SSF Guidelines represent voyage of struggle, empathy and support

Kate Bevitt -

The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (‘SSF Guidelines’) were the first sector-specific international guidelines to involve a participatory process, whereby stakeholders interacted as part of a voyage of struggle, empathy and support.

This is the significant story that Dr. John Kurien, a WorldFish Honorary Fellow, told at the 3rd World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress on 22−26 October 2018 in Chiang Mai, Bangkok. Implementation of the SSF Guidelines, introduced by the FAO/UN in 2014, was a hot topic at the congress.

Efforts to involve fishers, local-level small-scale fisheries problems, issues and initiatives—across continents—were quite extensive, says Dr. Kurien of the participatory process.

“These concerns were included in a single civil society organization [CSO] document, which was also discussed at the FAO level to be able to incorporate larger international concerns. These inputs then led to the formation of a ‘zero draft’ of the SSF Guidelines that was discussed by over 4,000 people—including fishers, CSO activists and state representatives—in 120 countries over two years.”

Participatory policymaking

The consensus was that most of the important concerns of the fishing community and civil society were taken on board. Many lessons can be learned from the process, says Dr. Kurien.

“Firstly, participatory processes take time and entail many compromises. Secondly, despite this, it is an ‘empowering’ process because all those involved feel a sense of ownership of the SSF Guidelines. And thirdly, this is important to ensure that the implementation is also participatory. Community-state-civil society involvement is the only credible and sustainable way of creating and fashioning global policy.”

Small-scale fisheries, Cambodia. Photo by Dominyk Lever, 2004.

If participation is innate in the creation of policy, it will also be inherent in the implementation of the policy, says Dr. Kurien. “It would be ideal if all local, national, regional and international policies are negotiated in this fashion. The reality of politics and time do not normally permit this to happen. The SFF Guidelines therefore stand out as one ‘ideal example’ of participatory policymaking—a ‘people-public-private’ collaboration.

“To my knowledge, this is the first sector-specific international UN guideline that has entailed such a huge participatory process in its formulation. The credit for this goes equally to the FAO/UN, the SSF fishing community and civil society organizations.”

Kate Bevitt

Kate Bevitt

Kate Bevitt is a communications professional with over 10 years' experience working for not-for-profit, government and research organizations. Kate was the Writer / Editor for WorldFish from 2015 to 2017. Before this, she spent two years in Timor-Leste as the Communication Advisor for the Seeds of Life agricultural research project. Kate holds an MBA in Marketing and a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism and Public Relations) from the University of Newcastle, Australia.

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