/66/262 (on business models that could benefit the livelihoods of small-scale farmers by improving access to markets and contribute to the realization of the right to food).
10. What other policies and relevant technology options are available for waste minimization, better resource accountability and management?
Adopting policies and practices that are sustainable are crucial to reduce waste and ensure better resource management. It is important to combat illegal fishing practices, the targeting and trading of protected species, and the use of banned fishing gear, among others. The other issues that must be urgently tackled are overfishing, high-grading, foreign access arrangements in developing countries, and fishing sector subsidies, etc. See for developments A/67/268, paras. 13–15, 47–49 and 63.
I remain at your disposal and that of the HLPE Steering Committee. I can be
reached through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
I would like to seize the opportunity to commend the High-Level Panel of
Experts for its invaluable contribution to the deliberations of the CFS, under your esteemed leadership.
Olivier De Schutter
Special Rapporteur on the right to food
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