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CESE supports initiative focused on the food and Nutritional Sovereignty of fishing communities in Macau/Rio Grande do Norte

Project proposed by Macau’s Justice and Peace Commission is focused on the food and nutritional sovereignty of

People who take food from the sea, which nourishes hundreds of people through artisanal fishing, but who are not remembered by the public authorities or even seen as enterprising.  It was in this context that the Da Maré ao Fogão (from Tide to Oven) Processes Shellfish in Ponta do Tubarão (Beneficiando os Mariscos na Ponta do Tubarão) project was born.  The project is run by Macau’s Justice and Peace Commission, located within the Ponta do Tubarão State Reserve for Sustainable Development in Rio Grande do Norte. The initiative has been selected by CESE’s Small Projects Programme and supports the strengthening of communities from the Conservation Unit through socio-environmental activities with groups of fishermen and women, shellfish pickers and young people.  Activities have been designed for this group specifically and focus on communication, addressing food sovereignty and cultural traditions in food production in order to increase family income.

The project will run until December 2021 in the reactivation of fishing communities’ food production activities, based on local cultural traditions, as well as promoting activities aimed at food sovereignty and the guarantee of the fishing communities’ basic right to food. The project will also publicize and sell products resulting from fish processing and local culinary preparations, making the connection between the countryside and the city.  It is from this perspective that communications training and qualification will take place for young people, fisherwomen and female shellfish pickers from fishing communities: through new social technologies and a WEB Community Radio workshop for staff and young people from the community.  Throughout the year, the project has also sought to provide guidance about the use of PPE and improvements to the structures for cooking and processing shellfish within family groups.

According to Tiago Ezequiel da Silva, Coordinator of Macau’s Justice and Peace Commission, “The products that come from fishing communities are rich in several proteins and substances necessary for our survival.  It is important to introduce this production into the market and emphasize that sustainable fishing is much greater than what government data estimates, since this doesn’t include information about food donations made by artisanal fishing. For all these reasons, we need public policies that are able to consider and reach this production.” In this sense, the initiative has local and regional relevance, based on the principles of food sovereignty, with the parameters of food and nutritional security in fishing communities, as well as the reclaiming of traditional values and the construction of new socio-environmental values, training for sustainable work within the existing possibilities in the area and training transformation agents for future generations.

Those who live from artisanal fishing demand support from the public authorities: “governments fail to act in fishing communities: because of a lack of assistance, training or guidance to obtain documentation.  Fishing communities need to be strengthened and engaged in the process,” he added.  The Da Maré ao Fogão project is a civil society collaboration through Macau’s Justice and Peace Commission, a non-profit civil body with the mission to provide advice to social groups in the saline regions of Macau and Vale do Açu. The group focuses on the promotion of fundamental and social rights and the development of citizenship aimed at sectors of society weakened by power, gender, race, creed, political, economic, social and environmental relationships.

“The essence of the Da Maré ao Fogão project is the urgent need to develop public policies so that there is no shortage of food on the tables of fishing communities.  We can see that there’s still a long way to go before there are public policies to guarantee food security to fishing communities”, said Project Coordinator José Hélio da Silva.

The Absence of the State – Dissatisfaction at the absence of the state is notable in the words of the shellfish pickers, either because of a lack of support from the municipalities or due to the distance of city councillors, who do not dialogue with the communities.  For worker Francisca Fabiana da Silva, “there is a lack of public policies for fishermen and shellfish pickers.  Most of the time, we feel we’ve been forgotten.  We work to put food on our tables and on those of other Brazilians.  So it’s important that governments look to us and join the fishermen and women.” Da Maré ao Fogão  serves communities in three locations: the communities of the Ponta do Tubarão State Reserve for Sustainable Development in the municipality of Macau, in the community of Diogo Lopes, Barreiras and Sertãozinho.

In the assessment of Luiz Ribeiro da Silva, a member of the Justice and Peace Commission, “the government has really abandoned its work with the fishing and shellfish picker communities.  The workers are invisible and it’s as if fishing wasn’t important to the local economy or for Brazilians’ food.”  In his opinion, little is remembered about the value of artisanal fishing culture and work for the food eaten by Brazilian families.  “The fishermen alleviate hunger with their donations, feeding one another.”  According to Silva, as well as strengthening communications and visibility for the fishing community, the project, promoted in partnership with CESE, allows civil society to reduce the impact of the absence of the state.  “This project is fundamental to our region, since it plays a role the government does not. Institutions such as CESE come in to provide an opportunity for people to improve their work and income conditions,” the activist declared.

For the women and men who make their living from the sea, one of the greatest challenges is the production and sales of what they extract from the waters: the risk of the loss of products because of a lack of adequate storage and packaging conditions, as well as difficulties in processing, selling and transporting their products.  The middlemen who dominate the market devalue traditional fishing communities.  According to nutritionist Layanne Alencar de Lima e Silva, who contributes to the project, “the importance of having a policy aimed at food and nutritional security for traditional communities is intended to minimize hunger and provide these people, who are here in this space and going through difficulties during the pandemic, with social organization.  The construction of public policies aimed at this issue is fundamental, not only to guarantee the human right to adequate food, but also to confirm our food sovereignty”.

The vulnerabilities the groups experience are also socio-environmental.  According to Ramiro Camacho, Manager of the Ponta do Tubarão Conservation and Sustainable Development Unit, “the communities face very great socio-environmental problems, while the governments do not see these communities’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  Fishing communities are important for the production of protein and food for the population.  We need public policies to strengthen and provide visibility to this noble product, adding value to this material, making sales more agile and focusing on the manipulation of the food produced by these communities.  We need to pay more attention to the fishing communities, particularly those within the conservation unit.”

Youth and Communication – The low estimation expressed in the absence of the state and in relation to the market has an impact on young people in the communities, who do not see a future in continuing in their territories or in learning their parents’ craft.  Within the scope of the activities proposed by the project is a call on the skills of this section of the population to use new technologies and, through this, to contribute to building another image. “Young people with access to information and technology could be the channel for spreading news, political and truthful content to strengthen the community,” added Tiago Ezequiel, Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission. Another member of the Justice and Peace Commission, Arlete Oliveira, believes that “working with young people through communication gives them the feeling that they are important, they have something to contribute.  We believe that engaging with young people works well”.

This is not the group’s first experience of partnership with CESE, but rather the renewal of a collaboration that has occurred at other times.  “CESE’s support is important. We’ve had several partnerships with CESE, which have helped to minimize all this agony and the situations we need to confront,” Arlete explained. The project will also promote a Gastronomy Course with a focus on the creation and production of dishes based on the traditional eating habits of the communities of the Ponta do Tubarão State Reserve for Sustainable Development, the IV Gastronomic Festival of the Sardine and other fish, as well as a course for food and nutritional security knowledge multipliers, among other activities aimed at strengthening fishing communities.