LONG VALLEY, New Jersey — In 2012, the European Union partnered with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to launch a project called “Aquaculture for Food Security, Poverty Alleviation and Nutrition,” which aimed to alleviate poverty through practices of aquaculture throughout the developing world. But since then, numerous poor countries have adopted small-scale fish farming and reported considerable improvement in poverty rates, food security and social well-being. In other countries, however, the potential for fish farms as both a food source and new market has not yet been realized.
According to the FAO, aquaculture and culture-based fisheries have had an overall growth rate of 11 percent since 1984, making them the world’s fastest growing food-producing sector for 20 years. In 1999, 42.77 million metric tons of aquatic products were produced with a value of $53 billion. In addition, 300 species of aquatic organisms are farmed globally today. It is projected that 62 percent of fish will be produced from aquaculture by 2030; Asian countries will make up 70 percent of global fish consumption, while fish consumption in African countries will increase by 30 percent. The FAO predicts that there will be an increase in the demand for fish due to expected economic development, population growth and changes in eating habits.
Approximately 90 percent of the total aquaculture production is produced in developing countries, making it one of the most common global trades that flows heavily from developing to developed countries. A large proportion of the fish is produced by small-scale fish farmers in low-income or food deficit countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Aquaculture also plays a pivotal role in fighting hunger, with fish demonstrating good nutritional value and a means of food security. Fish is the primary source of protein for 17 percent of the world’s population and nearly 25 percent in low-income food-deficit countries. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help heart and brain development and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The economic benefits of fish farming will particularly help to strengthen assets in rural households, according to Rohana Subasinghe, Secretary of the FAO’s Sub-Committee on Aquaculture. “Fish farming provides food of high nutritional value for households, and when small-scale farmers combine agriculture and aquaculture they also improve their food supply, increase their income and become better able to withstand shocks. It decreases the risk to production, increases farm sustainability and in general boosts rural development,” said Subasinghe.
In 2010, USAID launched a project in Bangladesh to aid the struggling small-scale fish farmers who frequently fail to produce enough fish for local and district markets at competitive costs. USAID targets poor households and provides them with the technologies and techniques to increase their commercial fish and shrimp production, as well as their incomes. In a country where nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, families that open fish farms have reported increases in income from $90 to $130 each month, and are also able to provide steady employment for others in their fish nursery and hatchery businesses.
In the poverty-stricken areas of the Caribbean and Latin America, populations have looked to aquaculture as a cure for malnutrition and an alternative to scavenging for food daily. In partnership with Food For The Poor, families throughout these impoverished towns have opened tilapia fish farms as a vital self-sustaining trade to feed their families and generate additional income to support their children. Tilapia also provides key nutrients and proteins to the people that assist in the prevention of malnutrition, diseases and starvation-related deaths.
The Malian government also embarked on the major Inland Fisheries Development Support Project, which allocated $25.6 million for fish farming practices in order to improve food security and reduce poverty in the rural area. In Mali, the rural sector is crucial for the country’s development, accounting for about 45 percent of GDP and employing 70 percent of the total population. The government financed the establishment of fish processing and packaging centers in major towns, the construction of 10,000 hectares of ponds for fish farming, the reforestation of 5,000 hectares of banks, and a training program for 14,000 individuals and associations in the fish farming sector.
While fish farming has proven to play a significant role in boosting rural development in poor countries, donor support for aquaculture has considerably declined in the past 10 years. The FAO and other organizations are promoting investment in this successful new sector, as it provides people with a reliable food source while also lifting entire populations out of poverty.
– Abby Bauer