In this interview, The Standard’s Saikou Jammeh began by asking Nicole Franz, fishery planning analyst at FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department in Rome, to give an overview of the instrument.
The Voluntary Guidelines for Security Sustainable Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, in short, small scale fisheries guidelines, were the result of very long consultation process that took place between 2011 and 2013. During these consultation processes, over four thousand people in over a hundred countries have been consulted in developing this instrument.
So, we are quite proud to now have this negotiated, officially agreed text that government signed up to in the session of the FAO committee on fisheries in June 10, 2014.
What’s in it for the small-scale fishers?
There is a lot in it. It is really about empowerment of the fishing people. It is all players in the entire fisheries value chain that can benefit from the guidelines. The principles of the guidelines are to ensure that fish workers know their rights and to claim and realise these rights in order to become agents of change of their own situations. So, by adopting the principles of the guidelines, it is all about involving the communities in decision-making process of issues that affect their lives. It also gives them voice.
So, the small-scale fisheries guidelines provide us with the framework to make a change in small-scale fisheries. It is an instrument that looks not only into traditional fisheries rights, such as fisheries management and user rights, but it also takes more integrated approach. Also, it looks into the conditions which influence the life of fishing communities.
It also looks into social conditions, decent employment conditions, climate change, disaster risks issues and a whole range of issues which go beyond what traditional fisheries institutions work with. Only if we can have a human rights approach to small-scale fisheries, we could allow the sector to develop sustainably.
Was the civil society consulted during the process?
During the development process of the fisheries guidelines, the civil society organisations, the fisher organisations played a major role in identifying the guiding principles that are incorporated in the guidelines. Now that we have the guideline endorsed, we need to translate them into action on the ground. Again, we are looking forward to working very closely with fisheries civil society organisations during the implementation process of the guidelines.
All different stakeholders have different roles and responsibilities in the process of implementation. FAO, for instance, will continue to work at rather high level in order to draw attention to this instrument. But for the work at the local level, we rely heavily on the collaboration of the civil organisations. And, of course, the media, for instance, can draw attention to the existence of these guidelines; to help different groups understand what the meaning of these guidelines is.
How many countries have made commitment to the guidelines?
The guidelines are voluntary. They have been negotiated through an FAO technical consultation. In this, all the member countries of FAO came together and went through the proposed text, which was finally adopted. By endorsing this text, there is commitment by FAO member countries that are part of the committee of fisheries, which I think is 160 at the moment. It is now also up to fisher organisations to hold governments accountable to this commitment that they taken by endorsing the guidelines. FAO stands ready to support countries in the implementation of these guidelines.
What essentially have they committed themselves to?
Through these guidelines, countries have committed themselves to adopting a participatory and integrating approach in developing the small-scale fisheries sector by recognising that only by working in partnership with the fishing communities that change can be achieved. There are different sections in the guidelines, like user rights, principles of management. All the principles are based on accountability, transparency, equity and non discrimination. Now, what needs to be done at the country level is to do an assessment of situation in the country.
What are the mechanisms in place to ensure compliance?
What can happen is actually, for the guideline, to become integrated in national fisheries legislation and policy, but also in national food security policies. So, reform process would be needed in order to integrate the fisheries guidelines. That may trigger other changes like how the fisheries sector is governed. The instrument is promoting the human rights approach. If the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines are integrated into country’s sector policy and legal framework, that implies the need for change on how the sector is governed.
We are talking about competing interests. There is imbalance of power between small-scale fishers on one hand, and heavily-backed corporations on the other. How do you address that?
It, of course, is going to be a long and challenging way forward to empower the fishing communities. But through this empowerment process, we will be raising awareness and generating more information about the sector. The contribution of the sector in food security is, for instance, invisible. This is simply because it is often very scattered. Even the policy makers are not much aware how much employment is generated by the sector or how many families depend on small-scale fisheries.
How bad is the situation of small-scale fishers to warrant the guidelines?
The situation is quite bad. Given the marginalisation that we can often observe in fishing communities, there is often not much information that is channelled to the level of the fishing communities. They are simply not aware that lots of instruments exist that their countries have signed up to. Often, they lack organisation. The guidelines seek to unify their voice and identify their common priorities. There are issues that are common among fishing communities all over the world, despite the complexity and diversity of the sector.
How do the guidelines take into consideration gender disparities and climate change?
When we had consultation process, at the national level, the participants identified what the major issues were. The issue of gender came out very strongly during these consultations. The role of women is not so well recognised. Often,
fisheries instruments are focused on production. Women are not so much involved in the primary production. They are more into marketing. But, for the first time, the important role of women is recognised. Women, despite not being on the boats, they still play an important role in the financing of boats and have strong linkages with the fishers. But at the same time, it came out clearly that women have different set of needs. Women, in addition to their economic activities, are charged with the task of running the household, of educating children. In terms of health, there is need to develop technology for improved systems of smoking and handling of fish. This will allow women to remain healthy enough to do their businesses.
The same applies with climate change. It is clear that fishing communities in coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to climate change. They are exposed to a whole range of impacts, in relation to climate change. So, these two issues came out very strongly. It is something that needs to be recognised by countries when they develop their climate change strategies.
The guidelines seem to be silent on the use of trawlers in African waters, why?
The guidelines do not go into specificities in terms of gear and technology. But in the section that deals with sustainable fisheries management, there are principles that point out the need to adopt sustainable fisheries practices. What needs to be done now is to look at the interpretation of the guidelines; to translate them into national context. When we come to the level of developing a national action plan for the implementation of the guidelines, these issues will surely come out and be dealt with.
Fisheries sector is one of the underfunded sectors across all countries in Africa. Is there any funding for the implementation of the guidelines?
It is not only in Africa where fisheries are not allocated enough budget. That holds true for many other countries in the world. The FAO is in the process of developing a global assistance programme for the implementation of small scale fisheries guidelines. So, through this programme, FAO will make efforts to mobilise resources to assist countries in the implementation of the guidelines. At the moment, we are in the process of designing this programme. On the other hand, there are many things that can already be done. A lot of the principles of the guidelines are about processes. So, it is about rethinking already existing mechanisms. It is not necessarily always that large amount of money are requested to implement the programme. It is not about establishing new institutions.
Are we, in the near future, going to see an instrument that would be binding?
Well, it would be nice to see that. There has always been a strong call from civil society organisations for the guidelines to be binding. Realistically, we know that internationally binding instruments are very hard to achieve. But at this stage, we have achieved a very important objective by having these guidelines even if they are voluntary. What we can see is that the guidelines are voluntary. But it is already influencing policy at different levels. For instance, it is mentioned in the African Union fisheries and aquaculture strategy, and that is important.]]>