Interview with Special Envoy Stefán Jón Hafstein

Working together with the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition

Published on
17-01-2024

Aquatic foods are an essential component in the transition towards healthy and sustainable food systems. Defined as the plants and animals that are caught or cultivated from freshwater and marine ecosystems, they currently provide 3.3 billion people with at least 20% of their average animal protein consumption. According to research by the Blue Food Assessment, more than 800 million people depend on blue foods for their livelihoods with small-scale fisheries and aquaculture providing 90% of jobs in the sector and two-thirds of blue foods consumed. 

Yet, blue foods have often been overlooked in the discussion on food security and food system transformation. For this reason, the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition was set up to champion blue foods and ensure their integration into nutritious, equitable, sustainable, and climate-resilient food systems 

As notes Special Envoy Stefán Jón Hafstein, Chair of the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition, “Billions of people around the world rely on aquatic foods as their main source of protein. If properly fished or cultivated, blue foods can contribute sustainably to food production and provide essential nutrients which are healthier when compared with other animal proteins.” 

 

The Aquatic Blue Food Coalition is currently working with the Zero Hunger Coalition to ensure the inclusion of sustainable aquatic foods in the Evidence-based and costed roadmaps for food systems that are nutritious, sustainable and end food insecurity. “The Zero Hunger Coalition and the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition are natural allies. We have stakeholders with common interests that we can bring together towards a common goal,” noted Special Envoy Hafstein. 

At a recent Aquatic Blue Food Coalition meeting, the Zero Hunger Coalition shared its preliminary results from the research underway for the Evidence-based and costed roadmaps for Madagascar and Zambia. “Our stakeholders are very interested in this work and can find synergies. We also have local stakeholders on the ground who can contribute,” Special Envoy Hafstein remarked. 

Like the Zero Hunger Coalition, the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition emerged from the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021. According to Hafstein, “In the preparation for the Summit, a number of countries noticed very little talk about aquatic or blue food, from inland waters or the ocean, within the context of food systems transformation. Recognizing the importance of aquatic foods, whether in terms of livelihood or nutrient, we started to organize and mobilize before the Summit.” 

For Special Envoy Hafstein, “Aquatic foods are an essential part of food system transformation. They provide the missing link between access to essential proteins and environmental sustainability, when production in fisheries is properly managed. We invited countries with a similar interest and understanding of the link between nutrition and climate change to mobilize with us. The countries in the Pacific Ocean were immediately keen to join.”  

Broad membership base 

Two and a half years onwards, the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition is thriving. As a multistakeholder coalition, its membership has grown to approximately 40 governments and organizations, including industry groups, academics, cooperatives, NGOs as well as regional organizations such as the South Pacific community.   

The appeal of the Coalition to small island states in the Pacific Ocean is obvious given their reliance on fisheries for their sustenance. However, Special Envoy Hafstein also recognized the interest of the Coalition by African countries. “There is enormous potential for aquaculture in Africa to help provide food security and access to healthy protein,” he noted.   

The Coalition brings in representatives from the private sector that advocate for sustainable fisheries. “There is great interest within the private sector to target investment wisely as well as to also advocate for sustainable fisheries. For example, the Marine Stewardship Council provides green labelling for sustainably sourced fish, and they are keen to promote sustainably managed fisheries amongst our Coalition members. We want to connect with them and promote their work,” remarked Special Envoy Hafstein. 

He continued with another example, “Global Seaweed Coalition is another consortium in our Coalition that brings together the private sector to promote sustainably grown seaweed. They are exploring opportunities to use seaweed for innovative commercial products.”   

Focus on research 

The Aquatic Blue Food Coalition works closely with researchers from the Stanford Centre for Ocean Solutions which contributes to the Blue Food Assessment. “Under the banner of the Blue Foods Assessment, we have the research to back up our narrative. Like the Zero Hunger Coalition, we are evidence-based, and we reach out to our stakeholders with facts. We are about science as well as advocacy,” Special Envoy Hafstein noted, highlighting the role of Stanford and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in operating the secretariat of the Coalition.  

For example, the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition contributed a section to the recently published white paper, School Meals and Food Systems: Rethinking the consequences for climate, environment, biodiversity, and food sovereignty, by the School Meals Coalition. Their contribution focused on the benefits, as well as the challenges, of integrating aquatic foods into school meals. Currently the World Food Programme is planning a programme to introduce fish in school lunches in Sierra Leone in cooperation with Iceland. 

The Aquatic and Blue Food Coalition will continue to champion the uptake of sustainable blue foods whether through fisheries or aquaculture. “When we started, we were the only Coalition focusing on SDG 14 (Life under water) and we continue to focus on marginalised coastal communities. However, we are looking beyond the ocean to also address the potential growth of aquaculture in Africa. And, the Coalition will continue to focus on blue foods within the context of nutrition and sustainability but increasingly also in terms of climate change and biodiversity,” concluded Special Envoy Hafstein. 

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