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

Implementing the SSF Guidelines in Sub-Saharan Africa


Numerous initiatives have been taken in Africa to implement the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines). The text below focuses on implementation efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Another text, describing actions to implement the SSF Guidelines in the Near East and North Africa Region will follow shortly. See also previously published texts describing implementation efforts in Asia & the Pacific, and in Latin America & the Caribbean.

A landmark event for small-scale fisheries occurred on 10 June 2014. On that day, representatives of more than 100 countries and observers from civil society organizations, regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations endorsed the SSF Guidelines. Six years down the line, the SSF Guidelines continue to provide an important tool for enhancing the contribution by small-scale fisheries to food security and nutrition.

A number of regional organizations, in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, have integrated the SSF Guidelines into their strategies, plans and actions, and some countries have come well under way in empowering small-scale fisheries actors, creating enabling environments and making action plans for how to take the implementation further.

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©FAO/Filipe Branquinho

FAO’s support to small-scale fisheries in Sub-Saharan Africa

Current activities

During 2020, activities have started in Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda on empowering women in fisheries for sustainable food systemsunder the FAO SSF Umbrella Programme, with funding from Norad. Activities in Tanzania to complement an already existing initiative (described further below) also receives support. FAO supports women actors in the small-scale fisheries postharvest sector in growing their knowledge and skills, and improving their business opportunities. The five-year project aims to contribute to more inclusive and efficient food systems.

The FAO SSF Umbrella Programme, with funding from Sida, also supports activities in Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Namibia, Senegal and Tanzania. For Tanzania, Senegal and Madagascar, the aim is to develop and carry out national plans of action for implementing the SSF Guidelines. In Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, activities under the FAO SSF Umbrella Programme will complement and build on the already existing Coastal Fisheries Initiative project (see below).

FAO’s Coastal Fisheries Initiative project in West Africa, supported by the Global Environment Facility is reviewing fisheries legislation frameworks in Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal through a participatory process including small-scale fishing communities. The aim is to come up with recommendations for modifications to the legislation frameworks to reflect the principles of the SSF Guidelines as well as an ecosystem approach to fisheries. The project is also reviewing existing institutional structures to support amendments necessary for new co-management arrangements. Previously, the Initiative has developed a Fisheries Performance Assessment tool on fisheries governance and environmental, economic and social sustainability, with emphasis on small-scale fisheries. The tool was introduced for piloting in Cabo Verde, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal through a capacity building workshop in 2019.

Similarly, a Sida-funded FAO project for Marine and Coastal Governance and Fisheries Management for Sustainable Growth aims to build resilient livelihoods in small-scale fisheries, manage coastal fisheries sustainably using the ecosystem approach to fisheries, and enhance co-operation and coordination between small-scale fishers and environmental management institutions. The project has regional components in Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Maldives, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania and Yemen; and country components for Madagascar, Mozambique, and the United Republic of Tanzania; and country components for Madagascar, Mozambique, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

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Catch of the day at Playa de S. Antonio de Pale, Equatorial Guines ©FAO

For an ongoing global study called Illuminating Hidden Harvests, FAO has recently collected data in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. This comprehensive study will include over 50 countries worldwide and will highlight the global contributions of small-scale fisheries to food security and nutrition.

Previous work

FAO with partners have organized several consultations to support SSF Guidelines implementation at regional level. In Sub-Saharan Africa, such workshops took place in Eastern Africa in 2015, the Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Region in 2016, and West and Central Africa in 2018.

FAO has furthermore worked to strengthen value chains and post-harvest – in line with the SSF Guidelines chapter 7 – by promoting better handling of fish. FAO has for instance analysed production systems and normative regulatory and institutional mechanisms for smoked and sun-dried fish through a study on post-harvest loss reduction in the Volta Basin Riparian Countries, published in 2016.

Within the context of a Flexible Multi-Partner Mechanism (FMM) project to enable women to benefit more equally from agri-food value chains, national awareness raising workshops on the SSF Guidelines have taken place in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Tunisia. The workshops targeted women in particular and focussed on chapters 6-8 of the SSF Guidelines.

Regional actors and initiatives

Many of our partners around the world are making significant efforts to support implementation of the SSF Guidelines. Here are some regional organizations in Africa worth noting for their work in small-scale fisheries.

The African Union

The African Union is a continental union consisting of 55 member states located on the continent of Africa. The African Union, especially its Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), have made significant efforts in support of small-scale fisheries. They have for instance worked to establish so called non-state actor platforms to help raise the voices of producer organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society movements and others. Currently, non-state actor platforms exist or are under way in five sub-regions in Africa. In 2019, the African Union, FAO, AU-IBAR, WorldFish and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) jointly organized a Pan-African workshop to to explore the possibility to create a pan-African platform, linking the five regional ones together. While the platforms have a broader membership than small-scale fisheries organizations, there is a focus on small-scale fisheries.

The important role of the small-scale fisheries sector is also addressed in the African Union’s Policy Framework and Reform Strategy for Fisheries and Aquaculture in Africa (PFRS), adopted in 2014. The PFRS includes the implementation of the SSF Guidelines among the expected outputs. Moreover, during the last few years, AUDA-NEPAD has worked on Fish Governance and Trade to encourage African countries to implement policies and governance reforms aimed at improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Africa's fisheries sector.

A pan-African network for women in fisheries, the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFishNet) was established in 2017. It draws its 23 members from African Union member states from all the four corners of the continent. AWFishNet is an important forum for women fish processors and traders to consolidate their opinions and voice them in high-level decision-making processes. The network organized its first general assembly in 2018.

The Southern African Development Community – SADC

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a Regional Economic Community established in 1992. SADC is committed to eradicating poverty through economic development, ensuring peace and security, and promoting regional integration. Their Fisheries Programme 2015-2020 includes an initiative on small-scale fisheries with the aim to facilitate participatory processes, and involve small-scale fishers in the control and management of their fishing and related activities. This work includes promoting implementation of the SSF Guidelines in the SADC region.

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A fisherman repairing his nets on the shore after a
day's work in Kalemie, Katanga Region.
©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic – CECAF

In West Africa, the Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF) aims to promote the sustainable utilization of the living marine resources within its area of competence through proper management and development of fisheries and fishing operations. CECAF has an artisanal fisheries working group, which revised its Terms of Reference in 2016 to include the implementation of the SSF Guidelines. In its 5th session held in Dakar in 2018, the working group drew up a work plan on how to make artisanal fisheries sustainable in both long and short terms.

The working group now engages in studying key challenges facing the small-scale fisheries sector, improving data collection on small-scale fisheries, and refining the characterization of small-scale fisheries in the region.

CECAF held a West and Central Africa regional consultation for its member countries in 2018 to develop a regional small-scale fisheries action plan for the implementation of the SSF Guidelines within the African Union policy framework. FAO supported this workshop in collaboration with AU-IBAR, the ECOWAS Commission and the FIRST Programme.

Later in 2019, CECAF reviewed the results of the activities from the 5th session and discussed how priority indicators of small-scale fishing can be captured under data collection. The working group concluded the meeting with key recommendations on further actions to be taken related to small-scale fisheries in the Eastern Atlantic region.

The Committee for Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture of Africa – CIFAA

Small-scale fisheries dominate the inland fisheries sector in Africa and play a crucial role in food security and livelihoods. The Committee for Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture of Africa (CIFAA) is the regional fishery body for inland fisheries and aquaculture in Africa. In its 18th session, held in Bamako in 2019, an agenda item on the SSF Guidelines was included for the first time. It was agreed that CIFAA should support the implementation of the SSF Guidelines, and member countries were recommended to develop national plans of action for this purpose.

