17 October 2022

(Opinion) Transforming ‘blue foods’ for food security

Food sourced from the sea. Photo credit: Freepik.

Gridanya Mega Laidha and Fadilla Octaviani (The Jakarta Post), October 17, 2022

The tag line of Indonesia’s Group of 20 presidency, “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”, sends a clear message regarding its focus on recovering from more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts on the economy.

Particularly in the fisheries sector, all players from industrial to small-scale have felt the pinch, despite their significant role in global consumption. The industry is recovering slowly, and this may be a good time for us to rethink how food systems work and how to enhance the role of so-called blue foods in our overall food policy.

One of the main problems is that blue foods are often left out in discussions and policymaking related to food systems. This leads to fisheries policies that focus more on economic interests than efforts to ensure food security and the sustainability of fishery resources. The current fisheries policies do not address the present challenges, which range from the growing population to climate change. Simply increasing the production of blue foods is therefore not a solution.

The T20 policy brief on “Integrating Blue Foods Into Food System Policy and Practice” identifies five critical elements needed to transform the blue food system. They are: (i) manage blue foods as an integral part of the food system, including by integrating policies and governance; (ii) identify and reform policies and practices that impede transformation, especially any existing harmful subsidies that can endanger the sustainability of fishery resources; (iii) protect and harness diversity for nutrition, resilience, livelihoods and environmental sustainability, taking into account the severe climate change impacts that will occur in the next few years; (iv) recognize and support the central role of small-scale actors; and (v) commit to human rights in policies and practices.

As we commemorate World Food Day on Oct. 16, we are reminded of the crucial contributions that fulfilling the rights of small-scale fishers and workers make to food security.

While 11.34 percent of small-scale fishers live below the poverty line, the country has yet to fully implement policies and programs that effectively prioritize improving their welfare, despite the fact that Indonesia is the third largest wild fishery producer in the world.

The wealth-generating benefits of blue foods are still primarily enjoyed by industrial-scale businesses. This gap stems from policies that predominantly focus on industrialized, large-scale fisheries and aquaculture, but fail to address the diversity of small-scale actors, their perceived informality and associated cultures. What we need to do to increase the role of small-scale fishers in blue foods and the global food system is to ensure that they play an active role in policymaking. This can be achieved if we recognize the status and rights of marginalized groups, especially indigenous communities and women fishers.

Furthermore, there must be genuine and accessible public participation for small-scale fishers. Persistent efforts must be made to empower them, not only socially but also economically. This can be done by providing financial assistance, a social safety net (including insurance) and necessary infrastructure, and by guaranteeing market access and timely market information.

Ultimately, the government must provide a level playing field to small-scale fishers in managing the blue foods system.

The United Nations and the World Bank project that the world population will grow to 8.5 billion people in 2030, and that demand for fishery products will soar to 187 million tons annually, with 50 percent contribution from fishing activities. The expansion of the global fishing industry, however, has led to the substantial depletion of fish resources and labor abuses in the fisheries sector in the name of cutting costs. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 128,000 fishers are subjected to forced labor, with the figure a significant underestimation.

Indonesia also supplies the third-largest number of workers to global fishing fleets. However, Indonesian migrant fishers are often subject to deceptive recruitment, labor abuses and human rights violations. Within just two years from 2108 to May 2020, 46 workers have died while working (BP2MI, 2020).

The international community has therefore redirected its attention from only sustainable fisheries to a socially responsible seafood supply chain. While the social and political barriers that contribute to injustices are often inadequately recognized in blue foods policies, the Indonesian government should rapidly implement the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), ratify the ILO Work in Fishing Convention 188 and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Cape Town Agreement to protect fishers’ rights, end forced labor and ensure safety at sea, as well as domesticate the principles and provisions therein as national legislation, including development and budget plans, both at the national and regional levels.

The government should capitalize on its upcoming ASEAN chairmanship to ensure the commitment of regional leaders, while initiating and supporting the adoption of migrant fishers’ rights and the creation of a dedicated working group to discuss the protection of migrant fishers.

The government also needs to conclude a memorandum of understanding on migrant fishers’ placement at key destination countries, such as Taiwan, China and Spain, which covers placement not only on territorial waters, but also EEZs and the high seas, where labor abuses often occur.

At the national and regional levels, the government should ensure the immediate implementation of newly enacted Government Regulation No. 22/2022 to settle fundamental problems relating to the recruitment and placement of Indonesian migrant fishers.

For years, the issue of fisheries, small-scale fisheries and even human rights at sea has remained in the backseat of the government agenda. As we finally emerge from the pandemic, however, there is no excuse not to start the transformation of the blue foods system.

Now is the time for us to place small-scale and migrant fishers as the drivers of fisheries policies through the creation of laws and policies that serve their interests, human rights and environmental sustainability. The upcoming G20 summit can be a good occasion for the government to show its commitment to welfare for all in the fisheries sector in its quest to become the global maritime leader. *** The writers are researchers at the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative.

This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title “Transforming ‘blue foods’ for food security”.

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