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World Fisheries Day in Lagos

On the heels of several joint webinars on key issues of concern for fisheries and the livelihoods of small-scale operators in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea countries, Mundus maris and Fish Party celebrated World Fisheries Day 2023 in a webinar with experienced speakers focused on the Voluntary Guidelines for Assuring Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication. The SSF Guidelines will look back at 10 years of practice or lack of it since their adoption in 2014 by the Fisheries Committee (COFI) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Moderated by Prof. Stella Williams of Mundus maris, Dr. Kafayat Fakoya representing WorldFish Nigeria for the occasion, but also a researcher at Lagos State University (LASU) and member of Mundus maris, recalled how the SSF Guidelines had  become known only in 2017 more widely. The researchers established contact with ICSF, the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, headquartered in India, which had played a major role in the bottom-up development of the SSF Guidelines, to seek guidance on what to do in 2019. Combined efforts then led to the 3-day international workshop in 2022 that combined discussions about experience and action needed in Nigeria with experience reports from other African countries. Throughout it was clear that multi-stakeholder processes  were required to implement the guidelines and reap their benefirts for food security, healthy resource systems and contributions to social and economic well-being.

Dr. Atim Okoko, of Fisheries in the Nigerian spoke of her field experience with the SSF Guidelines, namely to expand the awareness throughout the countries and the urgent need to strengthen local institutions. She insisted that it was important to look at fisheries in the broader context of rural development and the effects that better infrastructure and social services like access to health care and education will have. She mentioned a project implemented way back by the FAO to strengthen cooperative societies and the beneficial effects of bringing electricity to rural communities. Leadership training and study tours to others with good experiences in combination with regular extension services would make a big difference.

Deaconess Foluke Areola, recently elected into a senior position of the World Aquaculture Society, confirmed that the SSF Guidelines were not well understood throughout the country. With her background as former Director of Fisheries she recalled that the sector policies in Nigeria had focused on small-scale fisheries until the 2005 Summit organised by NEPAD and WorldFish, among others, which placed the major attention for the country on aquaculture. That was a reaction to declining catches from overfishing and other factors. Moreover, the emphasis on export-oriented industrial shrimping since 1999 had not been good for local production by coastal fishers. But the USD 50 million per year of export earnings to the EU had weighed in more heavily.

She insisted that it was important to achieve a better understanding of the Guidelines and the roles of fishers and administrations at different levels, manage the expectations in relation to government policies and their implementation and bring in more civil society organisations for improved outcomes. She deplored weak statistics and suggested that the system of enumerators in all major fish landing places should be reinstated. That would work to strengthen the basis of decision making if they were well-trained and equipped and gaining trust in the communities.

The ensuing exchange highlighted the need for differentiated responses to account for the local conditions along the coastal states in Nigeria, but also for those with significant inland water resources.  Listening to the women and men directly involved to tap into their experience for identifying the most pressing problems and promising roads to positive change was suggested by Cornelia Nauen from Mundus maris in response to demands for action plans. Building trust among stakeholders, strengthening local organisations, and learning from one another was mentioned repeatedly in the concluding remarks. Producing materials in local languages, having regular meetings to decide on concrete action and monitor implementation should be practical implementation steps, whenever possible with active implementation of extension workers. It's all about making the application of the SSF Guidelines a reality and thus work towards social sustainability and  change working conditions in the fisheries sector for the better.

Let's take the positive energy forward into the different states in Nigeria and their fishing and rural communities. The RISE UP Open Letter for World Fisheries Day was shared with all participants afterwards.