The German Development Agency – GIZ

The German Development Agency (GIZ) works with small-scale fisheries and aquaculture projects in Uganda, Mauritania, Malawi, Madagascar and Zambia. In 2019, FAO held a briefing for GIZ about the SSF Guidelines and what it means to work with the chapters in them when at a regional conference in Uganda for GIZ staff members, consultants and implementing partners in the projects.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights – DIHR

The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) promotes human rights in fisheries and aquaculture in Africa. In 2019, the DIHR organized a regional seminar on advancing the human rights-based approach in small-scale fisheries in Africa. Focus was placed on the role that national human rights institutions can play. FAO continues to work with the DIHR to further explore the application of human rights standards in small-scale fisheries and SSF Guidelines implementation.

The African Confederation of Professional Organizations for Artisanal Fisheries – CAOPA

The African Confederation of Professional Organizations for Artisanal Fisheries (CAOPA) is an organization of professional women and men in small-scale fisheries in Africa. CAOPA’s main aim is to promote sustainable artisanal fishing. The organization has engaged both in the shaping of the SSF Guidelines and in organizing workshops and events to support their implementation. At the Our Oceans Conference in Malta in 2017, CAOPA made a commitment to support the development of national plans of action for implementing the SSF Guidelines in its member countries. They have since then initiated the establishment of a national plan in for instance Guinea, and they have also called a regional workshop to start developing a regional implementation plan.

Each year, CAOPA celebrates World Fisheries Day and International Women’s Day through hosting events in collaboration with international and regional partners and putting forward declarations that call attention to current issues to be addressed in small-scale fisheries. They typically stress the need to use the recommendations in the SSF Guidelines in order to achieve more sustainability. In addition, CAOPA has contributed to establishing a Network of Journalists for Responsible Fisheries in West Africa (REJOPRAO) to promote dialogue between artisanal fishing communities and the media.


Masifundise is an organization that works in small-scale fishing communities in the African continent and beyond. A key part of its programme is to enable communities to organise themselves to struggle for their livelihood rights. Masifundise is an active member of the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP).

In February 2020 Masifundise organised a workshop in Zimbabwe to bring together representatives from regional organizations to map priorities for the implementation of the SSF Guidelines. This meeting set a goal to ensure that a coherent set of polices, strategies and actions are taken. The meeting also developed a Terms of Reference for an African Advisory Group to support implementation of the SSF Guidelines, and nominated Masifundise to provisionally host the group’s Secretariat in South Africa.

International workshop on ICT4Fisheries

ABALOBI and Blue Ventures are two NGOs using information and communications technology (ICT) in their support to small-scale fisheries in South Africa, Madagascar and other countries. They two organizations took the initiative to an international workshop on ICT4Fisheries in 2019. After the workshop, a community of practice platform was created to continue the discussions and sharing of experiences.

Safety at sea and decent work

In 2019, FAO organized a regional technical seminar on safety at sea, decent work and the fight against IUU fishing together with the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea, the Apostleship of the Sea, ILO and IMO. 45 participants from six countries attended the seminar. The calls for action on safety at sea and decent work coming out of the meeting were clearly in line with the recommendations in the SSF Guidelines.

National initiatives

At the national level, several countries have made important commitments to support implementation of the SSF Guidelines:

Some years ago, on the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria, fisheries authorities saw the need to involve fishers in the enforcement of fisheries laws, and embraced the idea of co-management. This was operationalized through the establishment of beach management units. Since then, a networking and organizational capacity programme has been initiated to strengthen the beach management units.

Tanzania is also among the ‘early adopters’ of the SSF Guidelines. A national plan of action for implementing the SSF Guidelines in Tanzania is currently being developed, coordinated through a National Task Team. Important steps have already been taken towards implementation. Among other things, Tanzania has established a gender desk at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. The National Task Team has also supported women fish processors and traders to get formally organized and launch the Tanzanian Women Fish Workers Association (TAWFA) in 2019. More recently, in March 2020, the National Task Team held a consultative workshop at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as a next step towards developing the national plan of action.

