SPACES research informs a call to consider fisheries benefits to wellbeing beyond income. An income focus can miss non-monetary dimensions of poverty, unequal distributions and whether it is spent and saved to improve people’s quality of life.
By Tim Daw and Ida Gabrielsson
For the past four years, SPACES has conducted research in coastal communities in Kenya and Mozambique. In the south coastal community of Vanga in Kenya, fishermen are less likely to be income poor than their non-fishing neighbours. However, they and their families are as likely as non-fishers to lack basic food, water and sanitation needs. This contradiction begs us to better understand how the wellbeing of poor coastal communities are supported by fisheries and how interventions can improve wellbeing while balancing the pressure on threatened coastal ecosystems.
Delegates discussing the global goal on ocean health in New York this week should carefully consider how fisheries contribute to wellbeing, and who gets those benefits. Fisheries interventions are usually focussed on protecting fish stocks, increasing the volumes of fish caught or generating higher prices for fishers’ catches. Many interventions typically assume that fisheries are only about income, and often ignore how benefits and costs are distributed to different people. A better understanding of human well-being, not limited to income, and of winners and losers offers a better basis to sustainably address poverty in fishing communities.
Photo of weighing and selling fish in Mombasa by Tim Daw
Fisheries development projects are often focussed on income. Income is an important aspect of fisheries and for alleviating poverty, but if it is the main focus other aspects become overlooked. This is because both human well-being and poverty are multidimensional, meaning that if one only considers income then other important aspects of wellbeing could be overlooked.
Human wellbeing is multidimensional, including such domains as health, education, physical security, water, respect, autonomy, shelter, food, economic security, participation, sanitation, and relationships. Income can certainly support many of these aspects of wellbeing. However, relationships, autonomy, health, and respect may have little to do with income. Hence if one is only concerned with the monetary aspects of fisheries then other aspects of wellbeing become overlooked. Only half of the links our focus groups identified between fisheries and wellbeing were monetary, the other half were non-monetary links such as autonomy and respect or direct use of fish for food or non-monetary exchange.
Measuring poverty only as low-levels of income is also tricky. If a person earns more than $1.90 per day they are considered by standard approaches to be above the poverty line. Our analyses have shown that income poverty is only partly related to three other important aspects of poverty. Household assets, whether people meet their basic needs, and people’s own satisfaction with life are only partly explained by income. For example fishers often earn above the poverty line and are thus out of income poverty, but often have a more basic “material style of life” and can lack some of basic needs such as sanitation and food.
Photos of basic house showing a low material style of life versus a more “advanced” house exemplifying a higher material style of life
An additional problem with a focus on income for poverty alleviation is that fisheries income is unevenly distributed. Our surveys in Vanga estimated that women who buy and fry small fish to sell to local consumers made up 9.5% of the total people directly profiting from the fish trade, yet they share only 2% of the profits. Meanwhile, a few large-scale male traders, who have more capital and buying power represent only 1.5% of the beneficiaries but capture 18% of the profits. In turn, improving the total income opportunities will not help the poorest if the income is unequally distributed to favour the less poor, such as the large scale male traders.
Figure 1. Number of people directly profiting from the fish trade in Vanga
Figure 2. Percentage of profits shared for each group in Vanga
Finally, we need to ask how income from fisheries can improve well-being? Income from fisheries is certainly critical for poverty alleviation. The communities that we sampled identified lack of income or a job as key causes of dissatisfaction with their lives. Fishing is one of the more profitable activities in the community, but even fishing households still lack key basic needs. For example in Vanga, 45% of households, both fishers and non-fishers, reported sometimes going all day without food. Income only contributes to the well-being of the household members if it is spent on meeting their needs, or is saved to provide for future opportunities like paying for school fees.
We have no data on how the income made by fisheries is spent or saved, but literature from coasts and lakes around the world points out that fishing often takes place in contexts that encourage the high earnings to be squandered. Fishing income is often more like a lottery win than a steady wage because occasional large catches lead to a sudden input of lots of cash. In the Vanga example, 71% of the income from this fishery is earned by fishers at the landing site. Particularly if this income comes as sudden input of cash, it may be hard to use income wisely, to plan for the future and to save. Most development efforts have tried to help fishers catch more fish or get higher prices. Perhaps interventions could have more impact on well-being by helping fishers to avoid squandering their income, and to have access to savings to smooth out their variable income. A focus on saving facilities and behaviours was one strong message emerging from community dialogues on SPACES research in Kenya.
Ocean conservation is often framed in a win-win narrative of protecting fish stocks, boosting profits and supporting livelihoods and food security. However, there are important tradeoffs to consider. Previous participatory research and ecological modelling of a fishery system near Mombasa (link) showed that conservation and economic profit goals could be enhanced, but that this would reduce the volume of food generated, with the strongest impact on women fish traders.
This is problematic if development actors have a tunnel-vision focus on some aspect of fisheries at the expense of missing some of these tradeoffs. So focussing on total profits to fishermen, ignores how these are distributed and may undermine benefits to women and consumers. A focus on income blinds us to direct-use and cultural benefits. And a focus on short-term incomes is likely to miss questions of sustainability and the resilience of the fishery to support well-being for a range of people in the community. The emerging findings from SPACES suggest that actors considering how fisheries support the wellbeing of different people (not just through to income) might identify better solutions for sustainable poverty alleviation in fishing communities.
