FAO's FishInfoNetwork: 25 years and still growing

A long-lived, self-sustaining development initiative eyes its future
May 14, 2008

FAO's FishInfoNetwork: 25 years and still growing

A network of independent intergovernmental organizations established by FAO to help developing countries improve post-harvest handling and marketing of fish projects has reached an important milestone.

Since the late 1970s, the FishInfoNetwork (FIN) has worked at the regional level in the developing world to promote trade in fish products, offering up-to-date information on markets and prices, bringing buyers and sellers together, and providing training in processing technology, food safety issues, and quality requirements in key import markets.

"The idea was to establish a network that could provide a multiplier effect and help FAO more comprehensively address these issues on the ground," says Lahsen Ababouch of the Organization's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

Today FIN consists of seven independent centres, each with a regional focus: EuroFish (Eastern and Central Europe),, InfoFish (Asia and Pacific region), InfoPeche (Africa), InfoPesca (South and Central America), Infosa (Southern African suboffice of InfoPeche), Infosamak (Arab countries), and InfoYu (China). They are coordinated by Globefish, based at FAO's Rome headquarters.

"Each centre functions as a locus of expertise in the post-harvest sector of fisheries and aquaculture, including trade and marketing, implementing demand-driving activities targeted to the specific needs of the region where it is located," says Ababouch.

A self-sustaining initiative

Initially established as FAO projects, with financial support either from the UN Development Programme, the governments of Norway or Denmark, the centres have since evolved into independent Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs). Their funding now comes from their own member countries, the sale of publications, the organization of trade conferences and other events, and development projects financed by donor agencies. FAO does not play a role in governance and day-to-day operations; rather each centre has its own management team responsible to a board of directors.

Some 87 countries in the developing world are now covered by the FishInfoNetwork.

In many regions, as the centres have come into their own, FAO's involvement in areas like disseminating fish marketing and trade news or giving assistance to industry in applying the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point approach to food safety has tapered off as the FIN centres have taken on that work. This has allowed the Organization to focus its resources in new areas where developing countries also need assistance.

More to be done

At a recent meeting held in Morocco, the member centres not only celebrated the network's 25th year of operations but also sat down to strategize regarding FIN's activites and direction in the decades to come.

Despite the networks' successes, it's also true that the various centres are at different levels of development in terms of capacity and institutional arrangements Some, more than others, still need technical assistance to gain further credibility with industry, according to Ababouch

"So at its last meeting the network members sat down to share information on their strengths, weaknesses and challenges, identify synergies and areas of common interest, and collectively strategize on how to better share knowledge and experience. That way they can build up each individual centre and at the same time help the network act more cohesively as a whole," he says.

For example, FAO is working with the centres to promote more trade in fish products between the different regions represented in the network. "Traditionally, developing countries have targeted fish exports to industrialized countries in the north, but now there are many marketing opportunities for various products in other regions," notes Ababouch. "The FishInfo Network is uniquely positioned to help establish these new East-West and South-South trade linkages."

Fisheries and aquaculture play an important economic role in many developing countries, according to FAO.

Globally, net earnings (exports minus imports) by developing countries from the fish trade totals over $20 billion per year. This provides employment and income to millions of people and is a source of government revenue that can be used for social services, all of which bolster food security and help improve family nutrition.