Following the fish inland: understanding fish distribution networks for rural development and nutrition security

  • Dirk J. SteenbergenEmail author
  • Hampus Eriksson
  • Kimberley Hunnam
  • David J. Mills
  • Natasha Stacey
Original Paper


In developing countries, small-scale fisheries are both a pivotal source of livelihood and essential for the nutritional intake of larger food insecure populations. Distribution networks that move fish from landing sites to coastal and inland consumers offer entry points to address livelihood enhancement and food security objectives of rural development initiatives. To be able to utilize fish distribution networks to address national development targets, a sound understanding of how local systems function and are organized is imperative. Here we present an in-depth examination of a domestic market chain in Timor-Leste that supplies small-pelagic fish to coastal and inland communities. We present the market chain’s different commodity flows and its distributive reach, and show how social organization strongly influences people’s access to fish, by determining availability and affordability. We suggest there is potential to advance Timor-Leste’s food and nutrition security targets by engaging with local influential actors and existing social relations across fish distribution networks. We argue that in addition to developing improvements to fish distribution infrastructure, utilizing existing or locally familiar practices, organization and social capital offers opportunity for long term self-sufficiency. Livelihood and food security improvement initiatives involving natural resource-dependent communities are more likely to succeed if they incorporate rural development perspectives, which frame directly targeted interventions (‘intentional’ development) within broader structural contexts (‘immanent’ development).


Coastal livelihoods Fish distribution networks Food and nutrition security Rural development Small-scale fisheries Timor-Leste 



The authors acknowledge support from staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) in the district of Maliana and the aldeia administrative staff in Beacou. Assistance of WorldFish Timor-Leste staff was critical in setting up the fieldwork, particularly Mario Pereira. We are grateful for the time and information provided by respondents in the village of Beacou, as well as those interviewed in-transit, at markets and in consumer households in and around Maliana. Fieldwork was made possible with funding from a Charles Darwin University (CDU) post doctoral fellowship co-funded through the North Australian Marine Research Alliance (NAMRA) in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the Australian National University (ANU) and the Northern Territory Government [NAMRA-02-2014]. Further support was provided by SwedBio (a programme at Stockholm Resilience Centre), Australian National Centre for Agriculture Research (ACIAR – FIS/2010/097) and the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Research Program on Fish in Agri-food Systems (‘FISH’). Finally, the authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and Neil Andrew for his review of drafts.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Human ethics approval

All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (Charles Darwin University Human Research Ethics Committee, H14084) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Plant Pathology and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.Charles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  3. 3.WorldFishBayan LepasMalaysia
  4. 4.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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