ECOWAS has adopted a common and detailed plan to unlock the potential of fisheries and aquaculture for nutrition, welfare and sustainable growth
AMADOU TALL & SIDIBÉ ABOUBACAR*
Fish is key to the economy of Sierra Leone, where it contributes up to 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). However, the enormous potential of West Africa’s ‘blue treasure’ – its fisheries and aquaculture resources – is yet to be fully unlocked.
Treasures, however, must be managed wisely. Otherwise, there is a risk that a few reap all the benefits, or that a short-term approach results in the wealth being squandered away. This is why the ECOWAS member states have recently validated a common new roadmap (the Comprehensive Strategic Framework for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, or CSFS FAD) to sustainably develop the sector and make it work for nutrition, welfare and sustainable growth.
Building on a series of diagnostics of the situation and policies of fisheries and aquaculture in each of the member countries, and taking a participatory, inclusive and fair approach (both arising from the European Union-funded FIRST and PESCAO programmes), the new framework aims at coordinating the efforts of all stakeholders (governments, small-scale fisherfolk, private actors, women, youth…) from all countries.
There is no shortage of challenges in sustainably spreading this blue wealth. Missing strategic orientation and weak governance, legislative and regulatory basis, together with a lack of transparency and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices have contributed to fisheries resources depletion in the region. A coordinated and sustainable management of shared resources (e.g. through harmonized rules and policies) applied by skilled government authorities, in collaboration with non-state actors will be key.
In this regard, adopting an inclusive and top-down approach to regulate the sector can contribute to an effective solution, but will not suffice. Small-scale fisheries are a recognized driver of sustainable development, and policies and regulations affecting the sector will need to bring fisherfolk fully onboard to protect and strengthen their livelihoods. Protecting tenure and user rights is essential for a sustainable management of small‑scale fisheries and a sound development of aquaculture.
The fisheries resources are being exploited at their maximum levels and protecting the resources and the fisherfolk may not be enough for fisheries and aquaculture to boost rural livelihoods and nutrition. Fish-based agrifood value chains need to be further developed and modernized. Post-harvest losses in the region are unsustainably high, due to the lack of infrastructure (e.g. transport or cold chains), and access to regional and international markets.
Achieving such modernization – and promoting fish consumption throughout the
region – will require more investments from public and private actors alike, while key partners such as the European Union and regional and international development banks continue to support the sector. In order to inform investment priorities, track progress and guarantee accountability, more data and information systems are needed: technical partners like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) can make a major contribution in this field.
The recently-validated CSFS FAD provides a sound vision and a pertinent and coherent roadmap for ECOWAS member countries and all stakeholders to participate in protecting this invaluable natural resource and impartially sharing its benefits across sectors, countries and communities. With this framework, the boat is ready for all stakeholders to jump onboard and work together for a good (and sustainable) catch in the years to come.
*Dr Amadou Tall is the leader of the Component 1 of PESCAO Programme (ECOWAS)
*Dr Sidibé Aboubacar is the policy officer of the Eu-FAO FIRST Programme in the ECOWAS.