Engage small-scale fishers in the United Nations Food Systems Summit

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By Willow Battista

For almost a decade, I have worked on sustainable fisheries management, traveling to small-scale fishing communities around the world to learn how to best build the capacity of local fishermen, scientists and managers to ensure sustainability. of their fisheries. From Mexico to Myanmar, I have worked with communities to help them achieve their goals so that they don’t catch too many fish and to select gear and fishing areas to make sure their fisheries don’t cause damage. key habitats. And at each location, I have had the privilege of sharing meals with the fishermen and community members I work with; we ate the fish that we are trying to manage.

This is why I was so alarming when I read a series of reports and studies all pointing to the same conclusion: that the global community of NGOs, civil society organizations, development agencies and policymakers did not treat fish like food. And that this failure has resulted in millions of tonnes of micronutrient-rich aquatic foods being funneled away from the people and groups who need them most.

Fish, crustaceans, algae and other aquatic species are essential sources of food and nutrition for billions of people around the world. They are particularly important for coastal and rural communities throughout the South and the developing tropics, where vulnerability to malnutrition and food insecurity is particularly high. Aquatic foods are a valuable source of protein and are often more affordable than other sources of animal protein. Additionally, and often more importantly, aquatic foods are rich in vital micronutrients like zinc, iron, vitamins A and B, and these are generally more readily available to our bodies (bioavailable) than in foods that are naturally occurring. herbal. On top of all this, aquatic foods are more sustainable compared to a wide variety of land based foods. In other words, aquatic foods are one of the best and most important resources available to support a transition to sustainable, equitable and climate-resilient food systems around the world.

This concept of “food systems” is also relatively new to the global development community. Later this year, the United Nations will host the first-ever Food Systems Summit, which aims to “wake up the world to the fact that we must all work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about.” the food “. The Summit will crystallize this new way of thinking about food as part of a vast interconnected system. This thinking moves away from the traditional focus on individual food production sectors separately from each other, and the broader socio-economic and governance systems in which they exist. This change would undoubtedly represent an important step in the right direction: transforming our food systems would be a powerful way to make significant progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Aquatic food systems are the cornerstone of the livelihoods, economies and cultures of many coastal, rural and riparian communities.

However, this transformation of food systems will be incomplete if it does not include aquatic foods. In fact, fostering equitable, sustainable and climate-resilient aquatic food systems can directly advance nine of the SDGs. Aquatic food systems are the cornerstone of the livelihoods, economies and cultures of many coastal, rural and riparian communities. Yet aquatic foods are too often excluded from conversations about the food system. Just as those of us working on sustainable fisheries don’t always think of fish as food, so too those of us working to tackle food and nutrition insecurity around the world haven’t thought about it. with fish. For these reasons, EDF and our partners – the Beijer Institute, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, EAT Forum, Friends of Ocean Action, the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, WorldFish and the World Wildlife Fund – have worked to raise the profile. aquatic fauna. food in the planning of the Summit and in the actions and commitments it will generate.

One of the ways we have worked to achieve this goal is by convening three “dialogues” at the top. These virtual dialogues were envisioned by the Summit organizers as a key method for involving a wide variety of stakeholders in the planning process. While EDF and our partners consider inclusiveness a priority, we have decided to organize a series of Dialogues designed to engage and focus the voices of artisanal fisheries stakeholders (and farmers!). Although it is difficult to involve small-scale stakeholders in a virtual format, by taking a few additional steps, such as providing simultaneous translation services and local technical support staff, we were able to achieve a level significant inclusiveness and participation of small business actors. We even heard from many participants that they deeply appreciated the opportunity to voice their concerns. The main concern is that most of the time no one speaks on behalf of small producers in national or international policy discussions on food and nutrition. You can read more about these Dialogue discussions, as well as the conclusions and calls to action they produced, here, here and here.

As we look to September, when the United Nations Food Systems Summit takes place, EDF and our partners continue to work to ensure that the world’s fishers – especially artisanal and marginalized fishers and community members – will not only be represented, but will be actively and meaningfully included. As countries develop plans and commitments to drive food system transformation and the achievement of the SDGs, artisanal fishers need to be at the table. They are the best people to help craft solutions and pathways to transforming the food system that will work for nature and the people who depend on it. We believe it is high time that these actors had the opportunity to speak for themselves.


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