Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 115

participatory project, but it doesn’t stop there. The next
challenge lies in implementation.”
Abalobi app
It was thinking about the challenges of policy
implementation that led Raemaekers, together with
Abongile Ngqongwa, a fishery manager from the
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
(DAFF), and fisher and community worker Nico
Waldeck, to the idea of creating a smartphone
application (app) to be a one-stop shop for small-scale
fishers to record their catches, engage with government
at the co-management table, enhance their safety at
sea and explore different value-chain opportunities. The
app is called ‘Abalobi’, the isiXhosa word for small-scale
fishers, as referred to in the policy.
“There are two major problems with the small-scale
fishing sector that spurred us on to work on the
development of Abalobi,” says Raemaekers. “The first is
the big gap between scientific knowledge and local fisher
knowledge. The very contextualised local knowledge
does not make its way into fisheries management; but
also, the scientific understanding of fish-stock models
does not always gel with the local knowledge owned by
fishers.” Part of what Raemaekers and his team hope to
achieve through Abalobi is to build trust between the
relevant role players, including government and scientists,
creating relationships where groups can work together
to complement different knowledges and local data, and
to achieve greater understanding of fish resources and of
how best to implement policy.
Stuck in a system of servitude
A second gripe for Raemaekers is that small-scale
fishers are mostly ‘price-takers’, stuck in a system of
servitude in which they are just working to pay back
last year’s loans. “These fishers don’t often get a good
price for their catch. Even though this is potentially
the most sustainable and socially just fishing practice
in our inshore waters, these small-scale fishers are not
empowered in the value chain.”
Simple information-sharing and communication
between fishers could free them from this trap. As part
of the Abalobi project, chat (smartphone-based instant
messaging) integration was developed that allows
fishers – who had previously had no contact with each
other – to communicate with one another.
Raemakers tells a story of a group of fishers in
Struisbaai, part of the pilot programme, who used this
tool to set a minimum price for their linefish – before
the first boat came into the harbour. “It sounds so
simple,” he says, “but for these fishers, it was a total
shift in the power dynamics. They all worked together,
and got a better price.” There are knock-on effects, too.
As fishers from different parts of the coastline start
communicating, they also begin sharing information
and skills to help one another. These fishers may never
have met, but they are in the same sector and working
towards the same goal.
Abalobi, which is still in the pilot stage, has a number
of planned modules. One of the core modules currently
being pilot-tested is Mobile Catch Reporting, through
which both fishers and government monitors capture
data and access easy-to-understand dashboard
analytics. At the moment, these processes are
separate: the fishers capture their information about
a catch, and they own that data. They decide who
can see it and how it is to be used. At the same time,
government monitors are also capturing data. “The
plan is to have regular workshops for engagement
between government and fishers, to discuss the data
– what the differences are, and why,”
explains Raemaekers. “We are
embarking on a process of
building trust, co-producing
knowledge and working
together to ensure
responsible governance
of the sector.”
Other modules include
a focus on safety
at sea, connecting
fishers to markets and
consumers, and building
a knowledge hub for fishers
to keep on top of the latest
trends and regulations. On Abalobi,
Raemaekers has been working closely with both the
fisher community and the DAFF. The key for him is
that this is not an academic exercise, but a communityowned and -led open-source project. “This is a really
transdisciplinary endeavour,” he says. “Abalobi not only
brings together scientists, government, industry and
community, but also encompasses natural sciences,
social sciences and information technology.
“This is not about a team of IT people developing
yet another app. Abalobi is a project by the smallscale fishing community themselves, to own the
process of implementing the policy they fought for.”
The Abalobi project ( is currently
funded through Raemaekers’ NRF research grant,
with support from DAFF’s small-scale fisheries
directorate. The project will require dedicated
funding to enable a full-scale roll-out.
By Natalie Simon. Image by Michael Hammond.
Life below water and life on land 110

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