Fisheries and Agroecology
“We are saying that our way of fishing is actually agroecology in action…being very selective in the fish that we catch and being attentive to the environment […] Our interconnectedness with the ocean has always existed, but now we have a term to describe our connectedness with the ocean. And agroecology helps us describe the practice of fishing we’ve been doing for the past 5000 years.”
-Christian Adams, Coastal Links South Africa and member of WFFP
In the fisheries sector we find many of the same structural dynamics as in agriculture or ranching, and in many places fishers are also peasants. On one hand small-scale fisheries must confront the industrial fishing model in the same way that peasant farmers and ranchers must confront industrial agriculture. On the other hand agroecological principles are followed in artisanal fishing and small-scale forms of aquaculture including: the use of species specific fishing equipment and techniques; respect for the season and lifecycle of each species; limited catches according to agreed upon stipulations; and cultivating and protecting mangrove areas in order to assure sustainability and biodiversity in production and diet.
Small-scale fisheries also face similar difficulties to peasant farmers when it comes to commercialization and distribution. As with agriculture, concentration of power among distributors can create a bottleneck that decreases benefits for the small producers. Alternative labeling, including place of origin, method of production and ecological certification schemes have been used extensively in the agrarian world and we have learned that they may be necessary, but are often insufficient. To fill this gap, direct sales, local markets, as well as new and traditional forms of distribution that create stronger links between producers and consumers are some of the strategies that are being explored in both land and sea based food systems. This is fertile ground for exchanging ideas and lessons learned.
These efforts reflect an understanding that we mustn’t only fish and farm according to agroecological principles, we must also sell and distribute agroecologically, in order to move beyond ecological certification schemes that can be coopted by large corporate producers and distributors who profit by turning ecological food into exclusive elite food, without creating benefits the food producers.
In order to strengthen this work, collaboration is needed: 1.) among small-scale fisherpeople – including the growing participation of youth and women – to defend access and control of fishing grounds and access to markets, and promote and value existing agroecological practices; 2.) between fishers and consumers to strengthen distribution channels based on trust and quality, local, seasonal and agroecological products; and 3.) between fisherpeople and peasant movements to create a dialogue of knowledge. Indeed fisheries’ movements are already taking these steps towards collaboration, asserting their collective voice and articulating real alternatives.
Turning the tide of the supermarket tsunami
It is easy to see the corporate takeover of our food system from the perspective of agriculture: it is visible in the expansion of large-scale monocultures, in land and water grabbing, and in the displacement of peasants and indigenous communities. But the expansion of corporate control stretches throughout global food supply chains, from large farms to supermarket shelves. Indeed, the rapid shift from fresh markets to supermarkets in the context of food distribution has equally disturbing implications as the shift from peasant to industrial farming.
In many developing countries in the Asia Pacific region for instance, fresh markets provide livelihoods to millions of people—from small farmers who bring their harvests to small stall owners, food artisans, street vendors and a vast range of other informal workers earning a meager income from this sector, such as porters and loaders in the markets. In India, almost 40 million people rely on the informal trade sector and fresh markets; and in Indonesia more than 12 million people depend on fresh markets. Thousands of street vendors—working every day to provide food for urban communities—are at the heart of cities like Bangkok and Hanoi. A survey on the status of street vendors by the Hanoi Department of Trade shows there are about 5,000 vegetable sellers and 9,000 fruit sellers in the city’s inner districts, where women account for 93 per cent of the vendors, 70 – 80 per cent of whom come in from surrounding provinces. A 2010 Bangkok Metropolitan Administration survey showed a staggering 40,000 street vendors operating in the city daily.
The rapid supermarketisation of the world’s food markets, facilitated by the growing number of free trade and investment agreements, is slowly but surely marginalizing, and taking over the spaces of, millions of people whose livelihoods rely on this sector. At the same time, it is reducing access to adequate and nutritious food by manipulating food and agriculture prices. Supermarkets make basic food products expensive while also creating an explosion of junk food—flooding cheap, processed food into local markets and adversely affecting public health.
