Voices from the field

Voice from the field 1

Strengthening the role of fisherwomen

Rehema Bavumu and Margaret Nakato, WFF and the Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT), Uganda.

The understanding of fishing as an activity that involves men going into the lake with boats, ignores the enormous work done by women, in processing, distribution and marketing of fish. Responsibilities for provision of food to fisher households disproportionally rests on women who fend for fish for household consumption as the men are more motivated to fish for the market to service the credit for fishing supplies and income to support livelihoods. Women have to supplement food requirements with agriculture and they operate the numerous food restaurants in fisher communities to feed the mobile fishing community. While the fishermen establish homes at the landing sites, but often move from one site to another in search of more lucrative fishing grounds, women often settle on particular fish landing sites and take on all household responsibilities.

Unfortunately, challenges such as conflicts on land and water in fisher communities lead to loss of access to fishing grounds, as new landlords extend their ownership to the lake and restrict fishers to access such grounds. As a result, women lose land for processing fish, leading to post harvest losses and less fish available in the fisher communities, both for consumption and sale. Lives are directly affected as families have to separate, when men are arrested for trespassing on restricted fishing grounds and the burden of rescuing them rests on women.

Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) has subsequently engaged women in addressing land issues to ensure that they are included in local land pressure groups, to understand and become active in resisting evictions from land. Women are further supported to acquire knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods, including improved fish processing technologies, developing marketing strategies, access to credit as well as working in groups to address social cultural norms that impede women’s autonomy.

To cause and trigger change, sustain the change and transform lives, women need to be involved in development initiatives in fishing communities. Their enormous efforts must not only be recognized, but boosted as well.

Voice from the field 2

The case of El Molo

Christiana Saiti Louwa, El Molo Forum and Thibault Josse, Mafifundise, Kenia.

El Molo is a traditional fishing community living around Lake Turkana situated in Northern Kenya, near the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. For El Molo, fishing is life — it is cultural practice, spiritual well-being and the main source of sustenance. El Molo practices traditional fishing methods such as net casting, hooking, harpooning, and basket fishing. Indigenous fishing knowledge has been preserved and passed on through oral traditions and practices from generation to generation. The fishery is managed by the elders of the community, applying rotational and migratory fishing. The weather, wind, moon and the waves tell El Molo where, what, and how to catch fish.

Fisheries policies in Kenya were mainly formulated for marine fisheries without the participation and involvement of fishers, fishing communities, and their organizations, failing therefore to recognize the rights, interests, and traditional knowledge and customary fishery management. Later, inland fisheries were merely added without any substantial implication. Also when the policy was reviewed in 2016, the word “inland” was only cosmetically added throughout. The policy, for example, addresses conservation and management of breeding grounds in Lake Navisha, but the government promotes tourism and industrialization around lakes. Regular conflicts between government and fishing communites are caused by the lack of focus on small-scale fishing in the policy. This, however, is starting to change now following sustained advocacy and lobbying of small-scale fishers. El Molo fishing representatives are now using the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines (see Box 2) and the Kenyan Constitution to push for a policy that will truly recognize the traditional fishery management.

Voices from the field 3

Struggle for traditional and customary land

Herman Kumare, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), member of WFFP, Sri Lanka.

“This is the land where we lived, this is the land where we will die.” Community member from Lahugala

On July 17th, 2010, Paanama people from 5 villages in Lahugala divisional secretariat in Ampara District were forcibly evicted from their 1200 acres of coastal lands and lagoons by unidentified masked persons who were equipped with machineguns. In nearby villages, around 365 acres of land was captured by the Air Force and demarcated with an electric fence, while additional 860 acres of land from three other neighbouring villages were captured by the Navy and also enclosed by a fence.

Later, the villagers have witnessed the development of a tourist resort “Paanama Lagoon Cabana” on the land from which they were dispossessed. The tourist resort is run by the Navy who also pockets the profit. The land acquired by the Air Force was turned into the Air Force base. Also, the areas acquired by the Air Force and Navy were connected with the Lahugala National Sanctuary, which is an elephant sanctuary area as well as a forest conservation area. In addition, the Navy has restricted and even banned fishing activities during daytime and night in some areas. The forcible displacement has affected the livelihood of 350 families who depend on paddy farming, fishing and traditional agricultural practice known as Chena cultivation. The villagers lost their entire source of income and their lifeline was cut.

