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Executive Interviews: Interview with Vivekanadan on Bottom of the Pyramid
November 2008 - By Prema Ramachandran

Former CEO of South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies

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    Thus the developed countries are trying to find solutions to the fisheries crisis in terms of market instruments like Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) and ecolabelling. They are also trying tomake up for the fish deficit by promoting aquaculture.

    The developing countries like India cannot afford to look at fisheries as a business or a sector of the industry. It is a major livelihood sector and protecting the employment in the sector is important. Here the conflict is between allowing every person to fish and the need to protect and conserve fish resources.The fact that most developing countries are in the tropics and are dominated

    by small scale fisheries for a diversity of fish speciesmakes the sector very difficult to manage by a central authority. The instruments used by developed countries tomanage their fisheries are not very useful.

    Unfortunately, theories in fisheries economics and fisheries management are all developed in the developed countries, especially in the West. The developing countries have not invested in developing alternate theories that will suit them and continue to be recipients of ideas from the West. However, a combination of western academics and local practitioners from the civil society of developing countries, are now talking about "community-based resource management" and "co-management" as solutions to the problem

    While community-based resource management was, and is, a reality in some of the small scale fisheries of the world (in both developed and developing countries), comanagement is a concept being developed in the west for decentralized fisheries management. Co-management is more or less the equivalent of the Joint Forest Management we have in India with the tribes and government cooperating to manage forest resources.

    However, actual application of the theories of community based fisheries and co-management is weak and still evolving. Meanwhile, western prescriptions of control on access are being simultaneously pushed in a manner that can be harmful to the livelihood interests. There is considerable confusion prevailing in the fisheries management circles of developing countries.

    Still, one can say that some sort of convergence is also emerging between the developed countries and developing countries with many in the developed countries getting tired of the "command and control" system of management that uses scientific information to manage fisheries. There is also an increasing assertion that decentralized co-management systems will be more effective, even in developed countries.

    As far as India is concerned, while we are in the same boat as other developing countries, we also have the additional complication of caste. There are both negative and positive factors emerging from caste. As far as the negative factor is concerned, fishermen from fishing castes have a traditional right to fish and how this can be reconciled with the modern fisheries management of limited access is a challenge. However, the positive factor is that caste is an entry barrier into fishing and also represents a social system by which collective management can be developed. Unfortunately, this has not been grasped by our administrators and very little progress has taken place. To work on this is part of my current agenda.

  • Most of your contemporaries shifted from one organization to another seeking greener pastures, whereas you continued working for SIFFS in spite of it being a low profile, low paid career option for you. Is there any special reason for that choice?
    Development work cannot be just a career; it also has to be a vocation. However, this does not mean that one sticks to the same organization or even sector. I have done so because SIFFS had provided, till now, a platform for me to learn and try out my ideas. That I entered a new organization right at the top has also meant that I did not have the luxury of leaving whenever it suited me or when the situation got tough.

    I have always believed that good quality human resources are needed more at the grass roots than at the apex of the pyramid. While you can make useful contributions from different levels of the pyramid (as donor organization representative or consultant or policy maker), there needs to be adequate capacity at the base for these contributions to be used or absorbed. Many feel satisfied that they are making a contribution to development by going into higher levels of development work but this is also one kind of brain drain.

    I would have moved up the chain if I had found that young professionals are ready to come in and spend adequate time at the grass roots and then move up. Unfortunately, the current market conditions do not support this model. Many directly end up in donor organizations or development banks, etc. (Here I am only talking of those who are still in development and have not moved into corporate jobs). So, in a way, you can say that I also got stuck in SIFFS for lack of adequate replacements.

    Being long in any organization is not necessarily a virtue. For the last five to seven years, I have seen that my continuance is unhealthy for both the organization and myself. I have therefore been working on restructuring the organization that it can continue without me and can manage with human resources that are available internally.Only timewill tell whether I have been successful in this. While I had a certain freedom in leading SIFFS, I did not enjoy the same freedomto restructure it as there were too many entrenched interests and conflicts.

    Another point needs to be made about the profile I enjoyed or continue to enjoy. I think I have a higher profile than many of those who have gone for greener pastures. Higher pay does not necessarilymean higher profile or recognition or respect.

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