Walking the talk – the Philippines way

Walking the talk – the Philippines way

By Ratana Chuenpagdee

The last time I was in Iloilo, Western Visayas, was in April of 2019, when Dr. Alice Ferrer and her colleague, Dr. Harold Monteclaro, organized a transdisciplinary training workshop in conjunction with the 12th Asian Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum. We cruised the Iloilo River as part of the field visit to observe the diversity of life along the estuary, lined with mangroves and other vegetations. This time I am staying at a hotel near the river, but I have not visited it yet, only cross it each day to go to the University of Philippines – Visayas (UPV), Iloilo City Campus to be part of the formal signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for the ‘National Consortium for Small-Scale Fisheries Research and Development’, affectionately known as TBTI Philippines!

The event was held on July 11th to commemorate the World Population Day. The argument is simple. The 8 billion people of the world will need to be fed, and what is a better food if not fish from small-scale fisheries. The Filipinos certainly eat a lot of fish with annual per capita consumption of about 35 kg, which is above the world’s average. There are also a lot of small-scale fisheries with more than 2 million people involved in fishing and the value chain. But similar to other places, small-scale fisheries are marginalized and invisible, despite their big numbers and contributions. TBTI Philippines, launched last year on November 21st –  World Fisheries Day –  aims to change that. And for such a change to take place, it requires all hands on deck. Under the leadership of Alice and Harold, and with the great support of UPV, TBTI Philippines was formed as a network of academic institutions across the country, coming together under a formal agreement. The signing of the MoA, which I witnessed on July 11th, was a formalization of a partnership that illustrates strong commitments from the top officials of the 31 universities – the founding members of TBTI Philippines – to support research and development for sustainable and viable small-scale fisheries in the country. This is an extremely impressive way of organizing the country hub since it means that the universities are giving a full endorsement to the initiative, and are facilitating the participation of their faculty and students in the network activities.

The members of the consortium have been meeting virtually since last November. The gathering in Iloilo was the first opportunity for the team to come together to discuss the work plan for TBTI Philippines. Some of the highlights are the monthly webinar, the plan for the annual conference, profiling of small-scale fisheries in various water bodies, and capacity building programs.
Here with me in Iloilo is Dr. Yinji Li from Tokai University in the role of TBTI Japan Director. TBTI Japan is the first country hub of TBTI Global, followed by TBTI Philippines, TBTI Bangladesh and TBTI Ecuador. Dr. Mahmud Islam and Dr. Maria Jose Barrangan, the director of the latter two hubs, respectively.
Having a cake at TBTI gatherings has become, not only a tradition but a fierce competition. For the upcoming hubs, here’s the one to beat.

In addition to the MoA signing, the gathering was to celebrate the launch of the new TBTI E-book ‘Portrait of Small-Scale Fishers in the Philippines,’ edited by Alice and Harold. The book is a real gem. Even though it is meant to be an e-book, we all enjoyed the one printed copy that we could flip through as it was passed around. The book is a product of a major collaboration between 83 fishers and 125 writers of their stories. If this does not result in increasing the visibility of small-scale fisheries, I don’t know what will.

More than 30 of the 125 contributors of the book were at the launching event, and I was able to talk to several of them. Here’s one – Jean Beth S. Jontila, with her own story and that of Dondon – the fisher who she interviewed for the book. A very touching and uplifting story!

By the end of the two-day meeting, we all felt energized about what TBTI Philippines could achieve next year, and in the years to come. You can see the excitement in the video.