FAO Regional Office for Africa

Addressing HIV/AIDS in fishing communities of West Africa can secure employment to youth and women and better livelihoods

In the past decade, it has become evident that AIDS-related illness and mortality are devastatingly high in some fishing communities

Fishing communities working together (FAO Photo)

16 January 2015, Accra-Cotonou -- FAO has been implementing the “strategic response to HIV/AIDS for fishing communities in Africa” since 2008. The programme has been receiving funding first from the Swedish International Development Agency and a second phase that is ongoing is being funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development.

This programme assists the Ministries in charge of fisheries and the fisheries directories in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.  In addition, it has been implementing HIV/AIDS strategies with regional partners such as the Lagos-Abidjan Corridor Organisation (OCAL) and this has resulted in raising awareness and finally integration of fishing communities in OCAL’s strategic plan thus providing long term guaranteed services to the fisheries sector at the regional level.

Mobility and migration can be linked to higher risks of infection with STI/HIV. During migration/mobility there is often the practice of multiple concurrent sexual partnerships or being involved in transactional sex.

A research conducted in collaboration with Worldfish Center (South and East Africa) and FAO (West and Central Africa) on Lagos Abidjan corridor (2008-2009) shows that:

Less than 25% of fisherfolk know 3 modes of prevention.

There is a generalised consumption of alcohol. In some communities, important number of drug users: 60, 9% drink alcohol and 28,6% (drink alcohol very frequently (14% every day); higher consumption with non-migrant, crew (20,6%), boat owners (18%) and persons older than 40 years (17%)

Transactional sex was also found to be another cause of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in fishing communities. The practice of “fish for sex” is used by many women to secure fish supplies in an increasingly competitive market. In most of the sampling sites, it was admitted that women often initiated the practice but this was not openly and easily discussed;

Sex workers interviewed in the fishing communities in West Africa have clients from the fisheries sector at the same time clients amongst truck drivers and men in uniform. These sex workers are mobile and migrate between fishing camps and other towns and also move along the corridor between countries.

An important number of the sex workers are non-registered; this category is less informed and is willing to have sex without condom. 

Poverty is a key driver of behavior that leads to increased vulnerability to HIV. Improved incomes are thus important in addressing this.

The small scale fisheries sector is an important contributor to both employment and food security with a total workforce of 108 million people (91% of global workforce; 9% employed in Large scale fisheries) and contributing 48 million tons of fish/year (45% of global catch with 55% from Large scale fisheries). These figures give way to awareness for the preponderant place small scale fisheries should have in the development of sustainable resource use and management (Worldbank, FAO, WorldFish Center, 2010).

Data document the importance of the number of actors involved in both post-harvest and capture small scale fisheries, male and female employment, but figures on youth employment in the sector are missing.  The small scale fisheries sector is making an important contribution to local and regional food security. Trade in the region of fresh and processed fish is attracting an important number of low skilled temporary workforce and traders both retail and wholesalers who are often mobile.

Fish and other fisheries products is a regional commodity. Over 40% of all fish cross an international border between harvest and consumption. Over 80% of small-scale fish processors and traders are women. Competition over fish and fisheries products; services (processing, storage); risks linked to costs for accessing the landing sites make women processors, mobile traders and those providing supporting services, vulnerable. 

Achievements and way forward

Sustainable management of fishing, as fish stocks are being rapidly depleted due to over-fishing and environmental and climate change.

The development of sustainable livelihood options in fishing communities to overcome deepening poverty, which increases migration in fishing communities and leads to commercial and transactional sex should be promoted at the level of the fisheries strategies and policies. This will contribute to the reduction of vulnerability and should be combined with a fisheries sector strategic plan to combat STI and AIDS and improved multi sectoral services. Peer education and mobile services appear to be promising measures adapted to the culture and practices of fisherfolk. 

It has been able to liaise with multiple stakeholders and submit to them fisheries frame survey information to enable them to budget and plan for services to youth at risk in the sector and to women in the reproductive age who are in need of reproductive health services. 

In 2014 national aids program and coordination institutions in Ghana, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire have requested to organise a fisheries sector prevalence study and negotiations are ongoing with donors and technical partners. 

The programme has been assisting regional fisheries bodies and has been participating in the fora of the African union and continent wide programs and some of the NEPAD PAF meetings and has raised awareness on Ensuring that management of fisheries and other interventions in the sector do not create or increase vulnerabilities of fisherfolk or people living in fishing communities.

Poverty-reduction and income-earning strategies for youth in the fishing communities have been implemented in Benin and provide interesting perspectives for partnerships with other regional organisations that are willing to support fishing communities. This will provide for young women an alternative to transactional sex in the fishing sector and support to productive activities and Alternative income sources for fishers living with HIV.


Contact: [email protected], Consultant/Coordinateur Programme, FIDP, Cotonou, Benin