November 5, 2020

Partnership Between Duke and FAO Illuminates Importance of Small-Scale Fisheries

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Partnership Between Duke and FAO Illuminates Importance of Small-Scale Fisheries

By Jeremy Ashton

Small-scale fisheries have a big role to play in feeding an ever-growing population, particularly in developing countries. They also provide jobs for millions in local communities around the world and are pivotal to protecting natural habitats and biodiversity. Yet their contributions to creating a sustainable future for the planet are not well understood by policy makers and often overlooked.

During a virtual event in October, representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Duke University announced a new partnership that aims to shed more light on small-scale fisheries. Formalized through a memorandum of understanding, the partnership builds on ongoing research collaborations between FAO and Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Marine Lab and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The agreement also opens the door for FAO and Duke to collaborate on additional areas of study, potentially including seafood markets, aquaculture, mangrove restoration and forests.

“The partnership with FAO allows us to connect our faculty and the U.N. effectively to try to eradicate hunger and pursue this noble idea of ending poverty,” said Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment. “It's a vote of confidence in the importance of multilateral institutions at this time.”

Small-scale fisheries have the potential to help countries around the world achieve several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Through the new agreement, FAO and Duke will work together to build a scientific evidence base for policy makers to develop strategies and solutions to support these fisheries. One major effort is already underway—development of the forthcoming Illuminating Hidden Harvests study that will be released with the WorldFish Center in 2021. The project is exploring the social, environmental, economic and governance contributions of small-scale fisheries at the global and local levels, as well as threats and opportunities for the sector.

Global partnerships are necessary to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, and they are key to enhancing FAO’s programs that support capacity building in member countries, said Marcella Villareal, FAO director of partnerships and U.N. collaboration. With more than 75 partnership agreements signed since 2017, Villareal described universities and research institutions as “natural partners” for FAO because of their shared commitment to scientific, evidence-based solutions for addressing policy issues such as food security.

“We believe [the Duke partnership] is a very important step forward supporting sustainable seafood and small-scale fisheries and helping FAO members in their achievement of the SDGs now and in the future,” Villareal said. “We look very much forward to achieving great outcomes with Duke University that we are sure will benefit small fisherfolk worldwide.”

Duke students who are motivated to have a “greater purpose and meaning” in their lives are already benefiting from collaboration with FAO, Steelman said.

In a video produced for the partnership announcement, current and former students in the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Marine Lab spoke about the experience they gained through various research opportunities with FAO. The partnership will further enhance these opportunities for students to apply their knowledge to “real-world research projects with direct global policy impact,” said Xavier Basurto, assistant professor of sustainability science at the Nicholas School of the Environment. 

“It will allow them to get exposed to an understanding of how global diplomacy works and the fisheries, science, and policy interface within the United Nations system,” Basurto added in the video.

Manuel Barange, director of FAO’s Fisheries Division, described the partnership as “reciprocal enlightening” in which FAO and Duke help each other overcome “structural limitations in a way that adds value to what we individually do, as well as collectively."

With a modest workforce and budget, FAO benefits from the research methods that Duke has developed, Barange said. And while the inclusion of students clearly enhances Duke’s educational mission, Barange also sees their presence as an important part of FAO’s food security mandate.

"The involvement of young researchers in the IHH study is not just a way to train a new generation of scientists; it is an attempt to bring fresh eyes to an old problem,” he said. “We expect young researchers to find what we don't seek, to ask the questions we thought did not need answers, to quantify our qualifiers."

Watch a video replay of the partnership announcement.

Watch a video of student testimonials.

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