The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to considerable challenges the Indonesian government must face to care for and protect the more than 260 million people spread across the country’s 17,000 plus islands, as well as to safeguard the country’s growing economy. The marine and fisheries sector has been one of the hardest hit, affecting 3.5 million fishers, not to mention fish farmers and those working throughout the supply chain.
With many countries implementing lockdown measures that limit the movement of goods and people, supply chains for various commodities, in both the domestic and international markets, have been put to the test. Like other sectors, the main issue facing the fisheries sector is an abundance of supply and reduced market access. Closures in the food and related industries have further exacerbated the situation. The result is the piling up of fish products both from capture and aquaculture fisheries.
To make matters worse, access to cold chain infrastructure, including such services as supply of ice and cold storage, are limited for many small-scale fishers, be it in coastal cities or remote fishing villages. This has resulted in degraded fish quality and plenty of fish catches being wasted and perishing.
Everyone in the supply chain is certainly weathering some impact. Industry actors have noted that fishing activities have either stopped or been significantly reduced due to the low demand. On one end of the chain are those most affected by the uncertainties, the fishers and processors, whose livelihoods are under immediate threat. However, the fishing industry is also vulnerable and is relied upon by its staff and association members.
During these difficult times, some in fishery communities have pursued alternative livelihoods. According to a survey by the NGO RARE, some fishers have chosen to take up other activities to support themselves such as farming, becoming construction workers or processing salted and dried fish. Although the government, industry players, NGOs and other key stakeholders have been very proactive during the crisis, decision makers must be cognizant of the fact that the impacts of COVID-19 will continue to permeate the whole industry long after the worst is over.
It is necessary to devise interventions that address the most urgent challenges: first, preventing the spread of the virus in the fisheries sector; second, anticipating temporary — or in some cases permanent — cessation of activities; third, preparing for suspension or reduction of production; forth, managing supply and storage; and fifth, preparing for a post-pandemic transition. More can still be done to ease the suffering of the most vulnerable in the supply chain. Here are some recommendations for consideration. Please note that some may have already been implemented as this article goes to print.
Stricter measures are needed to contain the spread of the pandemic in the sector. Although the government has implemented COVID-19 protocols in fisheries ports and landing sites, it also must impose and monitor these protocols along the supply chain from the boats and processing facilities to distribution centers and buyers.
It is imperative to help support people’s livelihoods in the industry, especially those in the most vulnerable categories. Various income replacement schemes such as cash transfers will become important instruments to compensate for temporary or permanent cessations of fishing activities and production. Additionally, the government needs to support communities to find alternative livelihoods as supplementary sources of income or in case the pandemic lasts longer than expected.
Cold storage has never been so important to better manage the supply and demand fluctuations in the market. An effective cold storage management can help fishers and the industry preserve fish products until the market is ready and prices improve. Additionally, the warehouse receipt scheme will provide fishers and the industry with better access to much-needed financing.
However, the scheme must be better communicated to the communities and relevant stakeholders. Another measure that can be put into place in anticipation of protracted disturbances in the supply chain is to increase frozen and tinned products.
There needs to be coordination and collaboration between government bodies as well as coherence between the national and subnational governments. Although the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has collaborated with or relied on Social Affairs Ministry programs, further coordination with other institutions and authorities including subnational governments are needed to formulate and execute the most appropriate interventions. Coordination with the Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Ministry, for example, may give fishers better access to cash transfer schemes from village funds. The KUSUKA fisher’s ID card can be used to determine the eligibility of beneficiaries for different interventions.
All this requires more accurate data and information on the impact of COVID-19 on the Indonesian marine and fisheries sector. The data has to represent every aspect of the supply chain; inter-related sectors, both formal and informal; segments and typology of people in the sector; and details of economic, social and environmental impacts and projected impacts.
The government can work with organizations that are already doing independent data collection. Collaborating for better data availability would help decision makers better tackle the impacts of COVID-19 and prepare for future disaster risk management. It will also help the government target the most appropriate beneficiaries for its interventions.
Robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are also needed in addition to self-monitoring schemes across fishing villages to ascertain those who are really in need of assistance.
Ahmad Baihaki is a senior oceans consultant, and Umi Muawanah is a researcher at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry. The views expressed are their own.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.