Recently published research captures the potential of sustainable seafood commoditization under a new conceptual framework

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By Milthon Lujan

Penang, Malaysia – New research published in Nature Sustainability, introduces the concept of sustainable commoditization; a framework that integrates three pillars – sustainable intensification, supply chains, and policy and regulation – which will play crucial roles in developing the seafood sector in the Global South.

Policy debates on seafood reflect a lagged pattern of supply chain and product cycle development across the Global North and Global South. Debates on role of seafood in the Global South tend to emphasize food security, whereas those in the Global North tend to emphasize to sustainability. Sustainable commoditization offers a way to support seafood production in the Global South in a way that addresses food security needs and sustainability simultaneously.

The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase output and production efficiencies simultaneously, while reducing negative externalities. But supply chain transformation and supporting policy and regulation and are necessary to create the conditions under which sustainable intensification can occur, and to ensure inclusive outcomes. Sustainable commoditization marries these three elements together and shows their interdependence.

Effective policy and regulation provide the basis for environmental, worker, and anti-trust protections and foster innovations that support sustainable intensification and supply chain transformation. Supply chain transformation reduces transaction costs and risks, facilitating the development and application of technical and institutional innovations that increase efficiencies and output, thereby lowering consumer prices for seafood. Supply chain growth is essential for inclusion, creating employment and opportunities for seafood producers and supporting enterprises, and linking them to consumers to ensure food security.

One of the paper’s authors, Dr. Ben Belton of WorldFish and Michigan State University, said: “Sustainable commoditization offers a framework for reconciling the need to produce more seafood with the need to reduce the impacts of seafood production. It shows that sustainable intensification cannot occur in a vacuum. We need to pay closer attention to the role of supply chains in facilitating food security and sustainability, and better understand how policies and regulations can foster inclusive and efficient supply chains”.

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Dr. Thomas Reardon, one of the authors, and a Professor at the Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, said: “At its essence, the marriage of commoditization and sustainability is that everybody recognize the importance of commoditization occurring to get cheaper, affordable seafood, but anticipate the sustainability issues that will arise and address them before they turn into problems.”

Professor David Zilberman, another of the paper’s authors, from University of California, Berkley said: “We use seafood as an example, but our analysis applies to other sectors. and the concept we introduce – ‘sustainable commoditization’, applies to any sector. This paper is part of our effort to steer economic analysis towards the analysis of multiple markets in the context of supply chains that implement change”

Belton, B., Reardon, T. & Zilberman, D. Sustainable commoditization of seafood. Nat Sustain (2020).

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