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Food security for millions undermined by lack of policy support for small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, according to new research

Large silver descaled fish ready to be bought at the market.
Image Credit: Giulian Frisoni
A new paper highlights the important role of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture in supporting livelihoods worldwide and tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges. 

Small-scale fisheries and aquaculture are overlooked by policymakers and decisionmakers despite providing livelihoods for more than 100 million people and sustenance for a billion people worldwide, according to researchers. 

In “Harnessing the diversity of small-scale actors is key to the future of aquatic food systems,” one of five initial scientific papers published as part of the Blue Food Assessment (BFA), 30 authors call for a better understanding of the diversity, roles and resilience of the small-scale fisheries and aquaculture (SSFA) sector. The scientists also made the case for ramping up action and investments in this globally important sector. 

Drawing on 70 case studies from around the world, the research stressed the value of small-scale aquatic food producers, traders and processors, who most recently played a key role in local food security and livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic. In countries like Kenya, for example, small-scale actors quickly filled the gap left behind by larger, international producers who scaled back operations. 

“Local actors are best placed to support people to eat nutritious food that they want and in a way that is culturally accepted,” said Rebecca Short, co-lead author of the paper and researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. 

Yet smaller-scale actors face mounting insecurities that have not been addressed by policymakers. These include subsidies that are directed only towards larger actors, and a lack of support to deal with the rapidly intensifying effects of climate change. 

“The study highlights the diversity of small-scale blue foods producers, which range from state-of-the-art processing plants with imported equipment supplying clams to Uruguayan restaurants, to homemade reed baskets used by local traders in Zambia,” added Stefan Gelcich, co-lead author and Director of the Coastal Social-Ecological Millennium Institute (SECOS), Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. 

“No two actors are the same and policy needs to be adaptive to reflect that.” 

Shocks to SSFA, without the help of better policy and governance, could threaten the food and nutrition security of millions worldwide. In particular, those in regions currently most vulnerable to food insecurity and the impact of climate change face the highest risks, the paper argues. The analysis also highlights that women are central to building a more sustainable and equitable food sector. 

“Improving food security requires a gender lens to overcome the structural disadvantages that women face,” said Dave Little, co-lead author and professor at the University of Stirling. 

Fiorenza Micheli, co-lead author and Co-Director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, added: “This research comes at a crucial moment for small-scale actors and can help support their viability for the future.” 

The paper highlighted the need to encourage and support the diversity of small-scale actors, and ensure that technology, investments, policies, and development can enable SSFA to continue feeding millions of people into the future. 

Notes for editors 

The full list of research papers produced as part of the Blue Food Assessment is available online. A list of the BFA leadership team is also available here

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact c/o Marchmont Communications: 

About the Blue Food Assessment 

The Blue Food Assessment (BFA) is an international joint initiative bringing together over 100 scientists from more than 25 institutions. Led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, the Center for Ocean Solutions and the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, and EAT, the Blue Food Assessment supports decision-makers in evaluating trade-offs and implementing solutions to build healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems.