'2016 should be the African Year of Artisanal Fisheries'


The African Confederation of Artisanal Fisheries Professional organizations (CAOPA) proposes that the African Union should declare 2016 the African Year of artisanal fisheries. Mr. Gaoussou Gueye, Secretary General of CAOPA, explains the reasons why.

Why make such a proposal to the African Union?

 We all know that bad governance in fisheries affects most African countries. When the first Conference of African Ministers of Fisheries and Aquaculture was held, in 2011, it recommended that Member States should consider the possibility to reform their fisheries and aquaculture policies. The reform strategy that was developed subsequently, identified key objectives for the development of fisheries in Africa[1], including the conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources through the establishment of good governance. On this topic, we wish to welcome the recent commitment of the African Union, under the impetus of Mauritania, then President of the African Union, to promote transparency in African fisheries.

Another key goal of the Pan-african reform strategy is the development of sustainable artisanal fisheries, by improving and strengthening its contribution to poverty alleviation, food security, and improving the socio-economic benefits to fishing communities.

 We feel, in the CAOPA, that today, the only way to achieve these goals requires both the active involvement of the African Union and its members, as well as the participation of all stakeholders, in particular the African fishing communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods.

 Do you feel that African artisanal fisheries now better considered by decision makers?

Well, I think decision makers are now more aware of the sheer importance of artisanal fisheries in Africa. Latest FAO figures indicate that 10% of people on the African continent are engaged in fishing and aquaculture, making it the second largest continent after Asia, in terms of jobs in this sector. And the vast majority of these 12.3 million people living on fisheries in Africa are in the artisanal fisheries sector: at least 7.5 million African fishermen and 2.3 million women depend on artisanal fishing for their livelihood. These jobs provide income for millions of families in Africa! African artisanal fishing is by far the leading provider of sector jobs.

 In Africa, for over 200 million people, fish is also a source of protein and essential nutrients (fatty acids, vitamins, minerals) at low prices: fish represents on average 22% of the protein intake in sub-Saharan Africa. In most parts of Africa, capture and trade by the artisanal fisheries sector provides a ‘food safety net 'to the poorest populations. In my country, Sénégal, a fish like sardinella is the most accessible source of animal protein in terms of price and quantity. Today, many Senegalese families can only be assured of one meal a day - lunch based on rice and sardinella.

Another aspect that is important for our decision makers is the contribution of fisheries to GDP of our countries. There, again, artisanal fisheries stand out: the contribution of fisheries to African countries GDP is reaching almost 2 billion US$, and African marine and inland artisanal fisheries account for more than half this figure.

It’s therefore only natural that the international community increasingly recognizes the growing importance of artisanal fisheries, particularly in Africa. For example, in the UN Rio + 20 Declaration, artisanal fishing is described as a "catalyst for sustainable development". This Declaration also stresses the need to protect the rights of access of artisanal fisheries to resources and coastal areas.

Similar provisions are also contained in the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. These guidelines help to establish the conditions under which artisanal fishermen will access fish resources, and put the emphasis on the sustainable management of the resource. These Guidelines are also important for us, as they provide a framework to overcome obstacles to sustainable fisheries development in African countries, such as illiteracy, health problems, deprivation of civil and political liberties, etc.

But the greater recognition of the importance of artisanal fishing has been achieved with the adoption, last year, of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines to ensure the sustainability of the artisanal fisheries in the context of food security and eradicating of poverty.

They focus on an issue which is key for African fishing communities: strengthening our contribution to food security and nutrition. The Guidelines also insist on the ‘equity’ aspect of development, so to improve the socioeconomic situation of artisanal fishing communities in a context of sustainable fisheries exploitation. They also incorporate new issues that our communities have to face, such as the impacts of climate change.

So, now, we have all these internationally agreed documents to guide our policies, but it is necessary that African governments, donor agencies, professional organizations and civil society organizations engage and invest in their implementation.

What are your priorities for the implementation of these Guidelines in Africa?

An important challenge we have to take up is the impact of climate change on our communities. This includes addressing very specific issues, such as the governance of Marine Protected Areas, or the promotion of participative surveillance. But this means also reconsidering some fundamental aspects of artisanal fisheries, like the recognition of the role of women in this sector: women are truly at the heart of African artisanal fisheries.

They are present at all stages of the value chain, whether it is the pre-financing and preparation of the fishing campaigns, from the reception of the fish at the beach to its processing and marketing. Moreover, women are also the pillar of the family in African artisanal fishing communities. Within the CAOPA, we are very conscious of this, thus, we promote parity in the representation of women and men: we have a bureau consisting of equal number of men and women representing African fishing communities. We also have a specific programme on Women in Fisheries.

Most importantly, on the occasion of the International Women's Day, on the 8th March, CAOPA organized, now for two years in a row, a meeting amongst women from the CAOPA. This year we were in Bissau. We witnessed a strong mobilization of all stakeholders, professionals and decision makers alike: at the International Women’s Day celebration, organized by CAOPA, about a thousand fishers, women in fisheries, decision makers, citizens got together in Bissau! The workshop in Bissau allowed women to meet, to exchange views. They ultimately came up with a statement which clearly demands that the African Union declares 2016 as the African Year of Artisanal fisheries. It would be for these women a priceless opportunity to gain recognition for their work and their investment in this sector.

What steps have you already taken so far?

We are still proceeding with the information of partners, asking them to support this initiative, such as AU-IBAR, NEPAD, SRFC, PRCM, UNDP, FAO, UEMOA, ECOWAS, CFFA, SSNC, Bread for the World, the EU...

We already had positive feed back from Fisheries Ministers of African States like Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Ivory Coast. We also intend to involve other civil society organizations and decision makers. 

We will of course work with our colleagues from the West African Journalists Network for Responsible Fisheries (REJOPRAO) in order to help us set up and manage an effective communication strategy.

 What are the next steps?

 Our goal now is to formalize this request with various potential partners. We also need to sharpen our advocacy. In June, CAOPA will organize, for this purpose, a meeting with all of our partners to discuss and further elaborate our proposals, and establish a consultative committee specifically dedicated to the promotion of the African Year of Artisanal Fisheries.

We intend to launch officially our proposal during the celebration of the World Fisheries Day in November 21st, 2015, which will be organized in Morocco this year.

In October 2015, we would appreciate, on the occasion of the FAO meeting for the 20th anniversary of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, to meet with the DG of FAO.

Our goal is to launch a process. What is essential for us is that it raises awareness and mobilizes all the stakeholders in African fisheries. And we call all interested organizations to support us in this initiative!




[1] http://www.africanfisheries.org/knowledge-output/policy-framework-and-reform-strategy-fisheries-and-aquaculture-africa

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