VIEWPOINT : The art of worrying about food and livelihood security
"I will put this place on Trip Advisor," I joked as we packed up our picnic at the uninhabited Papaya Island in Cendrawasih National Park in Papua, Indonesia. We had just snorkeled for nearly two hours with whale sharks, and after a leisurely breakfast on a nearby beach, we went back to Kali Lemon homestay to drop off our WWF guide. And it was only 9 am!
The presence of whale sharks around the fishing platforms of migratory fishers from Sulawesi has resulted in international attention to this area. And indeed, as I swam with these gentle giants, I felt something magical around me.
The whale sharks hang around the fishing platforms where the fishers rest during the day after a full night of fishing for small pelagics, such as anchovies. These magnificent creatures have learned that the fishers happily share a bit of their catch, and with fish populations dwindling around Indonesia, the whale sharks appreciated this easy dining experience, with no reservations required!
All about food and jobsInteracting with fishers and understanding their plight amidst the challenges facing our oceans is always a valuable experience for me. This part of my work seems very alien compared with the more "normal" work activities of my current job.
Looking at data relevant to fisheries good governance and best practices, my colleagues, partners, and I are increasingly worried about food security and livelihoods. And with the data we look at on a daily basis, who wouldn’t?
- At least 2.7 million people are employed as farmers in this sector and another 4.9 million as fishers (data is incomplete for Malaysia and the Pacific part of the Coral Triangle region), according to a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report
- In Malaysia, 10% of the aquaculture workforce consists of women, who are mostly engaged in the marketing and processing part of this sector.
- Marine and brackish water aquaculture contributes 13% to food fish production in the Coral Triangle.
- The supply of fish per capita of Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia has increased since 1961, with especially fast growth in Malaysia, and is above the average values for Asia in 2009.
- More than 20% of the total animal protein consumed on average between 2007 and 2009 in these countries comes from seafood. Generally, fish comprise a higher percentage of protein intake for the poor compared with the rich, and the poor are more dependent on fish for food.
- More fish will be needed to feed a growing population in Asia and the Pacific. For example a 50% increase of the population in the Pacific islands is expected by 2030.
Will there be enough?Despite these obvious social and economic values, the coastal ecosystems of the Coral Triangle are among the most threatened in the world.
The trade in seafood can bring tremendous benefits but can also highlight seafood’s precarious role in contributing to food security. Overfishing, destructive fishing, pollution and other impacts from ill-planned development, unsustainable tourism, and climate change are taking a heavy toll. If left unchecked, the reefs will turn to rubble and can no longer sustain the fish and coastal communities, nor attract tourists, or protect coastlines and coastal infrastructure. Possible cures for diseases may be gone before they are even discovered.
Weak governance not only threatens countries’ ability to produce and consume seafood domestically, but also to export it and use the trade system to purchase other foods.
Beyond data and statisticsSometimes, all these rising and dropping numbers can get the best of us. So it’s important to get out of our office and away from the statistics once in a while, to keep the connection with nature and wildlife, to keep the motivation going, and to re-energize. This way, one can again add value to the hard work of colleagues in various NGOs who also continue their attempts to keep the fast-moving freight train called economic development from derailing and causing devastating havoc!
Worrying about the future is part of human nature. But so is appreciating the present moment. Being in nature is the best way to experience that. And I recommend this to everyone because our oceans offer adventure and awesomeness like no other-- to those who care to look.