Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
©FAO/Aina Randrianantoandro

African small-scale fish value chains: Gender and food loss

By Aina Randrianantoandro

In Africa, food loss occurs in most, if not all, small-scale fish supply chains. Losses constitute lost income to fishers, processors, and traders, but they also contribute to food insecurity and malnutrition because a loss means less fish available for the consumer. In addition, food loss significantly contributes to the increasing environmental cost of food production. Efforts to identify the direct causes of fish losses and quantify their magnitude still need to be increased. In many small-scale fishing communities, loss reduction interventions have tended to focus on technological solutions, often overlooking the relevance of socio-economic factors that influence the functioning of the fish value chain.

First and foremost of these factors are gender relations. Indeed, women are a pillar of the African artisanal fisheries and aquaculture sectors. They are at the heart of the value chains from the canoe to the market. Nevertheless, gender discrimination and inequalities remain significant in African societies. Due to social roles, gender roles, gender-blind policies, religion, and prejudice, men and women do not have equal access to and power over resources, resulting in unequal opportunities for women. These inequalities inevitably impact the socio-economic dynamics of the continent, limit the potential of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, and to many extents contribute to increasing the level of post-harvest losses.

The combination of productive activities with household and care tasks required of women creates time and energy constraints and significantly increases losses. For example, women processors may accidentally burn the fish during the smoking operation, as they concomitantly carry out household duties. Predation by animals, infestation by insects, and theft also lead to losses because the fish is left unattended during processing.

In some communities, women are restricted from traveling long distances due to their domestic responsibilities and restrictive social norms (fear from husbands about possible encounters with other men and staying a night out of the home) and perceived risks of gender-based violence. Women may not be able to travel after dark, so they cannot participate in night markets or travel in the early mornings to landing sites. The same restrictions on mobility also affect their access to other markets, even those nearby, and limit women's ability to obtain optimum prices. Regarding mobility limitations, women may not only be restricted from traveling long distances but also by their access to transport. In some countries, women are not allowed to ride motorcycles. These limitations prevent women from accessing fresher and better-quality fish that may be found in more distant markets and landing sites.,. Furthermore, these constraints contribute to market-driven losses that ultimately impact women’s livelihoods as the final quantity and quality of the fish products arrived at the market are lower than expected.

Differences in men’s and women’s skills and knowledge are another relevant factor, for example, in the uptake of technological solutions aimed at reducing losses. In many African small-scale fishing communities, women’s illiteracy rate is generally higher than men’s, posing a challenge to the grasp of technology by low-skilled and low-literate women. At the same time, acquiring the skills and access to training provided by extension workers can be limited. Extension workers are often men, and in some cultures, norms do not allow women to interact with men who are not their husbands or families. All this limits women’s ability to learn and acquire better practices and extend their resource networks, which could contribute to the control and reduction of food loss.

Nonetheless, women are pivotal agents of change in fish loss reduction. Some women pre-finance the fish trip and are present during the landings. These women are in a position to influence fishers’ behavior regarding how fish is handled and the use of bycatch, limiting losses at the fishing stage. In Ghana, many women own boats, and some even provide loans to male fishers to invest in boats or fishing equipment. At the processing stage, the consideration of women’s needs and gender-related constraints in developing an improved fish smoking oven – namely the FTT – has contributed to curbing losses due to bad smoking practices to nearly zero. At the market level, women may also influence consumers’ habits, for example, by presenting better quality products to consumers in the market, contributing to decrease quality losses.

These illustrations confirm the importance of considering women and gender-based constraints in interventions to reduce losses in the African small-scale fish value chainThis approach starts with the development of a value chain analysis that is gender-sensitive, in other words, which highlights the dynamics and factors that influence women’s and men’s natural social disposition and participation in fisheries activities according to dominant assigned gender roles. It will then help identify the constraints that affect actors’ participation in the value chain, including gender-based constraints linked to fish losses.

On the normative side, to better understand the key components of a gender-sensitive fish loss value chain analysis, FAO is developing the Gender-Responsive Fish Loss Assessment Methodology (GRFLAM). This methodology aims to identify gender-based constraints that contribute to losses and recommend solutions. Currently, FAO is pilot-testing this methodology in small-scale fish communities in Ghana, in collaboration with the Food Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-FRI). It is hoped that the methodology will assist in preparing more effective and successful strategies and interventions that address at the same time gender constraints and reduce fish losses. Target stakeholders include fisheries program officers, experts, policymakers, small-scale fishing community organizations, NGOs, regional organizations, academia and research, and donors.

Learn more about how equitable social and gender environments can reduce food loss and waste in fish value chains here.