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Fresh Fish for the Future

A thriving Somaliland through Cool, Clean & Tasty fish.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

FairFishing

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.fairfishing.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Copenhagen

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Denmark

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Somaliland: 176.120 km²

What country is your selected Place located in?

Somalia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

For us, it all began in 2009. At the height of Somali piracy, a Danish group consisting of a journalist, a fisherman, a shipowner and a social entrepreneur started pondering: What are the underlying causes pushing somebody into such a hazardous crime – and is there anything we can do to address those root causes? The waters below the small pirate boats were brimming with tasty fish, barely ever fished by the locals, so we wondered: Could it be possible to create a bright future through fishery instead? Could we help the pirates become fishermen?

We created an NGO, FairFishing, and started exploring possibilities. Finally, in 2013, we opened our first fish station in Berbera, Somaliland, consisting of five used shipping containers. Although Somaliland was never a hub of piracy, it was the perfect place to start. It is a peaceful enclave in the Horn of Africa, yet it is pressured by the same challenges as the rest of the region: Unemployment and poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity, floods and droughts, instability and crime.

All along, we wanted to build our NGO together with local fishers and other stakeholders. Thankfully, they welcomed us with open arms. Over the years, we have grown into one big FairFishing family, working together across 7.000 km towards one common goal: To create better living through fresh fish in the Horn of Africa.

We have come a long way since that first fish station. Today, the Berbera harbour – previously idle, with only a few old boats hardly being used – is bustling with a beautiful community spirit. There are fishers picking up ice before going to sea, stories and laughter, fresh fish being landed, affordable gear sold by the smiling co-op shop manager. Since 2013, 3.000 new jobs have been created, the previously low incomes in the value chain have increased by 3–500%, and food security is starting to increase. Still, there are many complex challenges to address if we are to create a sustainable food system for the future.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Welcome to Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia.

Here, people have always been storytellers. They convey messages through dramas, poems, paintings. Some of the world’s oldest cave paintings are even found in this region. Today, a low literacy rate makes it an exceptionally visual, verbal culture.

Visit a local food shop, and you might find a selection of pasta, rice, Coca-Cola, packaged and processed foods. A few frozen chickens, flown in from Brazil. A narrow selection of greens, perhaps, but they are costly, as they are mostly imported from abroad. Meat – which has always been a central part of the diet – has started to become costly, too, due to increasing droughts.

A dinner often consists of spaghetti and rice, drizzled with a sauce with pieces of camel’s or goat’s meat. Spices have not traditionally been an important part of the diet, but nowadays, as more and more diaspora are returning home to Somaliland, they bring with them flavours from the different corners of the world where they have been residing. Food is slowly becoming tastier. But not necessarily healthier.

It may seem ironic, but Somaliland, with its food insecurity and poverty (the World Bank estimates a GDP per capita of $347, compared to $56,307 in Denmark), is not only battling undernutrition, but also increasing rates of lifestyle-related diseases. The number of overweight and obese increased by 20% from 2010 to 2016, and prevalence of type-2 diabetes is also starting soar. Like so many other places in the world, this relates to increased availability of processed, nutrient-deficient foods, and a high cost of fresh, healthy foods.

In their blood, Somalilanders are proud nomads. They carry with them a strong connection to their land, and herding livestock – goats, camels – has long been a cornerstone of the economy. But lately, their land, the nature that has been part of their identity for generations, has started to change. Climate change has begun to take its toll, and droughts and floods are getting more extreme and frequent. Crops and livestock are wiped out. Nature isn’t providing for them like it used to.

This has made more people turn to fish – but changes to a meat-centric culture doesn’t happen overnight. In Somaliland, fish has been seen as akin to poison. “I’m allergic to fish, because I always get sick when I eat it,” people might say. With good reason, because previously, fish started rotting on the hot deck the moment it left the ocean. Today, though, the cheap ice from our fish stations is making it possible to preserve the fish until it reaches the shores and shops. Still, many hold on to the perception of fish as something smelly, something dangerous – even shameful – to eat. And still, most don’t know how to prepare it, and deep-fry many health benefits away. However, as the quality of fish increases, and the prices have lowered to below those of meat, many are starting to appreciate the value of this abundant, local food resource.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

4000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In 2020, as climate change brings with it more extreme droughts and floods, Somaliland’s main sources of income and nutrition are under threat. This leaves people turning to cheap, processed foods, with detrimental health effects.

Fish can provide a reliable source of nutrients for the population as it faces increasing climate change-related food insecurity – however, the knowledge of fish is very low. Fishers do not know how (or why) to keep their fish cool and clean. Householders do not know how to prepare fish in a way that is tasty. Thus, fish remains unattractive for most.

Most of Somaliland’s energy – an essential part of the cooling chain, which relies on ice production and cold storage – is created by diesel-generators. Not only do they pollute, they are also expensive, leading many to switch their freezers off daily to save money, resulting in unsafe products. Currently, costs of installing solar technology is unrealistically high, and even if it was affordable, there would still be a lack of maintenance and repair knowledge – crucial in a harsh climate like Somaliland’s.

