What is it about?

Households in small island developing nations employ diverse strategies to obtain seafood, an essential component of their diets. While food systems typically understood as the ability to acquire nutrients through purchase or harvest, this limited view of food systems may obscure other mechanisms by which people acquire food. Katherine Seto and colleagues applied a socio-ecological framework based on access theory to better understand how people living on the central Pacific islands of Kiribati derive nutritional benefit from their natural resources. Analyzing surveys of more than 2,000 households conducted between 2019 and 2020, the authors identify six distinct access strategies that varied based on location and household demographics as well as the species consumed. The most prevalent access strategy relied on receiving seafood as gifts from relatives, friends, and neighbors. Notably, low market access was a key trait distinguishing households with high seafood consumption. According to the authors, policies that aim to safeguard nutritional security in the face of a changing climate and global trade practices need to consider these often misunderstood ways households ensure food access.

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Why is it important?

Seafood is a critically important resource for communities in the Pacific, and is likely to become more important as climate change and global trade dynamics continue to shape the region. This research shows that the households that consumed the highest amounts of seafood showed lower market access, pointing to the importance of nonmarket acquisition (e.g., home production and gifting) in ensuring household seafood benefits. Since many studies of food security and food systems focus largely or exclusively on markets and monetary means of obtaining food, it shows that in many contexts we’re missing a huge, sometimes dominant piece of the puzzle. It also found that households consume both high and low levels of seafood across diverse contexts (e.g., geographies, development levels, market integration, etc.), suggesting that consumption of seafood cannot be assumed based on where you live, or even household characteristics in isolation (e.g., wealth, household size). This suggests that the choices a household makes can make a huge difference for how much they benefit from seafood, regardless of where they live, how much money they make, or other factors. Finally, this research found that different household strategies were also associated with really different patterns of seafoods consumed. This means that household strategies are not only important in shaping the overall consumptive benefit a household gets from seafood but also the potential environmental, food security, and nutritional implications, as all seafoods are not the same.


This research seeks to better understand how households benefit, or fail to benefit, from seafood resources. We often assume a person is gets more nutritional benefit from fisheries because they live close to the ocean or work as a fisherman. But really, distance and occupation are proxies; here we measure actual consumptive benefit from eating seafood, and the results about who benefits more and who benefits less are fairly counterintuitive. In this study we also wanted to take seriously the really innovative and distinct strategies that households use to ensure good nutrition and food security for their households. When we focus on some of these other metrics like distance to the ocean, or household income levels, to measure how much we think a household is benefitting from seafood, we end up hiding a lot of the really amazing ways individuals and families ensure high seafood consumption under different constraints and contexts. Overall, we'd love to see these findings applied to a more nuanced study of food systems and resource access. Rather than assume someone benefits from a resource, we can measure and track these flows of benefit, and take seriously the really ingenious approaches that people have for ensuring their household benefits from a resource like seafood. The best policies and management approaches will work to support these practices, rather than impose new “solutions” to misunderstood problems.

Katherine Seto
University of California Santa Cruz

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Characterizing pathways of seafood access in small island developing states, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2024, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2305424121.
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