In order to campaign against these land grabs and to demand the fulfillment of their human rights, the Paanama people established the Organization for Protection of Paanama Paththu (OPPP), in which National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) facilitated to form the same. On February 11, 2015, the Paanama people witnessed the first ever victory of their struggle — The Cabinet issued an order to release 340 acres among the 365 acres of land taken away by the Air Force. However, the decision was not executed by the local authorities even after 13 months, thus anxiety was raised among the Paanama community who, then, decided to occupy their own land even without having legal backing. To date, 35 families have forcefully re-occupied their lands since 26th March 2016 and started cultivating the land.

By forcibly displacing the Paanama people, the Navy and Air Force have grabbed the people’s traditional and customary land on the pretext of public purposes. However, the construction of Air Force base and hotels cannot be considered as public purposes. Further, present and past actions have confirmed that the Paanama coastal land grabbing is well organized and supported by government officials, and the forceful evictions have taken place with the knowledge of the Divisional Secretary, the Police, the Special Task Force, and the Navy and Air Force. Today, the OPPP continues to fight for their lost land by launching advocacy and lobby campaigns and taking legal actions. Specific actions such as determining and firming up land ownership documents are being undertaken as well as expanding the base of supporters within Sri Lanka and internationally.


Box 1

The UN Oceans Conference – Who’s Oceans Conference?

On 5-9 June 2017, the Governments of Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Oceans Conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The aim was to support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
Almost regardless of where we look, the outcomes are presented as a great success, and if you dare to question this you better be prepared to confront hegemony. So let’s start preparing.

Already in advance of the conference, the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF) explained the lack of democratic involvement in the process of developing the SDGs, and concluded that “the process of developing the SDGs have, at best, left the global fisher movements [WFFP and WFF]… at the fringe of participation, while providing influential space for the corporate sector and large NGOs to inform the goals throughout the process”(More on the statement in Box 3). It is therefore not a surprise that a clear commitment to human rights – when looking at SDG14 – is notably absent, whereas the emphasis on the need for more natural science, marine technology, macro-economic development, and Marine Protected Areas is prominent.

So what kind of ‘game changer’ – as expressed by the UN chief of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo – was this conference? Was it about a fundamental change in the way the political and economic elites govern and control oceans resources? Or was it an opportunity to change gear and do more of the same but with accelerated determination?

By looking at the two main and official outcomes of the conference – the Call for Action and the 1372 Voluntary Committments— we get very close the answer.
The call itself is made up of a list of 22 specific calls of which one addresses small-scale fisheries specifically: “(o) Strengthen capacity building and technical assistance provided to small-scale and artisanal fishers in developing countries, to enable and enhance their access to marine resources and markets…” There is, however, no indication on how to get there and the choice of words makes this call open for any interpretation. As explained elsewhere by the WFFP, this is an open door for privatisation of fisheries and dispossession of small-scale fishing communities. In addition, this specific call is only for developing countries; this is deeply problematic considering small-scale fishing communities are confronted with the same threats all over the world. The Call for Action will be tabled for endorsement at the seventy first session of the UN General Assembly.

Of the no-less-than 1372 Voluntary Commitments made predominantly by governments, corporations and international conservation organisations, 240 are claimed to target SDG14b: “Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets”. While these commitments might in fact target 14b, it is again important to look at how? It is noteworthy that only a handful of these addresses the International Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries, the by far most comprehensive international instrument on small-scale fisheries endorsed by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2014.

Taking a look at the webcastings and official report of the conference brings us even closer to the answer. The emphasis on Marine Protected Areas, Blue Economy and Marine Spatial Planning — to mention a few key themes – is pronounced, whereas the lack of emphasis on the SSF Guidelines and a Human Rights Based approach to small-scale fisheries is the exact opposite. To some this might seem shocking; to others it is what could be expected. But what we can conclude is that Heads of State and Government and High Level Representatives have agreed to yet another Call for Action and opened the door far and wide for non-stake actors to inform and provide funding for the Voluntary Commitments aimed at implementing SDG14.

So maybe Wu Hongbo is absolutely correct when he said the conference would be a ‘game changer’. The implementation process of SDG14 – through a vague call for action and voluntary commitments – is handed over to powerful non-state actors with enough capital and human resources. This handing over of sovereignty from the United Nations bodies to the transnational corporations started close to 20 years ago, but the SDG on Oceans opens up a new chapter for unprecedented corporate capture of oceans governance.

For this reason, WFF and WFFP issued a “Statement on the SDGs and the UN’s Ocean Conference” to expose this biased scenario that populated the Conference. Below you can read what are the way ahead in their struggles!

