HANOI (AlertNet) - Climate change threatens to reduce catches from fisheries and worsen hunger among some of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest people, who rely on fish as a major source of protein and earnings, according to new research from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
“When you look at Ethiopia and Kenya, for example, our study shows that a 10,000 tonne reduction in fish production would make these two countries reach a hunger level that is categorised as ‘extremely alarming’,” said Essam Yassin Mohammed, IIED researcher and co-author of the paper, which will be published in the coming months.
But policy makers have overlooked the sector in their plans to adapt to climate change, mainly because little is known about the role of fisheries in fighting poverty and food insecurity, Mohammed added.
“The main message (of the paper) is that we have failed to recognise the importance of fisheries to our national economies,” he told AlertNet at the 6th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change last week.
“Well above half of fish produced in sub-Saharan Africa is from small-scale artisanal fisheries and is not accounted for in national statistics. Thus its contribution to the economy and food security remains invisible,” he said.
The fishing sector employs 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Fish is the main or only source of animal protein for one out of five people in the region, and as one of the most traded commodities, it is also an important source of cash.
Climate change poses “significant threats” to what is an already strained resource due to overfishing, Mohammed said.
Rising temperatures and sea levels, together with increasing salinity and ocean acidification, could reduce fish stocks, destroy habitats and affect fish migration patterns.
Smaller catches would result in fewer fish to eat and export, cutting incomes, Mohammed warned.
Climate change is likely to displace some fish species across national borders, making it economically unviable and politically difficult for fishermen to follow them, he added.
The paper, co-authored with Zenebe Bashaw Uraguchi from HELVETAS Intercooperation, says fisheries should be pushed to the forefront of strategies to adapt to climate change. It recommends that investments should be made to boost sustainable fish production in the region.
“There's a need for massive investment to support sustainable artisanal fisheries and to improve the governance structure,” Mohammed said.
But in order to make those investment decisions, policy makers will need more information that demonstrates the importance of the fishing sector to their economies. “It's very important to uncover the invisibility,” Mohammed added.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than 380 million people living below the poverty line, who struggle to adapt to external shocks. By 2020, it is estimated that half the world’s poor will be living in the region, according to the IIED.
The paper compares the Global Hunger Index drawn up by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) with fish production in sub-Saharan African countries, and finds that the more fisheries there are, the less people go hungry.
Despite this, only three out of 48 countries in the region have mentioned fisheries in their national poverty reduction strategy papers, the research finds .
Given the growing threat of climate change to the fishing sector, the authors warn against over-reliance on a single source of protein and income.
With the study showing that a reduction in fish availability could lead to higher hunger rates, “there is a need for people to diversify their dietary habits and sources, and livelihoods,” Mohammed said.