This shift towards supermarkets is not a solution for feeding growing populations. Rather, it will only transfer control over and access to food to a handful of global retailers closely linked to agroindustry. Across the Asia Pacific region there is growing awareness and resistance to global retailers and supermarket chains from peasant communities, hawkers’ unions and consumers. It is important to continue building strategic alliances and alternatives that challenge the supermarketisation trend.
Successful cooperative in Nicaragua
Federación de Cooperativas para el Desarrollo (Federation of Cooperatives for Development) – FECODESA –works to improve conditions for smallholder farmers, reduce risk and increase market opportunities. FECODESA is a national federation of small-and medium scale farmers’ cooperatives in Nicaragua that unifies 6,000 families engaged in small-scale agriculture. Families produce their own food, and they sell surplus production to local, national and international markets through their cooperatives and FECODESA.
FECODESA has adopted cooperative principles for their work, putting emphasis on democratic processes and full inclusion of their members in economic operations and decision-making.
FECODESA was established in 2006 and has become a successful smallholder cooperative inserted formally in the cooperative sector of Nicaragua. FECODESA provides capital, market opportunities and capacity building to their members, in doing so contributing to increased productivity in the fields, increased quality of production and added value to primary goods. Furthermore, FECODESA participates actively in governmental initiatives and round tables where agricultural policies, technical and financial mechanisms are decided. Formal integration in such arenas – where smallholder farmers are usually under represented-, allows FECODESA to have a vote and a voice representing the interests of smallholders farmers.
Organizing smallholders in cooperatives helps them to become central drivers in economic and political spaces linked to the agricultural sector in Nicaragua. This is done through firstly organizing farmers in cooperatives, then organizing them as a network of cooperatives with similar interests, and finally entering into formal decision-making instances for broad representation of smallholders’ interests.
Key elements of success:
1. Legitimacy. FECODESA has been established, is owned and is managed by small-scale farmers. The operation is motivated by the shared interests of members; improving living conditions and taking into account environmental considerations.
2. Strong organization. All cooperatives in FECODESA work in building up financial and internal governance structures in their own organization.
3. Transparent and high performance financial and governance systems. FECODESA’s operations are built on systems that allow capital, knowledge and technical solutions to come quickly to their members.
4. Strong advocacy work toward defending the interests of smallholder farmers, both at local and national level. FECODESA realized that smallholder farmers’ influence in decision making processes is absolutely vital to alter the power balance within the agriculture sector. Since 2013 FECODESA, has participated actively in national committees and political processes on food security, organic agriculture and research networks dealing with agriculture and climate issues.
Organic farming and the community market experience of OFBMI
Organic Farmer of Barangay Macabud (OFBMI) is a farmer’s cooperative made up of almost a hundred agrarian reform beneficiaries in the province of Rizal, Philippines. Formed after a two-decade land struggle, OFBMI seeks to revitalize agricultural production in the area through communal farming and agro-ecology.
Since its establishment in 2014, OFBMI rigorously engaged the government in order to access support services needed to enhance the capacities and incomes of farmers. This is in the context of widespread poverty in the area caused by a protracted legal battle for land ownership, with most families living under $2.00 a day and subsistence crops. Within a year, OFBMI received seeds and planting materials as well as farm equipment such as shredders and hand tractors.
By being part of PARAGOS-PILIPINAS, a national farmer’s organization and a member of La Via Campesina, some members of the OFBMI were able to attend training in agroecology. This, coupled with the prospect of engaging the niche market for organic products greatly influenced OFBMI’s decision to shift to 100% organic. Within a short period, most farmer members have been able to produce enough organic inputs including wormcast for their own needs and communal farms.
But most organic markets are now dominated by larger cooperatives/farms with higher production capacities and 3rd Party Organic Product Certifications. OFBMI realized that although prices are more competitive, they simply cannot keep up with the growing demand for organic products. The group decided to go back to its grassroots. “Why should we sell our vegetables to the middle and upper class when most families in our village are still hungry?!” a farmer exclaimed.
Today, OFBMI has established a “community market”, selling organic products at farm-gate prices in an effort to not only build awareness of agroecology but to also provide safe and healthy food to even the poorest in the community. Other producers and sellers from local wet markets were even convinced to attend organic training exercises that OFBMI organizes on a regular basis. Profits are rarely high in the community market, but more than enough to sustain and broaden the initiative for food availability and security.