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Link Abstract This article examines how selected socioeconomic characteristics of fishers and traders shape market prices at five coastal communities in Kenya. Focus groups elicited perceived factors affecting market prices, which were then tested using quantitative analysis. Ownership of fishing gear by fishers negatively influenced the prices taken. Fish traders who bought larger quantities paid […]
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Link to pdf
Market structure & participation in trade in octopus, mixed reef fish & small pelagics in Kenya and Mozambique: A value chains approach – Andrew Wamukota et al.(2.1 MB)
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Artisanal fisheries at Pemba Town, Cabo Delgado: Structure, dynamics and contribution of catch for livelihood in a urban environment – Vera Julien et al.(1.8 MB)
Link to pdf About Artisanal fisheries are a key subsistence activity of coastal populations of East Africa. Significant numbers of local communities depend on artisanal fisheries for food and income. Northern Mozambique is changing rapidly due to oil and gas industry and tourism. This presentation looks at the increased pressure on fisheries, other opportunities for […]
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Link to pdf
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IIFET 2016 – Small Scale developing country fish value chain
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Link to pdf About Kate Brown’s presentation on The gendered nature of ecosystem services. She concludes that: The gendered nature of ecosystem services is not natural – it is socially constructed and relational Using the SPACES chain highlights the different dimensions of this, moving us beyond assigning this to gendered roles, access and entitlements Recognise […]
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Link to pdf About Marlino Mubai’s presentation on coastal ecosystems and poverty alleviation. The presentation touches on the environmental conditions in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, the contribution of ecosystem services to wellbeing, degraded ecosystems, and the natural gas discovery off the Mozambican coast.
The sea belongs to all: Inequality and ecosystem services in coastal Cabo Delgado, Mozambique – Marlino Mubai et al.
Link to pdf About Julio Machele’s presentation on inequality in ecosystem services. He concludes that there is unequal access to coastal ecosystem services in Cabo Delgado, and that these inequalities are based in ethnicity, cultural practices, gender, and wealth.
Understanding the disaggregated nature of ecosystem services well-being relationship in northern Mozambique – Dominque Goncalves
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Connecting Marine Ecosystem Services to Human Well-being: Insights from Participatory Well-being Assessment in Kenya. AMBIO 2013
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Elasticity in ecosystem services: exploring the variable relationship between ecosystems and human well-being. Ecology and Society 2016
Link to pdf (Open Access) Abstract Although ecosystem services are increasingly recognized as benefits people obtain from nature, we still have a poor understanding of how they actually enhance multidimensional human well-being, and how well-being is affected by ecosystem change. We develop a concept of “ecosystem service elasticity” (ES elasticity) that describes the sensitivity of […]
Value chain analysis
All information including publications, conference presentations and news items related to value chain analysis is tagged below.
All information including publications, conference presentations and news items related to wellbeing data is tagged below.
Value Chain Analysis Data Treat
How the benefits of reef fish trade are shared in two Kenyan landing sites These figures illustrate how income generated from the reef fish value chain is shared amongst different actors in two sites in Kenya. The size of the fish represents the total income generated by the value chain and this is divided […]
Exploring wellbeing and ecosystem services at the Resillience for Development Colloquium, Johannesburg
Julio Machele, Marlino Mubai, Dominique Goncales, Tim Daw and Thomas Chagneau represented SPACES at this event, which brought together scientists and practitioners working on complex challenges of sustainable development in the context of complex social and ecological interconnections and change. A session on SPACES results featured: – an introduction and overview of the political and […]
SPACES at the ESPA 2016 Annual Science Conference
The ESPA Annual Science Conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya from the 17th to the 18th of November. Several members of the SPACES team were in attendance, including Tim Daw, Kate Brown, Caroline Abunge, Salomao Bandeira, Caroline Abunge, Christopher Cheupe, Julio Machele, Vera Julien, Bernard Owuor, Tomas Chaigneau, Kate Brown, and Kairo Gitundu. Tim, Kate, […]
SPACES Value Chain research presented at international fisheries economics meeting
Beatrice Crona, Andrew Wamukota, Liz Drury O’Neil and Tim Daw attended the ‘International Institute for Fisheries Economics and Trade’ conference held in Aberdeen 12-15th July 2016. SPACES research into fisheries value chains in Kenya was presented by Beatrice, while Andrew, Liz and Tim also gave presentations about fisheries value chains and the impact of global […]
The price of fish in Kenyan value chains is not as straightforward as people think
A new study by SPACES team members, published in the journal Society and Natural Resources explores the social and economic structure of East African artisanal fisheries, and the links between fisher and trader social characteristics and market returns. The study explores how relative power in fish markets between sellers and buyers can provide important insights that speak to the […]
Connections between Ecosystem Services & Human Wellbeing (video)
In a whiteboard seminar given at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Tim Daw introduces and unpacks some of the issues and processes that connect ecosystem services to human wellbeing.