Small scale fishers and farmers - a vital link
While you are reading this, a baited remote underwater video (BRUV) is recording images of the marine life inside and outside of the marine protected area (MPA) on the Kogelberg Coast around Betty's Bay and Kleinmond in the Southern Cape.
Where possible, each BRUV is lowered from a local fishing boat within a depth range of 5 to 45 metres deep in the in-shore zones, with a can of bait (usually sardines) fixed about one metre from the camera lens. The location is gps'd and the camera films here for about an hour. The BRUV then gets raised and moved to another location for another hour of underwater filming.
'We have just started this two-year project in collaboration with Mike Markovina, co-founder of the ocean research, conservation and documentary group, MovingSushi (www.movingsushi.com), and the footage is incredible: we have images of sharks, fish species, rock lobster, octopus … it will give us such a good idea as to how the key linefish and lobster stocks are looking inside and outside the MPAs over the two years,' says John Duncan, the Senior Manager of WWF-SA's Marine Programme.
This is part of a long-term WWF Nedbank Green Trust fisheries improvement project (FIP) in partnership with the Kogelberg small-scale fishers. WWF-SA's Chris Kastern is coordinating this project, which started in 2012.
'The Kogelberg fishing communities near Hermanus number amongst South Africa’s many coastal communities for whom the ocean plays a critical role in putting food on the table and money in the bank. In the Kogelberg region, small-scale fishing contributes an estimated revenue of R28 million to the local economy annually,' Kastern explains.
One of the aims of the FIP is to develop a more equitable value chain that gives small-scale fishers direct access to local restaurants and retailers. The Kogelberg FIP is working on achieving this with support from Pick n Pay, which is also sponsoring the BRUVs project.
Several of the small-scale Kogelberg fishers are also part of a coastwide project called Abalobi (www.abalobi.info), which is driven by the fishers themselves, with partners at the University of Cape Town, DAFF and other governmental and non-governmental programmes, including WWF-SA. This project enables fishers to electronically record their catches on their smartphones, using apps that they helped to design. Going forward, the platform will also include apps whereby the fishers can communicate directly with local restaurants and consumers so that they can sell their catch while they are still at sea.
The Kogelberg catches can also be logged by community-catch monitors; with real-time access to fisheries managers, in place of the onerous paper-based system. The government catch monitors will soon be using the same Abalobi system to record landings and measure samples as the fishers arrive back at the harbour.
'These innovative applications and the roll-out of the BRUVs project have multiple benefits: they enhance conservation monitoring of marine life, help scientists and government to better quantify local catches and they have great potential to connect Kogelberg’s small-scale fishers to local markets,' says Kastern.
Because the supply of fish and seafood from small-scale fishers is by its nature erratic and weather- and season-reliant, it is complex to create the links to the large supermarket chains; however, several have shown their willingness to support and collaborate in small-scale producer initiatives and the associated conservation goals.
While small-scale fishers don't catch large amounts of fish, many of their catch species are overexploited. For example, the West Coast rock lobster, which is a key cash crop for the Kleinmond fishing community, is currently at 2% of its original population.
The Kogelberg Coast – which extends along 65 km of coastline from Gordon's Bay to Botrivier – is an important conservation area for many of South Africa's threatened linefish (including galjoen, and white and red steenbras), as well as iconic species such as abalone and West Coast rock lobster.
'It is very clear that, to protect these sensitive areas, we need to create win-win solutions by encouraging communities to help manage their marine resources responsibly as this is their livelihood. We also need them to speak out against ill practices, such as overfishing and poaching, which is a major problem all along our coastline,' says Duncan.
His team is currently putting together a Kogelberg Illegal Fishing Survey to inform the implementation of improved enforcement measures. To be effective it must have the buy-in of the small-scale fishing communities in the region. The vision is that other fishing communities can learn from this approach and potentially implement similar initiatives to address this issue. There are an estimated 30 000 to 50 000 small-scale fishers in approximately 280 communities along South Africa's coastline.
'In South Africa, the government is increasingly recognising the importance of the small-scale production sectors, with the National Development Plan (NDP) introducing inclusive public policies and programmes to promote smallholder farmers and fast-track their participation in agri-business supply and value chains. This is aimed at supporting job creation, food security and poverty reduction,’ says Mkhululi Silandela, WWF-SA's Programme Manager of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust's Mainstreaming Sustainable Small-scale Producers Project, which started in January 2016.
Realising the multiple constraints and high levels of vulnerability faced by smallholder farmers, particularly the effects of land degradation and limited access to natural resources (water and land), WWF-SA is supporting a range of programmes to assist smallholder farmers with land stewardship and climate smart agricultural practices. These include increasing organic soil cover, diversified crop rotations, integrated land use planning and effective management of natural areas in terms of grazing, fire and sustainable resource harvesting.
‘Our work supports the development of smallholder farmers and promotes an holistic view of agricultural sustainability, with benefit to people, the planet and profits,’ says Silandela. ‘We are currently partnering with the 17 Shaft Agro-ecology and Leadership Training facility in Soweto with support from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust to develop a formal 12-week leadership and agro-ecology training course.’
Agro-ecology is an holistic farming practice, using natural methods (no chemicals) to improve soil health, water retention and harvest, and reduce negative farming impacts such as pollution and erosion.
The agro-ecology training initiative seeks to support existing smallholder farmers and entrepreneurial community members to become agro-ecology trainers and recognised community liaison extension officers in their regions. The Mopani district in Limpopo is the current pilot training area.
‘While our work is underpinned by our partnerships with the formal sector, particularly the food retailers, we are also encouraging the informal sector and alternative markets to adopt participatory assurance models to grow market access for smallholder farmers,’ Silandela explains. ‘One such model is the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a collaborative assurance mechanism based on shared knowledge and peer review of sustainable, agro-ecology farming practices. Partners such as the Bryanston Organic Market in Joburg sell produce from PGS producers.’
Silandela has considerable experience in engaging with communities, and he led the small-scale fisheries project from 2013 to 2017: ‘The strength, knowledge, experience and commitment of community members or what we call ‘agency’ is essential to the success of these partnerships,’ he says.
‘Building trust with communities for them to share their agency and to partner us is a long-term process, and we are appreciative of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust’s recognition of this and support of this important work.’