Three Ways Wild-Caught Fisheries Support Feed the Future’s Work in Africa


The contributions of wild-caught fisheries to livelihoods, nutrition and resilience in sub-Saharan Africa are too big to ignore.

The USAID report, The Role of Wild-Caught Fisheries in African Development, outlines the ways this critical component of a vibrant agricultural sector provides nutritious, affordable food for more than 400 million people, employs a workforce of several million and generates billions of dollars in revenue for both coastal and inland countries while supporting community resilience.

The report is from USAID’s Biodiversity Results and Integrated Development Gains Enhanced (BRIDGE) project, which promotes and supports the integration of biodiversity conservation with key development sectors such as food security. Biodiversity conservation is fundamental to human well-being as natural ecosystems provide the goods and services that underpin sustainable development.  Improved management of and increased investment in Africa’s wild-caught fisheries is a productive and efficient means of addressing food security while enhancing the availability of wild-caught fish, an affordable source of protein and other nutrients.

Wild-caught Fisheries Support Food Security

Below are three ways wild-caught fisheries can enhance Feed the Future’s work in Africa:

  • Livelihoods. Wild-caught fisheries employ millions of people in Africa. Marine and freshwater fisheries in Africa employ 93% of people in the fish production sector and aquaculture employs the remaining 7%. Wild-caught fisheries support up to 20% of jobs in some countries. Lake Victoria’s fisheries provide livelihoods for over three million people and generate an estimated $500 million in revenue annually. In West Africa, small-scale fisheries employ about 1.7 million people. Continent-wide, women make up approximately 50% of fish industry workers, with 90% of them engaged in post-harvest activities such as on-shore handling, processing and marketing of fish.
  • Nutrition. Africa’s wild-caught inland and marine fisheries are a critically important source of nutrient-rich food. For 400 million Africans, fish is an affordable and accessible source of protein and micronutrients. Fish provides an average of 21% of daily protein consumed on the continent. In countries with particularly productive fisheries like Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Mozambique, the Gambia and Sierra Leone, fish contributes a significant proportion of total animal protein intake. Intra-regional fish trade in Africa is important to nutrition and food security inland as well as in coastal areas; processed fish (salted, dried, fermented and smoked) is traded between countries throughout Africa and contributes to household diets all over the continent, not just in areas with fisheries. Wild-caught fish, particularly small wild fish species that are eaten whole, often have higher nutritional values than other food products. Small wild fish species provide a range of important nutrients like calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, zinc and vitamins A, B-12, D and E.
  • Resilience. Well-managed wild-caught fisheries can serve as a source of nutrient-rich food during times of crisis and are an important source of nutrition for poorer countries. The number of people in West Africa who rely on fisheries for livelihoods has steadily increased by about 2% per decade as local populations move to coastal areas in response to climate stressors that decrease crop productivity, such as increased temperatures and changes in the amount and timing of rainfall. Among countries classified as “low-income food-deficit” (LIFDC), freshwater fish is a particularly important source of protein. Productive freshwater fisheries are often located in areas of low food security, highlighting their importance in providing a local, low-cost and highly nutritious food source for vulnerable communities. However, poorly managed fisheries are less resilient in the face of natural and human-made stresses, thus reducing their ability to serve as a social safety net.

Wild-caught Fisheries Are Under Threat and Are Too Big to Ignore

Despite their important contributions to livelihoods, nutrition and community resilience, poor management and overexploitation of wild-caught fisheries have led to diminishing natural productivity, fish catches and economic security. The World Bank estimates that African countries are losing $10 billion in revenues each year due to poor fisheries management. Factors that contribute to poor management include lack of secure tenure to fishing grounds, inadequate governance and weak institutions. Other significant issues are post-harvest losses, which range from 20 to 50% in some African countries, and food safety concerns due to unsafe handling and processing practices. Declining catches in poorly managed fisheries, especially small-scale fisheries, threaten fatty acid and micronutrient deficiencies in countries such as Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast that are highly dependent on nutrients from fish.

Farming Sector Strategies Can Improve Wild-caught Fisheries Management

Feed the Future’s farming sector strategies can be adapted to 1) promote policies that secure tenure and access to fishing grounds for small-scale fishers, 2) support fisher associations and effective extension services, 3) improve the productivity and profitability of fisheries through proven management practices that increase fish populations and enhance resiliency, and 4) reduce post-harvest losses and improve safe handling and processing practices. Agricultural research strategies should incorporate wild-caught fisheries to harness scientific innovation and technology to improve fisheries management, quantify the contribution of coastal and inland small-scale fisheries to local food security, and analyze options and best practices for nutrition-sensitive fishing policies.

The Role of Wild-Caught Fisheries in African Development builds on previous research outlined in a 2016 Ag Sector Council Seminar that reviewed the evidence on the importance of wild-caught fisheries in Africa, showed how management approaches can restore and enhance the natural productivity and sustainability of coastal fisheries, and described increasing investments by the private sector in this area. USAID Bangladesh’s activity, Senegal’s activity, USAID Philippines’ Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest and Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries activities are examples of how successful fisheries management approaches can improve local food security, strengthen livelihoods and increase fish populations.

For more information, please contact Kirsten Spainhower ( or Barbara Best (

This post originally appeared on Agrilinks.