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Fishing for health

Written by Clarissa Gaona Romero, BA candidate in Anthropology: Global Health and Environment at Washington University in St. Louis, and a Summer Pediatric Research in Global Health Translation (SPRIGHT) scholar in the 2022 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

I recently attended a seminar presented by Lora Iannotti, PhD, associate professor at the Brown School and Ivy Blackmore, PhD, MPP, postdoctoral researcher. Professor Iannotti is founder and director of the E3 Nutrition Lab at the Brown School. Blackmore conducts research in the E3 Nutritional Lab and the Humphries Lab at the University of Rhode Island. In their presentation, Samaki Salama: A Case Study in Coastal Kenya, they shared how their work connects to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 and SDG 12.

The United Nations states that the focus of SDG 2 and SDG 12 is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” and “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” respectively. Iannotti and Blackmore expertly connected these goals to the case study, Samaki Salama (which translates to fish security). They shared that, in 2014, costal Kenyan communities reported a 39% prevalence of stunting, one form of malnutrition, among children under five years old, which was 13% above the national average. One main concern of this project is hidden hunger, which contributes to the prevalence of malnutrition and is defined by Welthungerhilfe as a type of chronic hunger characterized by nutrient deficiency. While its consequences may not be initially visible, long-term risks include serious diseases and development issues leading to a high risk of death for children. Iannotti highlighted the importance of the first 1,000 days of life as a sensitive period for brain development, and a period where hidden hunger has increased potential for harm. Iannotti’s fish security project helps to address nutritional disparities, such as zinc availability, as fish provide high concentrations of nutrients, making them a great candidate for tackling nutrient deficiencies, stunting, and hidden hunger.

Graphic showing different nutrients from fish Credit: UN Nutrition

While this project on fish security is not on a global scale, it provides valuable insights into how SDG 2 and 12 can be addressed locally when interventions are utilized in effective ways. Blackmore shared that globally, small-scale producers play a key role in the global response to food insecurity, as they provide 80% of food consumed in low- and middle-income countries and produce 51-77% of nutrients. However, they are disproportionately poor and undernourished, highlighting the need for stronger support. This is true in coastal Kenya, where they rely on small-scale fisheries for livelihoods and marine fisheries are chronically overexploited. Outcomes of the project included behavioral changes (e.g., feeding fish daily to children aged six months to five years), fishing workshops, and creating basket traps modified with an escape gap. Among other positive effects, this promoted sustainable fishing by selecting mature fish, while improving the economic value of the fish that were caught. While making modified basket traps and implementing the same behavioral changes is not applicable to fulfilling SDG 2 and SDG 12 everywhere, this project exemplifies the importance of listening to community members. SDGs require an intersectional approach to fully reap the benefits of interventions. Making culturally appropriate suggestions and allowing locals to lead the way is key for sustainably addressing the SDGs.