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Oak’s Environment Programme’s new five-year strategy: Food 

Environment Programme / Programme news / Food

Chris Gee thinks Bob Geldof may have got it wrong. “Our goal should not be to feed the world, but for the world to feed itself. When communities grow their own food, manage their own fisheries, focus on local produce and local cuisine, everyone’s better off. We expend less carbon, produce less plastic, ship things less, and usually eat better. There’s a lot of truth in the idea that we can save the world by improving the way we eat and produce.”  

Chris is the campaigns leader at Oak Foundation. We spoke with him as part of our four-part series on Oak’s new five-year strategy.  

Our individual survival has always depended on food. In our new strategy, it may be one of the keys to the entire planet’s survival as well. We have identified changing the world’s food systems as one of the keys to unlocking a future of reduced CO2 emissions, less hunger, greater economic justice, and a healthier planet with less plastic.  

When it comes to fisheries, small-scale fisheries employ more people than any ocean activity – more than oil or gas, tourism, or shipping. They account for nearly 40 per cent of all fish caught in the ocean. They provide more than half the animal protein consumed in the Global South. They are income and sustenance for around 108 million people.1 However, the world has steadily been moving toward industrial fishing methods and massive factory fleets, which consume vast amounts of fuel and rob coastal communities of their livelihoods, traditions, and fish. 

“Our new strategy prioritises the idea that we can bring about a just, equitable, and sustainable food system,” says Chris. “Our tools are the power of consumer choices, reformed financing, and a new approach to conservation and environmental justice that champions the people who harvest, fish, farm, and plant.” 

In the next five years, our grant-making will focus on transforming the world’s food system, rebalancing animal-sourced food consumption, ending the catch of wild animals for food, and promoting a real blue economy, which will allow seafood  to recover and be harvested sustainably. We hope the efforts of our partners will help ensure the food security of coastal and Indigenous communities.  

Read our strategy for more information. 

A few examples of our strategy in action 

Ocean Azul 
Our Partner Ocean Azul has put out a call to action, RISE UP, which is dedicated to creating a “Paris Agreement for the Oceans”, and will protect the rights of coastal people to their traditional fishing grounds. RISE UP is a unique joint call to action developed by civil society, fishers, Indigenous peoples, and philanthropic organisations urging governments and corporations to take bold action to safeguard the ocean. It sets out common priorities, objectives, and targets, not just around fisheries, but the multiple threats of climate change, plastics, and pollution. It focuses on what the ocean needs to recover. It’s a blueprint towards creating a Real Blue Economy. 

Environmental Justice Foundation 
Our partner the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has been working with Ghanaian not-for-profit Hen Mpoano to create a three-year programme to strengthen the governance of fisheries. This is done through a bottom-up process that starts with local fishers, village women, the local community, the government, and other stakeholders. Only by working closely with community members can you learn of things like how the Ghanaian clam fishers have highly effective methods of preserving the clam harvest on the Volta river, built through knowledge accumulated over centuries of tradition and experience. They do this by: establishing fishing holidays to keep natural clam beds off-limits; refraining from harvesting commercially from December to March; and enabling traditional authorities to regulate who can harvest clams. EJF and Hen Mpoano have been working together to document and promote these methods while helping clam farmers and traditional authorities to map their farms. They have also helped create management structures, such as men’s and women’s associations, village savings and loans associations, and other co-management arrangements.  

Blue Ventures 
Community-managed fisheries are a model that our partner Blue Ventures has championed in Madagascar, where short-term closures of fisheries aimed at allowing fish to breed have helped keep the ocean healthy and boosted profits. As a result, they have won the support of fishers, villagers, and government officials.  For example, it started with octopus. In 2004, the Madagascar Ministry of Fisheries and the University of Toliara, in collaboration with local fishers and seafood collection and export companies, launched a pilot programme to pause the lucrative octopus catch during the most important time in the cephalopod’s life cycle. At any given time, up to a quarter of a community’s fishing area closed for around three months to let the octopus recover. The science proved right. Octopus landings and fisher incomes increased dramatically. The model went viral, spreading across the coast of Madagascar and onwards into neighbouring Rodrigues and Pemba islands.  

Abalobi app 
But even when fish are plentiful, small-scale fishers need to fairly benefit from their work to survive against the economic advantages enjoyed by industrial fishing fleets. Which is where solutions like the Oak-funded Abalobi app come in. Abalobi means “fisher” in the isiXhosa language, and the Android app thinks like one. It provides detailed wind and weather information for African fishers and is a communication channel between fishing boats. In addition, the Abolobi app helps fishers track their catches and quotas, and provides crucial data for scientists. But more importantly, it provides a fairer market price by connecting fishers directly to chefs, restaurants, and other buyers, cutting out exploitative and often wasteful brokers. It also ensures ocean-to-plate traceability with QR-encoded labelling. It has also increased efficiency to meet demand, resulting in less food waste and more fish left in the ocean.  

Too Big to Ignore and African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFishNET) 
Other efforts include our support to the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFishNET). Women play a crucial and often under-appreciated role in the movement of fish from sea to the market. The network allows them to share best-practice, and advocate for the rights of women fish processors and traders all over Africa. At a global scale, we support the Too Big to Ignore crowd-sourced information systems which connects and empowers fishers and scientists to understand and protect small-scale fisheries globally.  

“What’s exciting about all this is the red thread running through our entire strategy,” says Chris. “What we’ve learned from years of working with fishers and coastal communities about the power of local solutions is also informing those we support in civil society who work with farmers, and an exciting range of groups set to change the way we eat for the better. It all comes down to a strategic focus on the incredible power of people acting together, increasingly breaking the silos, and the transformational power of food. The way we produce food, especially animal-sourced foods, should help us meet societally agreed goals.”