Fishmongers at a market in Zanzibar: Fishmongers gut and cut up big fishes before they are transported in to town or out to the villages. Photo: J. Lokrantz/Azote

Caught in the middle

Middlemen represent both a challenge and possible solution to sustainable fish stock governance in East Africa.

Understanding the links and feedback mechanisms in social-ecological systems is a rapidly expanding research area. Centre researchers have previously shown how social networks might be more important than formal institutions in natural resource governance.

In a new article published in Marine Policy, centre researchers Beatrice Crona, Magnus Nyström and Carl Folke have together with Narriman Jiddawi from Institute of Marine Science in Zanzibar analysed the links between middlemen and fishermen along the coast of southern Kenya and Zanzibar.

These small-scale fish mongers operate as the link between fishermen and the markets, consequently reducing the time and effort needed by the fishermen to market their goods.

The problem and the solution
The new article, entitled "Middlemen, a critical social-ecological link in coastal communities of Kenya and Zanzibar", explores the effects of agreements and credit arrangements on coastal systems in the area.
Middlemen often provide small-scale fishermen with much-needed loans or credits during periods of low income from fishing. However, these credits tend to undermine the need to diversify income sources and leads to a continued fishing pressure throughout the North East Monsoon period, ultimately resulting in reduced resilience of the social-ecological system.
- The middlemen are part of the challenge of managing fisheries resources, but they are also a tremendously important social security for many fishers and have the potential to contribute to a solution, says lead author Beatrice Crona.
- Middlemen effectively link actors across different social domains. This central role makes them a crucial part of any future policies on how to improve the governance of fish stocks and coastal ecosystems in East Africa, she says.

Time to review the system
Crona and her colleagues argue that there are several ways in which middlemen can help promote a more sustainable future. Measures toward more formal organization of traders and intermediaries is one solution, however a difficult one, since middlemen operate largely independently and in competition with another.

A more immediately feasible approach would be to introduce size restrictions for purchase and resale of fish combined with stricter monitoring of the middlemen´s purchases and tighter control at auction sites. Finally, a review of existing credit systems, which provide insurance in the short term but reduces resilience in the long term, should also be considered.
- We need to pay more attention to how access to credit can help promote sustainable investments in the fishery or alternative livelihoods which do not threaten the integrity of the natural resource base in the long term, Crona says.

See video with Beatrice Crona explaining social network analysis:

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Source: Crona, B., Nyström, M., Folke, C., Jiddawi, N. 2010. Middlemen, a critical social-ecological link in coastal communities of Kenya and Zanzibar. Marine Policy.


Crona, B., Nyström, M., Folke, C., Jiddawi, N. 2010. Middlemen, a critical social-ecological link in coastal communities of Kenya and Zanzibar. Marine Policy


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