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Youth in small-scale fisheries
and aquaculture


Carolyn Fry, Indika Arulingam, Likimyelesh Nigussie, Sonali Senaratna Sellamuttu, Malcolm C. M. Beveridge and Nisha Marwaha


CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH), led by WorldFish


The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and WorldFish assessed youth participation in small-scale fisheries, aquaculture, and interrelated value chains in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The researchers undertook an in-depth literature review supplemented by interviews and complemented by two empirical studies of the opportunities and challenges for youth participation in aquaculture in Nigeria and youth livelihood aspirations and realities in small-scale fisheries in Myanmar. Three main objectives guided the research: first, to assess the involvement of youth in fisheries and aquaculture, and the associated opportunities and challenges; second, to analyze how we engage with youth in selected related countries and learnings; and third, to identify (i) policy and investment recommendations and (ii) future research priorities, with an overall aim of improving benefits to youth from small-scale fisheries, aquaculture, and interlinked value chains.

Cita de la FAO

Fry, C., Arulingam I., Nigussie, L., Senaratna Sellamutt, S., Beveridge, M. C. M., & Marwaha, N., 2021. Youth in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. Penang, Malaysia: CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems. Program Brief: FISH-2021-05.

Relevancia para el currículo

The assessment supports our curriculum design by providing an overview of youth participation in SSF and aquaculture. The report defines youth as a diverse group of individuals between 15-24 years old, distinguishing differences in gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, caste, geography, and abilities to influence livelihood aspirations, take advantage of opportunities, and exercise resiliency in the face of challenges. The authors argue that empowered and innovative youth are vital to the future of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. Therefore, it is essential to understand pathways for youth to engage within the sector to access decent opportunities meaningfully. When examining youth’s role in SSF, it is critical to address intersectional and intergenerational equity issues so that young people can easily access assets, finance, knowledge, and decision-making power. Particular attention must be paid to young women, indigenous youth, and those adolescents from deeply impoverished families. Initiatives to enhance youth engagement mandate a systematic and cohesive response from national governments, private companies, development partners, research institutes, and youth organizations.

With youth unemployment rates persistently high, it is essential to realize how youth can engage with SSF and aquaculture to access decent and meaningful livelihood opportunities.

The barriers to youth engagement in SSF, like in other agri-food systems, are often amplified by different intersectional identities. Young people’s opportunities are frequently condensed into informal, poorly paid, and often stigmatized segments of SSF and aquaculture value chains. Otherwise, youth tend to assume supportive roles within household production.

Social divisions of labor are often highly gendered: young men capture or produce fish while young women process or trade fish. As fishers, young men assume some power and high physical or financial risks. Despite their strong involvement within fisheries, particularly concerning pre and post-harvesting duties, women often lack influence and are exposed to other exploitative conditions. Moreover, young people are not the owners of assets required for production, including boats, nets, or land required for aquaculture. These resources are often transferred intergenerationally.  Such constraints may act as barriers to youth accessing financial services and technical advice.

For purposes of the curriculum design, it is important to highlight what authors note about increasing youth enrollment in formal education. While beneficial, as other sources argue, traditional pedagogical approaches and national curriculums reduce young people’s exposure to ecological and traditional forms of knowledge related to livelihoods in small-scale fisheries or aquaculture.

Additionally, to access resources, youth usually must navigate power structures that tend to be dominated by the affluent or elders, obstructing the opportunity for youth to participate and demonstrate their leadership capacities.  

The authors stress that this challenge is intensified for young women, often restricted further by cultural and social norms. Collectively, these challenges likely contribute to declining interest among
youth in agri-food system livelihoods. However, interlocking dynamics remain poorly understood.

In small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, youth livelihoods remain a heavily understudied area, leading to simplistic narratives about how young men and women engage with these sectors. The current understanding does not accurately capture youth livelihood realities, a disconnect compounded by the lack of youth participation in most decision-making processes. However, small-scale fisheries data and bare depictions are used to inform policies that often fail to recognize young people as agents in their own right and impose an external vision of how their needs are met.

Policies directed at increasing youth employment in fisheries and aquaculture tend to focus too narrowly on two objectives: capacity development interventions and supporting youth entrepreneurship. Capacity development often narrowly focuses on individual shortcomings versus the underlying mechanisms that act as barriers to youth’s involvement in the labor market. While valid, youth entrepreneurship remains poorly understood.

While the inherent diversity of youth influences how they engage with small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, many livelihood challenges experienced by youth are also shared with other social groups, including women and others termed “vulnerable.”

To develop better-targeted responses, more understanding is needed on how, where, and why these challenges impact youth differently from other social groups.

Data is sparse concerning youth livelihood opportunities and challenges in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture and the benefits of participation, especially for young women.

The collection of this data is essential to provide a basis for improving youth engagement and can help better align interventions with pro-youth outcomes.

In a case study from Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta (Inland SSF), the researchers cite youth’s aspirations to alternative and more profitable livelihoods, especially as connectivity to urban areas increases. Issues of intergenerational poverty and marginalization continue to shape access to education and other employment opportunities.

Traditional gendered norms and identities are another vital determinant of livelihood aspirations and realities in the delta. Livelihood opportunities have transitioned from rural wage labor to urban garment factories for many young women. Though urban employment has its risks and challenges, livelihood opportunities for many young men remain rural, often in opposition to their aspirations, and increasingly precarious in neighboring fisheries

Addressing current challenges youth face is crucial to the inclusive development of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. According to the authors, national governments and international development partners can support youth participation by facilitating: 

  • Land distribution or tenure arrangements that allow youth to access productive natural resources;

  • Establishment of cooperatives that improve youth access to land and water rights, inputs, markets, and financial services;

  • Updates to curricula and training tools and the creation of relevant positions in higher education;

  • Development and enforcement of protections from exploitative employment conditions;

  • Formation of organizations that create a formal pathway for youth to engage in decision-making processes.

Besides understanding the nuanced involvement of youth in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, moving forward, it is essential to understand how increasingly liberalized and globalized economies may pose new and evolving challenges for youth participation.

The assessment posits that collective action by governments and private companies is required to create decent and meaningful opportunities for youth. 

The authors find specific potential in: 

  • Downstream segments of the value chain, including processing, value addition, and trading, that do not require production assets. In some cases, processing and value addition can be done from home, which may facilitate greater inclusion of young women or more stability in times of crisis (e.g., COVID-19).

  • A thriving aquaculture sector that contributes to non-seasonal employment generation for youth. However, support for the industry, government, and otherwise, must be inclusive of small-scale farms and farms that essentially employ young women and men.

Any action taken to create new opportunities in small-scale fisheries and aquaculture must be assessed through an intersectional lens so that youth and their other social identities, including gender, are not inadvertently marginalized.

Authors posit that through the inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, the aspirations of youth may be better satisfied. Governments, private companies, and research institutions can contribute to changing youth perceptions of the sector through increased access and integration of record-keeping, information, and communication technologies with the development of enabling environment for youth entrepreneurship, including supportive policies and opportunities for knowledge and skill development.

To close the research gaps, further investigations into the diversity of youth engagement are necessary. This includes the impacts of economic, political, and social shifts at local to global scales on youth participation, governance and policies, and the development of targeted, evidence-based interventions to address challenges and create opportunities for decent and meaningful employment for youth.

enlaces a los capítulos de las directrices ssf

    2. Nature & Scope, 3. Guiding Principles, 6. Social Development, Employment & Decent Work, 7. Value Chains, Post-Harvest & Trade, 8. Gender Equality, 10. Policy Coherence, Institutional Coordination & Collaboration

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