Around the world, greater attention is now being given to the role of small-scale producers and the importance of the diversity of foods to nourish all people and our planet.

FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 694, titled “Small fish for food security and nutrition”, highlights throughout the importance of focusing on the “small” – small-scale fisherfolk in ensuring access to diverse nutritious aquatic foods; small-sized fish species; and the micronutrients that are found in small fish (as they are traditionally consumed whole) as well as the opportunities which these give for addressing hunger and malnutrition.

The paper does this through an expansive and holistic lens, by utilizing the food systems framework put forward by the High Level Panel of Experts of the Committee on World Food Security. Thus, it takes into consideration the consumption, availability, access, utilization, stability and sustainability of small fish in food systems. The paper also addresses stakeholders, drivers, scales and levels, interactions, feedbacks and the multiple outcomes of small fish in food systems.

In her foreword to the paper, Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, Director, Nutrition, Health and Food Security Impact Area Platform, CGIAR and the 2021 World Food Prize Laureate, notes:

“The years 2021 and 2022 were important for the promotion of aquatic food systems – the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit 2021 identified sustaining aquatic foods as a priority to accelerate the transformation to healthier, more sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems. UN Nutrition published a discussion paper on The Role of Aquatic Foods in Sustainable Healthy Diets, highlighting that low-trophic aquatic foods such as small fish are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable and should be promoted as part of healthy diets. Also, the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022) was celebrated, raising awareness of the role of smallscale fisherfolk for food security and nutrition. We must strengthen this momentum in 2023 and beyond, as we approach the 10th anniversary of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, in 2024; the end of the Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016–2025); build further on the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030); and aim to reach the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.”

The technical paper explores the various dimensions of the aquatic food system, with focus on supply chains of small fish, addressing drivers, scales, interactions and multiple outcomes and trade-offs, such as that of small fish used for food versus feed. Throughout, the work applies a human-centred perspective, emphasizing how people are involved in various stages of a food system, and how interactions and networks between them play a role in food system dynamics and outcomes.

The paper delivers the following key messages:

• Low-income populations in developing countries depend on “small fish” for an important part of their food security and nutrition, and the number of people living in extreme poverty is again increasing.

• From the viewpoint of food security and nutrition, small fish are an undervalued resource. To truly value small fish, the concept of “value” must move beyond focus on economic value, to centralize the importance of nutritional value and value to socioeconomic activities and livelihoods derived from small fish.

• The sustainable food system approach provides a useful lens to explore the role of small fish for low-income populations.

This paper argues for the relevance of small fish for the food security and nutrition of people living in poverty in low-income countries. It provides a set of recommendations for the continued performance of aquatic food systems, with specific focus on and supply chains of small fish that match with the Blue Transformation – Roadmap 2022–2030 (FAO, 2022). The roadmap recognizes the need to support the 2030 Agenda through the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable aquatic food systems, for better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life, leaving no one behind (FAO, 2022). Supply chains of small fish, including smallscale producers, processors, traders, retailers, consumers and other actors engaged in them are inextricably linked to the realization of Blue Transformation.

Required citation:

Bavinck, M., Ahern, M., Hapke, H.M., Johnson, D.S., Kjellevold, M., Kolding, J., Overå, R., Schut, T. & Franz, N., eds. 2023. Small fish for food security and nutrition. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 694. Rome, FAO.