Diving in on aquatic foods: IFAD investments create rural opportunities in the blue economy
In March 2020, as the world was just waking up to the reality of a global pandemic, I was on the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania, working with a team of experts on a new IFAD funded project focused on seaweed farming.
Seaweed farming is one of the most important sources of local livelihoods in Zanzibar, employing 15,000 farmers, 80 percent of whom are women. The island earned about US$ 5 million from seaweed exports in 2020, representing one third of total crop export value.
However, nearly all seaweed is exported raw, without any value addition or refinement, which thus reduces farmers’ incomes, job opportunities and foreign exchange earnings. The Agriculture and Fisheries Development Programme endeavors to address these weaknesses through multiple measures that create business opportunities for local people across seaweed value chains. Major areas of intervention include: using modern innovations to improve seed quality; promoting labour-saving production methods; providing technologies for processing and value addition activities; and enabling local people to get their products to markets.
This project represents an ongoing commitment by IFAD for deeper engagement in aquatic food systems and the blue economy to improve nutrition and coastal livelihoods. Since 1980, IFAD has supported over 100 projects in 40 states addressing livelihoods dependent on aquatic resources, financed through loans and grants of over US$ 3.5 billion. The past five years has seen IFAD building on this experience by diving even deeper into aquatic foods issues, especially in the most challenging environments. This is part of our commitment to venture where no one else is willing to go.
As IFAD’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Specialist, I am privileged to have the opportunity to follow IFAD’s projects worldwide and learn from the people whose livelihoods are affected by such interventions.
In the lower São Francisco River in Brazil, the IFAD-supported Rural Business for Small Producers Project is working to improve the livelihoods of farming and artisanal fishing communities facing very specific challenges. Unfortunately, with their small traditional canoes, fishermen cannot venture far from their village for better catches. Another challenge facing local fisherfolks is that past fishing practices have resulted in declining fish stocks and deteriorating fishing conditions in the river. Further, construction of dams upstream and water diversion for agriculture have interfered with the water flow, causing intermittent seasonal flooding, siltation and increasing salinity.
The IFAD-supported project supports fishers’ cooperatives to overcome these challenges. It enables fishers to acquire better fishing boats, engines and nets to venture further towards the ocean. It is also helping them to reduce post-harvest losses through fish preservation and processing equipment. The project has also introduced new technology that enables farmers to raise fish sustainably, using small cages placed in the river, which has proved to be technically viable and profitable for the farmers.
“Last year I earned US$ 4,000 when I sold fish from my five small cages, which was enough to pay for feed and fingerlings and save for food and my children’s school fee,” one farmer told me.
Deep in rural Angola - where IFAD is working with artisanal fishing communities in remote lagoons and small lakes associated with the Kwanza River - fish farmers face very different challenges. People in these communities have endured many years of civil conflicts and remain physically isolated with limited communication, economic and social infrastructure. Intermittent droughts and floods are increasingly common in the area. Increased pressures from fishing and bad fishing practices have caused a dwindling of fisheries resources, putting many livelihoods at risk. To respond to these challenges, the IFAD-supported Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture Project has introduced an inclusive fisheries management approach built around co-management principles. Communities get organized and receive training and equipment for monitoring and surveillance. They are also provided with sustainable fishing nets to improve the management of fish resources and ensure future stock. These efforts are bearing fruit with signs that fish stocks are quickly recovering. Fish catches have increased to about 200,000 kg per month valued at US$ 600,000, which has significantly improved the livelihoods of 15,000 rural families.
Another example of IFAD’s ongoing work with fishing communities is in Eritrea, where we have partnered with FAO and Germany, to enable the government to develop its coastal and inland fisheries potential. Eritrea faces different forms of fragility following several years of conflicts, and is located in a difficult geographical terrain highly exposed to climate stresses. Without a permanent natural river or lake, Eritrea has invested heavily in the construction of over 350 dams across the country mainly for irrigation and domestic water supply. The IFAD-supported Fisheries Resources Management Programme identified those dams with the greatest potential to raise fish to address high demand for animal protein. The project enables local fisherfolk to stock fish in the dams and protect the catchment area. Communities receive training and equipment for fishing and fish processing, as well as for preservation to minimise losses. The project also enables them to sell their products in local markets. We expect the project to produce 100,000 kg of fish annually, making a significant contribution to improving incomes and diets. Indeed, nutrition training has resulted in fish becoming a prominent feature of local diets - in communities that had no fish-eating traditions. This will ultimately lead to better nutrition outcomes among local people.
“We only used to draw water from the dams and often saw fish swimming, but nobody ate fish. Now we know it is such a good food and we sell some in the market,” one woman told me on my last visit.
The blue economy opens the space for IFAD to reach more rural people in the most challenging situations, and to get them out of poverty. As I and my colleagues and others have observed, there are countless personal stories that reinforce the strong evidence that investing in aquatic foods and livelihoods – whether in the ocean, lake, river or dam – has high socio-economic benefits and multiplier effects in the rural economy. Having seen these livelihood improvements after IFAD investments with WorldFish, working with Dr. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, in fish and aquatic food systems, we could not be more pleased with the choice of Dr. Thilsted as the 2021 recipient of the prestigious World Food Prize and the elevated recognition of these important aquatic food systems that comes with highlighting her vital work.