Box 2

Implementation of the international small-scale fisheries guidelines

With the adoption of the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines (hereafter SSF Guidelines) by the Committee on Fisheries of the FAO, the importance and the contribution of small-scale fishers to livelihoods and food security, especially amongst some of the world’s poorest and remote communities world-wide, have been acknowledged for the first time. Based on the international human rights standards, the SSF Guidelines are global in scope, holistic in its coverage, and apply to small-scale fisheries in all contexts, with a specific focus on the needs of small-scale fishing communities in developing countries.

Not only have small scale fishers themselves contributed to the drafting and the negotiation process of the Guidelines, they are currently playing a key role in spearheading the awareness-raising and implementation of the SSF Guidelines. During the last 16 months, the fisher folks belonging to the two international forums – World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers (WFF) and World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) with the support of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), Crocevia Centro Internazionale and Transnational Institute (TNI) organized 8 national level workshops and 3 sub-regional level workshops on the SSF Guidelines and their implementation. One of the key aspects was to raise awareness amongst organizations of small-scale fishers, fish workers and their communities through actions at local, national and sub-regional levels and to build their capacities to use the SSF Guidelines in pilot countries. Similarly, the Fisheries Working Group of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) has geared toward making the SSF Guidelines a vibrant tool for the small-scale fishers. The SSF Guidelines have been summarized, simplified, and translated into several languages such as Khmer, Vietnamese Laotian, Urdu, Sindhi and Kiswahili (Swahili). Many audio-visual materials and infographics have also been produced. Furthermore, in order to highlight the importance of gender in the sector, ICSF was commissioned to develop a Gender Implementation Guide which involved the participation of the civil society and social movements.

The SSF Guidelines represent a real milestone for millions of women and men fishers who are working and depend on the small-scale fisheries sector. Not only Civil Society Organisations, but Governments should also implement the SSF Guidelines and contribute toward progressive realization of the right to adequate food. One positive example is Tanzania. Acknowledging the importance of the sector, Government of Tanzania has recently pledged to use the SSF Guidelines as a tool to fight hunger and eradicate poverty and committed to include the SSF Guidelines within the national regulatory framework.

Box 3

WFF and WFFP statement on the SDGS and the UN’s Ocean Conference

4 June 2017, this is an excerpt of the WFF and WFFP statement. Full document here.

” […]Our solution:
We pledge our support to the United Nations that is firmly rooted in the values that form the basis of the UN Charter: peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. To uphold these values, each country should draw more consistently from parliaments, sub-national governments, civil society as well as the executive branch of government in democratic country-led governance on which the UN is founded. The International Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF guidelines15) were endorsed by the Committee on Fisheries of the FAO in 2014. These SSF guidelines are the result of a bottom-up participatory development process facilitated by the FAO and involving more than 4000 representatives of governments, small-scale fishing communities, WFF and WFFP, and other actors from more than 120 countries globally. Their development resembles a legitimate, democratic country-led process, and the guidelines themselves build on the core UN principles of justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity and international human rights standards and principles. We express our recognition and appreciation of the stewardship of the FAO in the process of developing the SSF Guidelines.

At its 32nd session in July 2016, the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) of the FAO unanimously adopted the Global Strategic Framework (GSF) to facilitate the implementation of the SSF guidelines. The GSF aims at facilitating interaction between governments and civil society to support the implementation of the SSF Guidelines at all levels, and to promote a common vision and implementation approach, which is based on the principles of the SSF Guidelines themselves. We remain committed towards working with FAO on the further development of the GSF in order to advance the key principles of the SSF guidelines, with emphasis on the human rights based approach to small-scale fisheries; the recognition and protection of tenure rights of small-scale fishing communities; the rights of smallscale fishing communities to maintain control and ownership of the value chain, including marketing at local and regional levels; and promoting the full and effective participation of small-scale fisheries actors in the SSF guidelines implementation, in particular smallscale fishing communities including women, youth and Indigenous Peoples.

We, the representatives of over 20 million fisher peoples globally, will continue our constructive cooperation with national governments and the FAO in pursuit of the implementation of the SSF Guidelines and the further development of the GSF. We call upon the UN member states to work with us to ensure the progressive realization of our right to adequate food and related rights, and the protection of the natural environment. This can all be achieved through the development of the GSF and the implementation of the SSF guidelines.”