Tanzania has furthermore been a pilot testing site for a learning guide for civil society organizations on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (Tenure Guidelines) and the SSF Guidelines. The guide was co-developed by FAO and the IPC Working Group on Fisheries, and it was tested in a capacity development workshop.

As mentioned above, Guinea is also setting out to develop a national plan of action for implementing the SSF Guidelines, with support from the African Confederation of Artisanal Fisheries Professional Organizations (CAOPA).

In Cabo Verde, FAO is supporting the improvement of quality socio-economic data on artisanal fishing through the development of a national census on artisanal fishing value chains, from the landing to the final sale to consumers or to export.

In Ivory Coast, FAO with funds from the African development Bank, is contributing to the economic empowerment of women in the District of Abidjan by supporting them in carrying out income-generating activities in an organized and sustainable manner enhancing fisheries’ products conservation and processing methods and infrastructure.

In Gambia, with a UN agencies joint GEF programme to operationalize the SE4AII Action Agenda in promoting inclusive Environmentally sound and low, FAO is promoting with female group of various fishing communities the FTT Energy Efficiency ovens for fish-smoking.

In Guinea, FAO is enhancing the quality of fishery products, strengthening food and nutritional security of coastal communities and increasing the income of women involved in the fish value chain through the improvement of fish processing technologies and techniques.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, a project to support the implementation of the SSF Guidelines, through the enhancement of fish processing infrastructure and technical capacity with female groups in isolated fishing communities is ongoing with funds from Japan.

The International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) has worked in a number of other countries, among them Ghana, to raise awareness about the SSF Guidelines, strengthen community participation in policymaking, improve traditional fishing regulations and secure tenure rights of small-scale fishing communities. ICSF has for instance helped translate a summary of the SSF Guidelines into Ewe, Fante, Ga and Nzema spoken in Ghana, as well as French, Swahili, (Ghana), Portuguese and Spanish, spoken in other parts of Africa. The SSF Guidelines in their entirety have so far been translated by FAO and partners into French, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili.

FAO has also organized a national workshop on social protection and fisheries in Senegal in 2019, in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy. The workshop offered the opportunity to present and discuss the findings of a first study to evaluate policy and programmatic coherence between fisheries and social protection in Senegal.

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Senegalese fisherman off load fish from their boats to sell in local markets and export
to other countries. ©FAO/John Wessels

Furthermore, FAO is working with the government of South Africa, with support from Norad, to strengthen the adaptive capacity of traditional fishers and fish workers to climate change – focusing in particular on women’s resilience. The initiative includes skills trainings on the use of alternative marine resources, improved fish handling, adoption of modern methods for use of fishing gear, safety at sea, and more.

To enable stakeholders in fisheries to open up to new opportunities, including access to new markets, the FAO Office in Côte d'Ivoire, in collaboration with the Ministry of Animal and Fishery Resources, organized a round table discussion in 2019 for technical and financial partners to meet with small-scale fisheries stakeholders.

A similar round-table discussion was held in Ghana in 2018, but this time with focus on tenure rights challenges facing Ghana’s small-scale fisheries sector.

In Uganda, the Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) is among other things organizing and supporting women’s groups engaging in small-scale fisheries post-harvest activities around Lake Victoria, with support from FAO.

Tips for further reading

  • COFI/2016/7: Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries: Towards implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines).
  • COFI/2016/Inf.13: Towards implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines).
  • COFI/2018/7: Small-scale and artisanal fisheries governance
  • COFI/2018/Inf.17: Progress by FAO and partners concerning the implementation of the SSF Guidelines since the thirty-second session of COFI in 2016
  • COFI/2018/SBD.23: Update on progress to develop the Global Strategic Framework in Support of the Implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF-GSF)
  • SOFIA 2016: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture – page 92 onwards
  • SOFIA 2018: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture – page 138 onwards
  • Website for the FAO Regional Office for Africa