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Amazon fish for food


More than 50% of households in the flood-prone northern Bolivian Amazon are food insecure, with limited options for sustainable livelihoods. Although fish are abundant in the region and they are a valuable source of protein and micronutrients, their consumption is among the lowest in the world.

The first phase of the Peces para la vida (Amazon fish for food) project (2011-2014) identified several promising solutions to develop this underused resource through fisheries management and aquaculture farming. Between 2015 and 2018, the project scaled up the most promising solutions to resolve key bottlenecks in fish value chains. Productivity, incomes, and food security have increased, as have technical, organizational, and social capacities and networks.

Developing sustainable businesses

Small-scale enterprises, particularly those owned by women and Indigenous families, have benefitted from a multi-sector partnership that has provided technical assistance (e.g., better resource management and hygiene and handling practices), financial services, and legal environments that have helped fish farms become more equitable and sustainable.

Lilian Suarez Fernandez learns about credit options for her fisheries.

Peer-to-peer training exchanges and field schools enhanced the technical expertise of 972 producers (44.3% of them women). A total of seven training workshops were delivered across five municipalities to 146 fish vendors, producers, and municipal staff. As a result, 126 participants reported improving their fish hygiene and handling practices. Additionally, 77 extension agents were trained from 14 different municipalities, 45% of whom were women and girls.

New markets were opened for fishers and the number of families involved in fish production nearly doubled from 937 in 2015 to 1,757 in 2018. “The greatest satisfaction is that we have found economic stability through rearing and selling fish. With this income our quality of life has definitely improved…” said Ana Aguilera, a fish farmer and restaurateur.

Improving access to financing and business planning

Peces para la vida worked with a Bolivian development bank to develop new financial products (e.g. loan guarantees, leasing, credit contracts, insurance), particularly for Indigenous groups and for women. Between 2015 and 2017, almost US$2 million in loans were provided, primarily to vulnerable groups and family enterprises.

Specialized training for entrepreneurs was offered, which covered business planning, management, and marketing as well as access to financial products. “The training… helped me a lot because I didn’t know how to do an expense report,” said Janneth Uzieda, treasurer of the Association of Fish Farmers Integrated North in Yapacaní. “Now the members are more motivated to contribute their monthly dues because I can explain to them how much money comes in, how it was spent, and they can see it all like a bank history report.”

Building local and national capacity to support fishers

Supportive legislation was built (e.g., a new Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture Law), and sectoral policies, governance systems, fisheries management plans, and three regulations specific to fisheries, including Indigenous fisheries, were developed. New standards for fish handling and hygiene were developed with the national Food Safety Authority.

A new Bolivian regulation, informed by the project’s research, was a first step towards legalizing and managing paiche fishing and improving market opportunities. The creation of multi-stakeholder roundtable “platforms” has improved the sector’s capacity for leadership, management, and communication, and created a model for municipal investment in fish farming infrastructure. Fourteen fishing associations and 12 fish farming associations were legalized and a new fish leather value chain was made possible through an agreement between the fisheries federation and the tanning industry. The Inter-Institutional Northern Amazon Committee for Control of Fisheries and Commercialization was created between the increasingly strengthened fishing federation and government, representing a first step towards a co-management platform.

What’s next?

Both production and access to fish has improved. Following a decision informed by the project to allow paiche fishing in the Pando department (forecast to increase to 1,000 tons per year), and a government plan to buy 500 kg of fish per month for distribution to supermarkets in the northern Amazon, these numbers will continue to rise.

Fish farming continues to expand alongside demand. Further work is needed to support a new collaboration between the fishing federation and the national fisheries regulator to improve fisheries management and control; build business management capacity; and ensure a reliable supply of fish from small-scale fisheries. Further government investment is also required to promote the value of gender-responsive fisheries regulations to fishing organizations and to further gender-transformative work in fisheries and aquaculture.

The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund is jointly funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada.

Learn more about this project and its outcomes.