Waste management is non-existent. You can pay someone to remove your trash, but it will still end up in a hole in the ground. Oceans and fields are full of plastic – you might even spot goats chewing on blue plastic bags, as there is little else to graze on. A lot of the fish – as much as 40% – is also being wasted, due to a lack of processing and filleting knowledge, or by poor handling. 40% – what a waste of a precious natural resource, and of income- and nutritional potential.

There is little collaboration across the fish value chain. Trust levels are low. Clan relations spin an invisible, but omnipresent, fabric of society, and positions of power are filled through connections, not knowledge, leading to corruption and reckless management. Tax revenues are extremely low, leaving authorities unable to sustain core functions, let alone social services. The instability in the region leaves foreign investors wary, further hampering development.

There are no fish stock or food safety regulations, and no system to enforce them. Combined with a lack of knowledge and education, this can leave fish stocks overexploited, particularly by illegal foreign fishers; and people eating unhygienic, even unsafe, fish.

In 2050, challenges could be even worse. Masses of climate refugees, extreme poverty. Devastating malnutrition – and no money to prevent or treat the growing diet-related health problems. Massive – and increasingly rare – natural resources still going to waste. Fish and livestock full of microplastics, affecting the health of both ecosystems and humans. Unique underwater habitats destroyed, overfishing ripe. A few large companies profiting massively from fish export – while its economic and nutritional potential slips away from the locals. Elite economic development powering government corruption, ignoring its population’s needs. Inequality and distrust continuing to rise.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In 2050, Somaliland is thriving, thanks to Cool, Clean and Tasty fish.

Tens of thousands are making a decent living through the fair, transparent fish value chain. From the station staff producing ice, to the artisan fishermen carefully targeting the species they know are plentiful in their local area. From the street vendors selling healthy, tasty food to those on the go, to the innovative small business owners creating products and solutions ensuring that fish is accessible, and desirable, across the entire region. 

Local poets and painters are telling stories of fresh fish, ensuring that public awareness spreads throughout the culture – even to those who cannot read. However, literacy rates are quickly increasing, due to improved childhood nutrition and development, as well as an improved educational system, funded in part by tax revenues from the thriving fish economy.

People are well-nourished, and health problems few, as the locally caught fish provides the population with the nutrients they used to lack. Even though the effects of climate change are still felt, they no longer have the same devastating effect to their food security and hunger levels – because fish is available all year, regardless of floods and droughts. 

You don’t need to risk getting sick from eating fish anymore. Not only because of the new food safety regulations – but because every single member of the value chain understands the importance of keeping fish cool and clean at all times. And besides, everyone knows how to tell a good fish from a bad one anyway, so nobody can get away with trying to sell bad fish. These days, knowledge of fish is a natural part of every household.

The entire value chain is connected, with an impressive sense of collaboration and social responsibility. The local maritime academy collaborates with the nearby fish companies, to ensure that the newly trained fishermen gets the thorough, practical training at sea that they were unable to get before. In the biannual meetings in the new Blue Economy Forum, trusted members of fishermen’s associations sit shoulder to shoulder with Ministers, representatives from private fish businesses, and international experts. Together, they work to make the value chain fair for everyone. Apps connect supply with demand, and – in tandem with the improved infrastructure – ensure that people all across Somaliland now has access to the fish they want. 

Some of the fish is exported to neighbouring countries, such as landlocked Ethiopia, generating slow and steady economic growth for many, not for few. However, most of the fish is still consumed within Somaliland, because its population so highly values this local food resource – even finding pride in it.

The fish stock is fully mapped, and new, nature-friendly technology makes it even easier to monitor that the fishery remains environmentally sustainable. All fishers abide by a community-developed policy protecting the ocean, and coast guards patrol for illegal fishery vessels, and protect the maritime national parks, where ecosystems are allowed to thrive and regenerate. The plastic in the ocean and fields is long gone, thanks to the local start-ups that upcycle old plastic to new fishing nets.

Ice machines, freezers and all other parts of the energy-demanding cooling chain are powered by solar energy. A new generation of solar-savvy technicians are finding plenty of work repairing the community solar panels, which you can find on top of most buildings these days – generating enough power to meet all of Somaliland’s needs. 

All fish waste is utilized, in a variety of manners. Guts and blood create biogas, powering the reefer trucks transporting fish from coasts to rural towns. Fish scales are transformed to biodegradable bags by a local social enterprise. And of course, every home knows how to use the waste from their fish dinners – bones, head, skin – to cook a delicious, nutritious soup. After cooking, they dry and grind the fish remains, fertilizing their community gardens to provide fresh vegetables and herbs for their next round of soup.

Everywhere you go, you notice the sense of community. Communities of fishermen, helping each other stay safe at sea, sharing advice, organising themselves in cooperatives. Communities of fish-literate women, teaching their neighbours and children the benefits of eating fish. Communities gathering around tables, rejoicing in the new flavours of their developing food culture. Community freezers keeping everyone's fish cool and clean, and community kitchens oozing with delicious smells of freshly prepared tasty fish.

Can you notice this sense of community? Can you imagine this thriving future, in what is usually considered one of the most troubled regions in the world?

We can. We are already seeing promises of this future.

Let’s find a way to get there together.

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