The ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources, Dr. Marc Atouga, has called on Member States to harmonize their policies and efforts in the fisheries sector to boost intra-regional trade in fish products.
Addressing the opening of a five-day inaugural meeting of the Regional Fisheries Committee on the Coherence of Policies in the Fishery Industry in the ECOWAS Region, on 27th August 2012 in Cotonou, Benin, Dr. Atouga noted that constraints in the sector included inadequate transport infrastructure and challenges posed by security agents to the implementation of aspects of the regional Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services.
Quoting the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, Commissioner Atouga said the region’s total fish production, together with overall inflows, was estimated at 2.2 million tonnes in 2008, which represented 3.5 per cent of the global production and about 22 per cent of the total production in Sub-Saharan Africa.
He argued that the region has the potential to increase its fish output with effective organization of key stakeholders into fishing and processing groups.
According to him, the formation of such groups could help address some factors impeding fish production, such as poor management and governance, illegal fishing practices due to inefficiency in resource monitoring and supervision, and persistent huge post-harvest losses in fish capture.
Others are non-compliance with hygienic standards and quality of products and low level of development of aquaculture, particularly ill-adapted commercial strategies for the production of fish resources.
While describing fishery and aquaculture as a “potential sector of social and economic integration,” Dr. Atouga reiterated ECOWAS’ determination to work for the development of both sectors by strengthening existing cooperation with all stakeholders.
He also disclosed that ECOWAS is engaged in a series of programmes with the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo, Benin’s political capital, “for the training of ECOWAS youth in productive ventures, among which are fish farming and processing of fish by means of drying techniques.”
The Commissioner charged participants to focus on the objective of the meeting which is to establish a Regional Committee on Coherence of Fisheries Policy in the ECOWAS Region and the three Sub-committees on Governance, Trade and Aquaculture.
“These are essential tools for ECOWAS and its Member States to leverage fisheries for sustainable wealth creation and the fight against poverty,” he affirmed.
In his welcome address, the Benin Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Mr. Sabai Katé, highlighted the economic importance of the fishery and aquaculture sector.
He, however, noted that the unrestrained exploitation of fishery resources to meet the food and nutritional needs of citizens without an appropriate development policy posed a serious threat to all ECOWAS Member States.
The minister, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Mr. Olivier Vigan, said the search for a coherent policy among Member States would assist in balancing the increase in revenue, exploitation of resources and food security in the region.
“In fact, the lack of the resource creates a lot of tensions, of which the root causes are generally attributed to issues of access to the resource, market access or, yet still, the lack of dialogue in the implementation of national, sectoral and regional policies,” he added.
The minister noted that a Regional Committee would also play an advisory role, with the support of all stakeholders, particularly non-state actors, in collaboration with Member States, inter-governmental organizations and development partners.
He expressed confidence that ECOWAS and the various governments would provide the needed resources for the smooth functioning of the Regional Committee, the thematic sub-committees on managing fisheries, trade and aquaculture as well as national committees which would be established alongside the Regional Committee.
The minister said the Government of Benin, through its Agricultural Sector Strategic Recovery Plan (PSRPA), places emphasis on measures to promote the agricultural sector – especially fish and shrimps production and supports all ECOWAS’ initiatives on fishery and aquaculture development.
Source: Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) – Press Release – 29 August 2012