21 May 2014

Africa: The Corporate Take-Over of Fisheries Policy Making


In discussions on fisheries policy-making in Africa and globally, private sector interests overshadow the needs of small-scale fisher peoples. The numerous initiatives represent only the ideology of a small elite backed by millions of US dollars

In the past couple of years a number of international conferences and gatherings of key policy makers, corporate representatives and international NGOs have taken huge strides in setting the global agenda in fisheries policy. A worrying pattern has begun to emerge: the interests of small-scale fisheries peoples are consistently sidelined as representative organisations are rarely invited and, if so, are barely listened to. This article will run through some of the most recent events, and documents how a corporate take-over of fisheries policy is taking place.

From 28 April to 2 May, 2014 the Conference of African Ministers for Fisheries and Aquaculture (CAMFA) took place in Ethiopia. It aimed to agree on a pan-African fisheries policy framework and fisheries reform mechanisms. In preparation for the conference the African Union failed to include small-scale fisher-people's voices in their strategy- and decision-making processes. Among other things, belated communication and repeatedly changing the date of this event with short notice made it impossible for representatives of small-scale fisher-peoples, such as the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, to make meaningful contributions or even attend the guiding conference.

Already in January 2014, our South African partner Masifundise criticized the way today's fisheries policy is made within the African Union. On the one hand the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), which is affiliated to the African Union, articulates the need for an increased involvement of fishers, fish farmers, traders and consumers in policy-making. But Nepad, which is almost exclusively dependent on donor funding as African nations contribute very little to the Nepad fisheries programme, seems to align to donor demands, and therefore prioritizes the interests of big private players. One example is the abandonment of regional reports on fishery governance in Africa. These reports were meant to inform the ministers in preparation of the CAMFA-meeting, and were based on broader stakeholder consultation. In the end Nepad did not finalize these initial efforts to include small-scale fisher-peoples' voices, but instead produced another report which is oriented towards the interests of the private sector, and consistent with the World Bank's Global Program on Fisheries (See Masifundise's description of the process [url=]http://masifundise.org.za/conference-of-african-ministers-of-fisheries-no-private-matter/]here[/url]).

At the Rio+20 conference in 2012, the World Bank launched their large-scale initiative, Global Partnership for Oceans. This partnership brings together private sector interests, governments, and international environmental organisations under the flag of creating healthy, productive, and resilient oceans, food security and jobs. These goals seem worth striving for. Yet, a closer look reveals that to reach these goals the partnership promotes the privatization of resources and the creation of new global markets to facilitate the economic growth of ocean-related industries such as aquaculture, tourism, and capture fisheries as the only way toward sustainability. Such interventions severely undermine social and cultural 'growth' as well as local economic systems. Ultimately these policies result in increased poverty for small-scale fisher-peoples because resources, access rights and revenues concentrate in the hands of an economic elite.

In reaction to the formation of the Global Partnership for Oceans the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, currently the largest voice of small-scale fisher peoples, representing fisherfolk from 36 different countries, and The World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers released a joint call to governments and inter-governmental institutions in March 2013. It is a call to 'abandon the World Bank initiated Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO) and the unprecedented drive toward 'Rights-Based Fishing' reforms' that has definitely not lost any of its relevance today. (Read the call [url=]http://masifundise.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/WFFP-WFF-Call-on-Governments_GPO_200313.pdf]here[/url] )

A recent key event that overlooked small-scale fisher-peoples' voices in fisheries policy discussions was the Global Ocean Action Summit April 22 to April 25 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands. This international summit was co-hosted by the World Bank, the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. It brought together governments, private sector interests, and international environmental organisations from 80 countries in a lavish celebration of the industry's conquest of the oceans and the related possibilities for what is now referred to as 'blue growth'. Essentially, 'blue growth' is just a new, digestible phrase for 'Rights Based Fishing' or economic growth in ocean related industries. The main topics discussed were aquaculture; new and improved investment possibilities for public-private partnerships; and, importantly, the urgent need for one single joint initiative: the Global Partnership for Oceans.

To critically follow these developments, an Africa Contact member attended the summit. There, small-scale fisherfolk were largely unrepresented. Interventions of small-scale fisher-peoples' representatives, such as Naseegh Jaffer, co-chair of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, who stressed the need for security of access and tenure for traditional and small-scale fisher peoples' fishing areas, were not exactly echoed by the other participants. The summit, with its 600 registered participants, was cleverly designed by the World Bank to capture momentum and ensure solid financial backing for the Global Partnership for Oceans. As a result, the outcome of the summits, many, but short and superficial, working groups and plenary sessions were presented as a broad consensus around market-based approaches. Apparently, the vast absence of small-scale fisher-peoples' voices did not undermine the legitimacy of the whole event and project. Instead the outcome of this congress was handled as an important contribution to future decision-making processes.

The general discourse produced around this event is reflected well in the statement of the World Bank representative Valerie Hickey, who said: 'Together, we can restore ocean health at the speed and scale necessary to drive broad-based blue growth, secure food security and turn down the heat on climate change. We have the set of actions needed - let's move on them now.' John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, also stressed the need to not loose time in developing strategies in his keynote address. To further speed up the process he announced a follow-up event June 16-17 2014 in Washington.

But do we really need to increase the speed and scale of fisheries policy making? Participation takes time; co-management takes time; research takes time; and hasty, large-scale one-size-fits-all solutions have more than once proven to be unsuitable for the development of just and sustainable strategies. The World Bank initiatives and the private sector advertise their projects as the only possible way of sustainable development.

Through the Global Partnership for Oceans and its influence in the discussions on fisheries policy-making, private sector interests overshadow the needs of small-scale fisher peoples. Both initiatives, the Global Partnership for Oceans and the Global Oceans Action Summit, are self-declared as representative of the global community, and see themselves as not less than the saviour of our oceans. Yet, the initiatives represent the ideology of a small elite backed by hundred of millions of US dollars. Many partners from poor countries only consent because they are tempted by big money. There is a complete lack of plurality of perspectives deriving from broad stakeholder involvement and in particular from the world's small-scale fishers, and partially therefore the initiatives fail to truly go beyond the powerful elite's appetite for economic growth on the basis of neo-liberal ideology. (You can find further critique on the Global Partnership for Oceans in this article by the Transnational Institute.)

The second Conference of African Ministers for Fisheries and Aquaculture is going to set the agenda for future fisheries policy-decisions throughout Africa. If the ministers present at the event are serious about reducing poverty and increasing the resilience of both aquatic ecosystems and the local communities depending on them, the ministers have to take the time to listen. Those who actually listen to the voices of their small-scale fishing communities will find that there are existing efforts to bring together and communicate the fisher folks' interests. Two of those attempts are the Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security , and the FAO coordinated International Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries that are to be finalized later this year.

At Africa Contact we are critically tracking the development of the Global Partnership for Oceans and all other related agenda-setting meetings. Africa Contact supports the World Forum of Fisher Peoples in their struggle for food sovereignty. We call on African Ministers for Fisheries and Aquaculture to take the time to engage with the small-scale fisher peoples. They need to be included in the analysis and strategy-making processes, and their already ongoing fruitful work on guidelines for sustainable fisheries management needs to be acknowledged and followed. The agenda-setting for future fisheries management must not be dominated by private sector-interests and other illegitimate actors as is the case in the Global Partnership for Oceans.

Mads C. Barbesgaard is Political Chairman, Africa Contact.



China, Continent's Springboard to Industrialisation ?

China is fast proving its mettle on its commitment to helping African countries come out of their situations to occupy… Read more »

Copyright © 2014 Fahamu. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 1,200 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.