The MuSIC workshop on small scale fisheries, food security and nutrition as held in Penang, Malaysia from the 18 th to the 22 nd of February and organised by WorldFish and FAO. The former is part of the CGAIR group of international research institutions and focuses on research around better fish production (inland aquaculture) but there are also researchers looking at small scale fisheries. John Kurien our advisory board member is a Hon. Fellow of WorldFish and was responsible of conceptualising the MuSIC format (multi stakeholder information and communication) of the workshop. The group that came together spanned 6 countries – India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar. Each country was represented by a journalist, an NGO activist (this is me!) and a government scientist / policy maker. These individuals worked with either fisher issues or food security and nutrition and the goal of the workshop was to make the links between the two. India was represented by T.A. Ameeruddin from Scroll, Aparna Roy of CIFRI, West Bengal and myself.
For me the take away was a different lens of presenting smalls scale fishers and fisheries. How can you present small scale fishers (SSF) not as poor communities that need help and support, but as a key group responsible for ensuring the food security and nutrition of rural communities? In other words, SSF as a solution to larger problems of rural malnutrition.
Through presentations by WorldFish staff the group engaged with the links between the three themes and worked with the communications team to develop country specific stories that presented some of this narrative. Simple enough ideas but not often discussed in fisher rights protests or research into fisheries. What is the contribution of SSF to rural food security? Or the reverse – through the process of catching and selling bycatch to industries preparing poultry and aquaculture feed (and apparently cat and dog food in many countries) how much small, edible, fish is being removed from the rural markets? This is important to quantify as small fish (anchovies as an example) are proven to be far more effective than large fish at providing essential nutrients for individuals mainly because you consume the entire fish including the head and tail where a lot of micronutrients and vitamins are stored. For my colleagues, Kabini and Naveen, this is unimportant because they consume the head and tail of all fish.
The challenge that many working on nutrition expressed was that despite their higher nutritional value, in a landscape where ‘fish hierarchy’ has captured the imagination of communities, people aspire to purchase larger fish (which means that family members get a piece rather than an entire fish), leaving and small fish are at the bottom of the heap. Raising the profile and appeal of small fish is itself a large part of the job, and not just the issues of availability.