In the spotlight

Oceans, small-scale fishers and the right to food: resisting ocean grabbing

Since the 2007/8 financial crises, academics, NGOs, and social movements have argued that a new wave of land-grabbing has been taking place [1]. Responding to what has been called the ‘convergence of crises’ (finance, food, climate and energy) capital accumulation strategies have increasingly focused on gaining control of the use and benefits of natural resourcesn [McMichael, P. 2012. The land grab and corporate food regime restructuing. The Journal of Peasant Studies. 39 (3-4), 681-701]. In the process, everything from “businesses and NGOs, conservationists and mining industries, or ecotourism companies and the military”[Fairhead et al. 2012. Green Grabbing: a new appropriation of nature? The Journal of Peasant Studies. 39 (2), 237-261, quote from p. 239] have in different ways become implicated in this resource grab. While there has been much focus on and inspiring resistance against how these issues have impacted on peasants and small-scale farmers, the struggles of small-scale fisher movements have until recently been overlooked in the primarily ‘land-centric’ global campaigns.

In order to rectify this, in September 2014 a report titled ‘The Global Ocean Grab’ was launched by fisher movements and allies. According to the publication, ocean grabbing “means the capturing of control by powerful economic actors of crucial decision-making … including the power to decide how and for what purposes marine resources are used, conserved and managed.” (p. 3) Since then, ocean grabbing has been a key term to frame the threats facing fisher peoples globally. The two global fisher movements, World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF) and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) have drawn on it in statements denouncing pushes for privatization of fisheries, false solutions arising from climate change negotiations and, most recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [here]. The initial ocean grabbing report furthermore covered a wide range of issues that dispossess and/or displace fisher peoples and their communities across the world today, from conservation initiatives, to tourism, to large-scale aquaculture and other extractive industries. Additionally, in appreciation of the huge amounts of fishers that rely on inland water bodies for their way of life, the processes that ‘ocean grabbing’ aims to put focus on includes: “inland waters, rivers and lakes, deltas and wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs.” (p.4) ‘Ocean grabbing’, as it has been used by the two global fishers movements, therefore aims to put focus on “the exclusion of small-scale fishers from access to fisheries and other natural resources” (p.6) in the many diverse ways that this takes place.

Blue growth

“When the global fisher movements were founded, the political fight was very much about the small-scale fisheries sector versus the large-scale industry. To date the grounds for contestation have expanded as small-scale fishers are losing access to fishing grounds because of corporate grabbing of land and water. The leaders of the world want to address climate change by putting in place mechanisms that ultimately takes away our access to fishing grounds and give the rights to land and water to the corporate world.”
– Margaret Nakato, WFF, Paris COP21[Full report of the meeting here]

For years, the fisher movements and allies had focused their energies at global level towards struggling for the adoption of the SSF-guidelines (Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries). Parallel to this work of defining alternative visions based on the Human-Rights Based Approach, it became clear that other forces were trying to take questions of what to do with fisheries and ocean resources in a very different direction [For more on how this has impacted on the implementation of the SSF-guidelines, here]. As the quote by Margaret Nakato of the WFF suggests, fisher peoples movements with ocean grabbing want to highlight the multifaceted struggle they are waging. It is no longer just about the more ‘narrow’ struggles against the industrial fishing fleet [Though see Sinha 2012 for a discussion of how fishers struggles have never ‘just’ been about fisheries, Sinha, S. 2012. Transnationality and the Indian Fishworkers’ Movement, 1960s-2000. Journal of Agrarian Change. 12 (2-3), 364-389].

In the context of climate change, a contradictory vision of ‘blue growth’ has been steadily emerging since the Rio +20 meeting. Similar to what its ‘green’ counterpart envisions on land [See Nyeleni Newsletter no 10 ], blue growth wants to turn climate change and the increasing destruction of the ocean environment into new opportunities for capital accumulation. Instead of actually addressing the reason behind the current crises, the only ‘solutions’ being put forward through blue growth are market solutions where the prerequisite is to not conflict with corporate interests and corporate power — instead the solutions will actually strengthen them, by giving them more control over natural resources, supposedly to save them. The reasoning goes that if we want to solve climate change we have to give corporate interests a bigger say in how to govern nature.

As a result, a coalition of actors — similar to those already implicated in land, water and green grabbing — spanning states, international financial institutions, coalitions of transnational corporations, philanthropic foundations and transnational (though mainly US-based) Environmental NGOs, have become proponents of ‘blue growth’. They have been gathering at exclusive international meetings, notably The Economist’s bi-annual World Ocean Summit’s [For more on this ‘corporate capture’, see article in last year’s Right to Food and Nutrition Watch], to discuss how to move forward with their vision. Aside from proposing neoliberal solutions that lead to grabbing of resources, these events should also be seen as an attempt to sideline any form of real solutions that target the root cause of the ‘convergence of crises’, namely: “capitalism’s war on earth” [See book by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York].

