Identifying policy synergies on Aid for Trade, fisheries, and food security

9 November 2015

Fisheries play a role in ensuring food security and income. What trade-related support is needed to help secure similar positive outcomes in the face of future pressures on stocks?

One of the aims of the Millennium Declaration adopted in 2000 was to halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. Disappointingly, however, persistent hunger and malnutrition continue to be a very significant problem for the international community. An average of 842 million people around the world fight hunger every day and approximately two billion face micronutrient deficiencies. More than 200 million children under five years old are victims of malnutrition.  The prevalence of hunger is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where one in every four Africans or 218 million people are undernourished, while 35 percent of the population lives are projected to live in poverty in 2015. Hunger and undernourishment attack the very foundation of human development. Food security and human development are therefore mutually reinforcing. In 1996, a World Food Security Summit organised by UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy defined food security as a state when “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability.”

Commitments towards curbing food insecurity

There is no life without food and no human development without food security. This maxim is well understood by world leaders who recognise that food security and nutrition have become a tenacious global challenge. This is why commitments have been reiterated towards enhancing food security for present and future generations consistent with the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. The role of fish and fishery products in global food security is recognised, moreover, and addressed in international forums such as the Committee on World Food Security. Additionally, world leaders consider that environmentally friendly practices and sustainable aquaculture development will play an important role around food security and nutrition, as well as providing livelihoods for millions of people.

Aid for Trade

Aid for Trade is a global initiative launched in 2005 following the WTO’s Hong Kong Ministerial Conference where countries agreed to expand aid to help developing countries boost exports of goods and services, in order to reap benefits from free trade and increased market access. Trade can be a powerful engine for economic growth, poverty reduction, and fighting food insecurity. Harnessing this potential, however, is difficult for many developing countries. This is particularly true for least developed countries (LDCs) that often lack capacity in terms of information, policies, procedures, institutions, and infrastructure for integrating and competing effectively in global markets. For fish and fishery products, specifically, cold chain infrastructure and market access are some of the most critical barriers to international or regional trade. The key components to the Aid for Trade initiative include building capacity to formulate trade policy, participate in negotiations, and implement agreements; developing economic infrastructure by investing in the infrastructure – roads, ports, telecommunications, energy networks – needed to link products to global markets; productive capacity building including strengthening economic sectors – from improved testing laboratories to better supply chains – to increase competitiveness in export markets; and adjustment assistance to help with any transition costs fromliberalisation – preference erosion, loss of fiscal revenue, or declining terms of trade.

The role of fish in food security and nutrition

Fish are an important source of protein for many across the world, particularly for African countries, and especially for poorer segments of the population. Fish are considered a “rich food for poor people” and can play an important role in improving Africa’s food security and nutrition status.  In certain small island developing states (SIDS), such as the Seychelles, Comoros, and Mauritius, per capita fish supply is one of the highest in the world. Although humans cannot live on fish alone, small quantities of fish in human diets can make a decisive difference to a variety of health concerns including, among others, brain, bone, and muscle tissue development, prevention of blindness, heart attacks, cancer, and mitigating the effects of HIV/AIDS. Fish are highly nutritious, rich in essential micronutrients, minerals, essential fatty acids and proteins, and represent an excellent supplement to nutritionally deficient cereal-based diets. Fish also provide livelihoods for 800 million individuals or 10 to 12 percent of the world’s population as summarised in Table 1.

Table 1: The role of fish as food and source of employment

Source: Compilation provided by the author, 2015

Based on the four pillars of food security – utilisation and nutritional value, availability, access, and stability – fish already provide an important albeit under-recognised role in global food security. In terms of utilisation and nutritional value, as mentioned above, fish are a key source for protein and micronutrients. In terms of availability, the total world production in 2013 was 160 billion kilograms (kg), with Africa accounting for nine billion kg. Global trade in fisheries products are worth around US$134 billion of which Africa holds US$4.8 billion. Rising demand for fish and fishery products has been met following a robust increase inaquaculture, with the World Bank stating that aquaculture production will be about 93 billion kg by mid-century. 

