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Dr Emily Gibson head and shoulders with green leafy background

Research project title

A gendered analysis of small-scale fisheries and food and nutrition security in specialised fishing communities in Komodo District, eastern Indonesia


Small-scale fisheries provide important livelihood opportunities in rural coastal communities across tropical coastal ecosystems, with the fish harvested also a crucial source of protein, micronutrients and lipids. There is growing recognition of the potential contribution of fisheries to nutrition-sensitive strategies seeking to address a persistent global burden of malnutrition. However, even in major fish-producing nations such as Indonesia, there is poor understanding of the role of fish in local and household diets and of the gendered dynamics of fisheries-based livelihoods.

This PhD research explores the contribution of small-scale fisheries to food and nutrition security in specialised fishing communities in Komodo District, eastern Indonesia. The research investigated: (i) the contribution of fish to diets at the household and individual level; (ii) women’s and men’s participation in small-scale fisheries livelihood activities; and (iii) the extent to which Indonesia's food-related policy framework supports gender and nutrition-sensitive small-scale fisheries.

The research applied an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach to a case study. A gender lens, applied through social relations analysis, was integral to the research approach. Fieldwork took place over eight months in three communities.

The research findings confirmed the critical importance of fish and small-scale fisheries in the lives of specialised fishing communities. Fish were a vital nutrient-dense component of household diets otherwise lacking in diversity and quality; fifty percent of mother-child pairs consumed a diet likely to be deficient in important micronutrients, Fish were not introduced to the diets of infants and young children. As expected, men were engaged in fisheries or ancillary activities supporting small-scale fisheries value chains. Women too were engaged in activities directed towards securing fish or supplemental income for their households. Women’s engagement in the sector, and in other tenuous micro-enterprises, was necessitated by the vulnerability of men’s fisheries income which, compounded by a poor food environment, contributed to high levels of food insecurity in the communities studied. The poor food environment included limited access to and availability of nutrient-dense foods, limited knowledge of good child feeding practices, limited access of clean water sanitation, and poor access to markets.

The research found that despite high-level commitment to gender mainstreaming, women had all but evaporated from Indonesian food-related policy, which focused on increasing the productivity of fisheries. The analysis highlights missed opportunities for elevating the role of fish in nutrition-sensitive food-based strategies to support poor households.

This case study points to the need for a reorientation of food-related policy to nourish — rather than just feed — people, to recognise and value the work of women, and to more equitably support the livelihoods of specialised small-scale fishers and their households. This must be accompanied by cross-sectoral approaches to address gendered inequalities affecting the local food environment and food systems more broadly, improve the diversity and quality of food available and accessible, and censure that these programs reach specialised fishing communities across Indonesia.

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