UN ocean conference — Ocean grabbing under the cloak of ‘sustainability’

One of the recent key venues, where the vision of blue growth was pushed, was at the UN’s Ocean Conference in June 2017. Here blatantly unsustainable practices and/or false solutions that have been criticized by fisher peoples movements as a form of ocean grabbing, such as blue carbon [For more on Blue Carbon, see Nyeleni Newsletter no 7 and report from TNI and the Indonesian Fisherfolk Union (KNTI)], a range of large-scale extractive activities (oil, gas), Marine Protected Areas and even China’s massively destructive One Belt One Road Initiative was cloaked in the language of sustainability. All of these were seen as tools to secure the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which should otherwise be about how to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’. In response to this attempt at re-dressing practices that would impact negatively on small-scale fisher peoples across the world as ‘sustainable’, WFF and WFFP came out with a powerful statement denouncing SDGs and the UN Ocean Conference. As they point out, the SDGs at their core: “prioritize the profit-interests of an elite-minority while marginalizing the voices of people on the ground that we represent”, in this way, “they uphold and entrench the existing inequalities and injustices of the world order”. Furthermore, they basically overlook the struggle for human rights and re-cast the responsibilities of states: “looking through the SDGs, a clear commitment to human rights is missing and human rights such as the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, and women’s rights are notable absent. In this new setting, the states’ role is above all to facilitate private sector actions and at most daring entice ‘voluntary commitments’ on the road to elusive ‘sustainable development.'”[Full statement here.]

Fishers for food sovereignty

It is in response to this increasingly broad array of issues that the fishers’ movements are using the ‘grabbing’ frame. In opposition to these elite-solutions that insist on further privatizing and marketising fisheries and ocean resources, fishers’ movements are engaged in building counter-power with other mass-based movements in the pursuit of climate justice and food sovereignty [See report on how this ‘convergence’ progressed at the COP21 in Paris]. The goal of this ‘convergence’ of disparate movements is to link up the struggles resisting against land, water, ocean and green grabbing — all of which indeed intersect. To confront this plethora of grabs effectively, the food sovereignty movement must first understand them and then mobilise, organize and act against them together [For more on the model of production advocated by small-scale fishers and how this can be seen as ‘agroecology in action’, see Box 1 in Nyeleni Newsletter no 27].

Newsletter no 31 – Editorial

Oceans and water

Water is an essential element for life and a crucial component of the human environment. It is also an indispensable natural resource needed for the production of our food and the maintenance of our planet’s basic functions. For these reasons, water has increasingly become a central political element in peoples’ struggles for food sovereignty.

The current edition of the Nyéléni newsletter exposes the growing global threat of privatization and commodification of water – especially those of the oceans and of inland waters, which are the source of life for thousands of millions of fisher folks the world over.

Fisher communities from different regions and countries, organized in global movements – the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF) and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) – are resisting “ocean/water grabbing”, which follows similar logic to land grabbing. Under the ideology of “bringing development” to the “poor” regions of the world, states, international financial institutions, coalitions of transnational corporations, philanthropic foundations and transnational environmental NGOs are increasingly denying access to natural resources of fisher communities and threatening their traditional fishing practices. The so-called model of “blue growth” they promote has little to do with the protection and fulfilment of the human rights of these communities and more to do with the maximization of the profits of private companies at the expense of peoples’ access to oceans and inland waters.

But the voices from the field show us how small-scale fishers have been resisting this model and strengthening their autonomy through collective capacity building, joint advocacy work and exchange of experiences including for example workshops and trainings on the Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines). The SSF Guidelines have become a tool for fisher communities to make states accountable for human rights violations and companies accountable for their abuses against communities’ rights. The SSF Guidelines are also a tool to discuss policy frameworks with local, national, and regional, and even international authorities. Fisherwomen play a crucial role in this political process, for they undertake fundamental work (mostly unpaid) in the dynamics of communities – carrying out domestic activities, taking care of the family and children as well as working together with men. For women it is essential to acquire knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods, including improved fish processing technologies, developing access to credit as well as working in groups to address social cultural norms that impede women’s autonomy.

The time has come to reemphasize the importance of fish workers themselves – both women and men – and for communities to exercise their sovereignty and make states meet their human rights obligations – especially with regard to the protection of our oceans and inland waters.

Sofia Monsalve, FIAN International