Sunday, December 19, 2010

The same old story...

While researching coastal management projects in Madagascar I talked to a lot of Malagasy fishermen. One of their goals in regards to donor-funded fisheries or coastal management projects was always to secure funding for bigger boats and bigger outboard engines so that they could fish further offshore. They gave this goal an environmental gloss by stating that if they had the ability to fish further offshore then the inshore fisheries, which are the primary breeding grounds for many fish species, could be left alone.

The fishers in Malawi have been working the same angle. Read this old news article on the "Lake Malawi Artisanal Fisheries Development Project" which operated in the country from 2003-2008. What's sad about this is that way back in the early 90s the feasibility of increased offshore fishing was already investigated and dismissed. There simply aren't any unexploited "deep sea" fish stocks in Lake Malawi. Bigger boats and bigger engines aren't the answer and we've known that for a long time now.

And yet the project still dropped 10 million USD down the rabbit hole.

Even setting this problem aside, these kinds of donor-funded projects all rely on a largely false premise to justify their existence. If only, the logic goes, the fishers had bigger boats, or more refrigeration, or outboard engines, or better access roads, then they could start making real money. However because traditional financiers (banks and entrepreneurs) are being irrationally conservative in not extending them credit, the donors must step in.

I don't buy this and even if you do I think we need a clearer explanation of why traditional financiers are opting out and a plan for how we can change their minds. Everyone agrees that donor financing is not sustainable. Anyone got ideas?

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