Meanwhile, concerns abound regarding future supply and demand dynamics for fish, due to an expected world population growth of 20 percent between 2010 and 2030. Disparities in exist in per capita fish consumption between regions. More than 200 million Africans, meanwhile, eat fish regularly. As fish is the most traded food commodity worldwide lower costs of trade – good quality infrastructure transportation and cold chain – would reduce post-harvest losses and lower fish prices. Although the global supply of fish from fisheries and aquaculture has been relatively stable in recent years, price fluctuations can occur in line with other food sources. During the 2007-2008 crisis, for example, fish products prices rose. Responsible fisheries management, marketing and utilisation, as well as sound aquaculture development and empowerment of women are essential to stabilised fish prices.

Trade-related support and fisheries

Fish and fish products are highly perishable, requiring timely harvesting and procurement practices, along with efficient transportation and advanced storage, processing, and packaging facilities for marketing. FAO work revealed that post-harvest losses could be greater than 30 percent of global catches and as much as 50 percent during peak periods.

To address these deficiencies in developing countries specifically, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies, the G7, international development banks, and selected multilateral specialised agencies such as the UN Development Programme, the FAO, UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the WTO under the framework of the Aid for Trade initiative have provided financial and technical assistance to upgrade trade policy and regulatory environments, including trade facilitation and quality infrastructure.

Selected Aid for Trade programme outputs relevant to fisheries include capacity building on the role and utilisation of ice including solar powered ice making; construction of improved landing sites designed to reduce post-harvest losses through cold chain infrastructure; value chain analysis; improved national sanitary, trade policy, and regulatory frameworks; e-customs and e-trade pilot projects; adoption of regional common external tariffs and rules of origin (RoO); development of a regional payment systems.

Other efforts have been made specifically with regard to food security. Many initiatives and activities have been established by international non-profit groups such as Friends of the Sea or WWF to ensure the continued role of fish in global food security. These include protecting and restoring the health, productivity, and resilience of marine ecosystems; promoting sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; capacity-building and technology; adoption of different management approaches to human activities that impact the productivity of marine ecosystems and the safety of fish; promoting of the roles of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture in global food security; encouraging innovations in seafood production including oyster culture; and mainstreaming fish in global, regional, and national measures on food security.

African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group States (ACP) have benefited from fish and fishery products trade development projects funded by developed countries. More specifically, these projects have focused on post-harvest reduction through capacity building and equipment, quality infrastructure, and trade facilitation. Consequently, recipient countries improved cold chain infrastructure, along with the safety and quality of the value added products manufactured in their processing plants, helping to increase market access to major fish importing countries such as the EU, US, Japan, and China. Most African fish exporting countries are now accredited by the EU Food Veterinary Service and by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Pressures on fish stocks

Unsustainable fishing methods and practices in fisheries and aquaculture farming have nevertheless led to the overexploitation of around 59 percent of existing fish stocks; illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing accounts for between 11-26 billion kg of world fish catch;other impacts from habitat alteration and destruction have taken a toll; and marine pollution is a perennial problem.  Climate change and ocean acidification will have an impact on fish stock volumes and distribution. Increased demand will also add to pressures on fish stocks.

The way forward

The links between fisheries and food security are clear. Getting trade policies right will help to ensure that these links are mutually supportive and positive in the face of future, rising demand and marine sustainability challenges. Through the Aid for Trade initiative developed countries have funded technical assistance programmes for developing economies, in particular the ACP countries, to strengthen health and sanitary systems as well as trade facilitation measures to boost exports.

African countries, meanwhile, have adopted liberal trade measures and are moving towards a Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) and also promoting intra-regional trade. Countries rich in fishery resources have been increasing their exports regionally and internationally through AGOA, EPA, and other Aid for Trade initiatives. Further assistance is still needed, however, to continue building up solid infrastructure and value chain development for small-scale fisheries and potential fisheries product exporters.

Amadou Tall, International consultant fish products-technology and marketing

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