Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries
in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication

Empowering women in small-scale fisheries for sustainable food systems

In small-scale fisheries, almost half of the workers are women. But women’s work is however often invisible, informal and underrecognized, and women do not take part in decisions that shape their situation or impact the value chain from bait to plate.

Many women also have limited access to finance, to technology that could make their work more efficient, and to services such as education. As a result, they may have little choice but to accept unfavourable contracts, or unfair conditions and practices in fish sales and markets (read more about the need for gender equality in small-scale fisheries here).

A majority of women in fisheries are involved in processing and marketing fish, referred to as post-harvest activities. The FAO-Norad project “Empowering women in small-scale fisheries for sustainable food systems” is therefore focused on empowering women in the post-harvest sector. When women are empowered and have opportunities to earn and control income, their spending is more likely to benefit the household’s nutrition, health and education.

Support to food systems in five African countries

The project aims to support small-scale fisheries, initially in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Uganda, with a special focus on women.In future years, the geographic coverage could be expanded to additional countries, as well as to Asia and other regions.

When looking at “food systems”, one looks at the production, processing, distribution, marketing and consumption of food, as well as at the socioeconomic and environmental drivers and feedbacks from food system activities, including social and environmental welfare. A well-functioning post-harvest sector is a vital part of a sustainable food system. If managed well, it can make sure that consumers get more good quality, safe, acceptable and affordable food; that less food is wasted before it is sold and eaten; and that people working in the food system can earn enough money to live a life free from poverty.

Build capacity and partnerships
The project will help individuals and small businesses, professional organizations and cooperatives build and improve skills and capacity in their work, with a particular focus on meeting women’s needs. The project will also raise awareness about how important it is to eat fish for a nutritious and balanced diet, especially for children’s physical and cognitive development. In some of the target countries, this may translate into strengthening people’s capacity to process safe fish products that can then be marketed or served in their communities, for instance in schools.

Given that a quarter of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is malnourished, and every fifth child under the age of five is stunted (an indicator of chronic malnutrition), child nutrition is of utmost importance. In East Asia and the Pacific, one in five children under the age of five of age are not growing well (stunting, wasting and overweight), with some countries showing considerably higher numbers. School feeding can give children healthy meals, and also provide a regular market for small-scale fishers and fish processors.

Yet another project activity is to promote partnerships between public and private actors to develop suitable equipment and infrastructure for handling, distributing and trading fish.

Gather knowledge and learnings in one place
The project will furthermore help gather valuable knowledge and data on how small-scale fisheries contribute to food security and nutrition in the five project countries. Similarly, the project will map and analyse what the gender roles look like, and suggest how women can be empowered. For instance, women can be empowered through boosting their skills in decision-making and leadership, or through joining or establishing organisations, networks and platforms relevant to their needs and their work.
Many donors have tried to improve infrastructure for the post-harvest sector in the past, but they have not always been successful. This project sets out to learn from these experiences and develop guidance on best practices for the future.

Funding from Norway to implement guidelines
The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) provided the project with funding in 2020 with continued support foreseen until 2024. The project will contribute to implement the recommendations in the SSF Guidelines. This is also an important step on the way towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 1 ‘No poverty’, Goal 2 ‘Zero hunger’, Goal 5 ‘Gender equality’ and Goal 14.b to “Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.”