BRYAN P. GALLIGAN, S.J.
RESEARCH AND POLICY ANALYST – FOOD AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
Current policy and advocacy for social and ecological justice tend to neglect the import ant roles played by coastal communities and blue foods in Africa. This “ blue blind spot,” however, is beginning to be noticed by Catholic and other faith actors on the ground. In Kenya, Caritas Malindi recently held a trans disciplinary dialogue with fishing
industry stakeholders to identify common challenges in the context of integral human development and integral ecology. On t he other side of t he continent , Caritas
Monrovia in Liberia is collaborating with small – scale fishers and implementing programs to support their livelihood.
Like faith actors and community groups , African and Western governments are also beginning to notice the immense benefits oceans and coasts can provide. So called “blue economy” strategies frame this governmental turn to the sea. Some elements of these plans are truly admirable—they are part of a wider movement towards improved governance and management of marine resources, which is a very real need. But rather than truly heeding the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor , most blue economy
initiatives are built on a paradigm of securitization, enclosure, and intensified exploitation of ocean resources. This paradigm has consistently led to the marginalization of coastal communities and violations of their human rights.
Catholic social teaching makes it clear that development initiatives should not be designed only, or even primarily, to achieve macroeconomic growth. Instead, development should support the holistic flourishing of human persons , especially those persons who are most prevented from flourishing by existing social and economic structures . Ultimately, development is about working towards reconciliation
with God, with one another , and with all creation. Achieving this kind of development is possible, but it will require a paradigm shift in our current approach to the blue economy. Rather than relying on securitization and top- down control , the blue economy should be democratically governed. Rather than focusing on industrial – scale exploitation of Africa’ s oceans and coasts, it should instead be focused on building communities ’ resilience and helping them adapt to the adverse effects of climate change
Blue economy strategies must recognize that the basic needs of coastal communities , like food security and food sovereignty, are more critical ethical priorities than most (or even all) other development goals. Instead of treating blue foods simply as one part of a broader effort, decision- makers should center blue foods as the first priority for reform. This would mean (1) valuing blue foods as preconditions for fulfilling basic human rights and (2) valuing and managing fisheries and aquaculture for the nutritional quality of the food they produce.
Blue economy strategies often neglect the intersection between blue foods and human rights . This is a key failure that must be rectified, and recent developments in human
rights law could serve to point governments in a more ethical direction. The right to food, for example, was only formally defined in 1999, but it draws on the most basic
human rights elaborated by the United Nations since its founding. It is a basic requirement for the fulfillment of human dignity. The right to access living marine
resources , or the right to fish, is also protected in some circumstances , for instance when a traditional community has relied on a resource for centuries and is thus
considered to have property rights over that resource.
More recently, the UN General Assembly declared the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment in 2022. Like the right to food, the right to a healthy environment draws on more basic rights like subsistence and security that cannot be fulfilled if an environment is polluted or disaster – prone. Together, these three human rights —food, fish, and the environment —make clear that governments must prioritize blue foods in their development plans.
A commitment to center blue foods must also be operationalized. This is where questions of value and management come in. Current policies tend to value
aquatic foods in economic terms alone. Instead, aquatic foods should be valued for their nutritional contributions . JENA’ s research has found that ending over fishing in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar could contribute hundreds of servings of selenium and dozens of servings of omega- 3 fatty acids and zinc daily per square kilometer of coral reef . Our research has also found that, in these same fisheries, targeting large fish can improve sustainability while also increasing nutrient yields. Often, these management efforts are not put in place by governments because they are difficult to implement. However, the nutritional and economic benefits of improving fishery sustainability are profound.
Africa needs a new approach to blue economic development that centers on coastal communities, small – scale actors , and blue foods . Such an approach will be based on countries ’ existing human rights commitments and will value fisheries and aquaculture
for their contributions to food security. For more on JENA’ s work on blue foods, explore our research on nutrient yields from coral reef fisheries in Kenya or watch this video about women in the blue economy.