Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
©FAO/Luis Antonio Rojas

The importance of markets in reducing food loss and waste (FLW) in the aquatic food value chains

By Koane Mindjimba

Fish is an important source of top quality protein, fatty acids, vitamins and other vital minerals such as iodine and selenium. However, it is highly perishable and as such easily susceptible to spoilage, especially under hot climate. This ultimately leads to food loss and waste (FLW). It is therefore paramount that appropriate actions be taken in time along the value chain (VC) to prevent and reduce losses.

While conceptually both FLW alike refer to the decrease in quantity or quality of edible food, the difference between the two lies in the stages where they mainly occur: upstream of the production chain at the level of producers or suppliers and thereafter except the retail stage in the first case; at the end of the food chain, i.e. at the level of the retailers, food service providers and consumers in the second case. Historically, the two concepts have been termed “producer loss” and “consumer waste”. Nonetheless, FLW is a major global issue, and its reduction strategies are enshrined in various commitments made worldwide given its significant levels along the VC.

Markets – for the purposes of this article, defined as places or platforms where producers can meet end-users or final consumers to sell produce – and their functioning play an important role in reducing FLW in the aquatic food value chains. They can be physical or virtual. Depending on their size, various types of markets can be distinguished: mini-markets, supermarkets, street or open-air markets, wholesale markets, retail markets, shops, etc. Markets can also be classified by commodity (e.g. fish market), location (rural or urban), destination and scope (local, national, regional or international), utilisation of the produce (subsistence or market-led) or owner (e.g. municipal market). Their performance is influenced by such factors as access, communications, infrastructure, services, legislation and standards, consumer demand and preferences, technology and investment. The main impediments to market access are physical (inadequate roads) or virtual (lack of market information and credit) in nature.

It’s estimated that the equivalent of 10 million tonnes of fish is wasted annually. And accounting for between 3 and 8% of every fish, the skin is a structural material that’s full of protein and lipids that offers plenty of untapped potential.

Key determinants directly related to markets include price, unreliable markets, limited or lack of access to markets (mainly due to poor status of the roads) and weak market linkages. These speed up fish spoilage, thereby causing FLW. To prevent and reduce FLW, appropriate market-led interventions such as connecting producers to markets through market and agri-food system development, gaining or improving access to markets need to be taken by VC stakeholders. These accelerate trade.

The impacts of FLW also depend on the size of the market (in terms of absorption capacity of the amount of food produced and marketed): the larger the market, the greater the impacts of FLW and vice versa, ceteris paribus. It has also been observed that the magnitude of FLW crucially depends on the quantity of fish produced and marketed. Moreover, formal markets with stringent trade and quality standards such as the European market have the potential to reduce FLW and realise gains. Failure to comply with these requirements may lead to market or border rejections. On the other hand, informal markets and trade, in which standards are not met, can lead to significant FLW.

Although all the stages of the VC influence the quality of the product, markets play a crucial role in that regard in terms of both availability and functioning. In fact, they serve as an essential link between producers and end-users or final consumers such that the presence of the latter in the markets would enable the former to sell out their produce before it spoils, thus reducing FLW. First, without markets, fish produced is unlikely to reach the eventual end-users or final consumers, and it will be lost and wasted. Second, markets may well exist and consumers present but if they are inefficient or inadequate, they may equally cause significant FLW. To minimise FLW, therefore, not only is the availability of markets important to link producers with consumers; it is also essential that the fish produced by the former reach the latter in an efficient way. In other words, for markets to effectively contribute to FLW prevention and reduction in the VC they should not only exist; they must also be accessible for both the producers and consumers, and operate efficiently.

Policies and market incentives aimed at improving the performance of the existing market systems and correcting failures in that regard (e.g. lack of market information and credit, supply not equating with demand, subsidies, taxes, tariffs, price inflation, low purchasing power) provide important opportunities for keeping the quality and safety of the fish along the VC, thereby reducing FLW. Equally warranted are public awareness-raising, sensitisation and capacity building of VC actors (fishers, fish farmers, processors, traders…) and investment in market-orientated interventions. While interventions to prevent or reduce FLW at the market level are essential, it is necessary that appropriate actions are equally taken upstream to cover the entire VC insofar as they also affect subsequent stages. Indeed, the fish may already be spoiled or damaged before reaching the market such that any action taken at that level is unlikely to redress the situation. Overall, such interventions improve food security and nutrition as well as producers’ livelihoods, foster economic growth and development and lessen environmental impact and climate change.

Learn more about market solutions here.