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Meeting Food and Nutrition Needs of the Poor: Role of Fish and Opportunities/Challenges of Aquaculture

06 January 2014

People who are food and nutrition insecure largely reside in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and for many, fish represents a rich source of protein, micronutrients and essential fatty acids. The contribution of fish to household food and nutrition security depends upon availability, access and cultural and personal preferences, writes M. C. M. Beveridge, et al, WorldFish.


On the somewhat nominal date of 31 October 2011, the world human population was deemed to have reached 7 billion (7 × 109), prompting speculation as to whether everyone on the planet can be adequately fed. That currently a poor job of it is being made is not in dispute: the number of people estimated to be undernourished in 2010 was close to 1 billion (FAO, 2011a).

The most obvious signs of undernutrition are mortality, morbidity, stunting, underweight and wasting. Less immediately apparent are the effects on immune function, cognitive ability and work productivity, with profound effects at individual, family and societal levels (Underwood, 2000; Caulfield et al., 2006; Grantham-McGregor, 2007; Ruel et al., 2008).

It is estimated that maternal and child undernutrition accounts for 11 per cent of total global disability-adjusted life years (DALY; a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the numbers of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death), with dire consequences for development (Black et al., 2008).

Without action, the situation can only worsen. By 2050, it is anticipated that the global population will rise to 9 billion (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2011). Satisfying the food and nutrition needs of the growing population, let alone its demands, is likely to require a profound change in what and how much is eaten, and where and how food is produced.

Failure to do so could profoundly affect the biosphere in ways that further erode the lifesupport system through biodiversity loss, changes in ecosystem services supply and exacerbated global warming (Battisti & Naylor, 2009; Foley et al., 2011; Phalan et al., 2011; Royal Society, 2012).

In 2009, c. 95 × 106 t of fishes were consumed by humans (FAO, 2012b; FAO–FISHSTAT, 2012). More than 1 billion poor people obtain most of their average per capita intake of animal protein from fish (Tacon & Metian, 2009). The importance of fish is highlighted by a consideration of Africa. FAO data for 2009 (updated with data from Tacon & Metian, 2009) show that Africa has the lowest average per capita supply of total energy (10 711 kJ day−1), protein (66·6 g day−1), non-fish animal protein (15·1 g day−1) and fish protein (9·2 kg year−1) of any region (FAO–FAOSTAT, 2013). Nevertheless, fish contributed 9 per cent of total animal energy intake here, the highest of any region, and 18 per cent of total animal protein consumption (second only to Asia at 19 per cent).

Global wild fish catches have for some time been at or near the limits of what aquatic ecosystems can be expected to naturally provide (FAO, 2012a; UNHRC, 2012). Meeting the world’s demand for fish has thus depended on the spectacular growth of aquaculture. In 2011, c. 41 per cent of fish consumed came from farming (FAO, 2012b; FAO–FISHSTAT, 2012). A growing body of research studies shows the importance of fish in the supply of not only protein but also more importantly of essential fatty acids and micronutrients (Kawarazuka & Bene, 2011).

The importance of fish as a rich source of essential fats, crucial for brain development and cognition, is highlighted in the implementation of the scaling up nutrition framework and roadmap [a private and public sector and civil society partnership that seeks to better understand the crisis of undernutrition in early life (first 1000 days) and elevate nutrition on the global agenda;].

Discussion of the rise of aquaculture has largely focused on its contribution to global aquatic animal food supplies, largely ignoring the resultant changes in species composition of the fishes consumed or how it is farmed and the consequences for food and nutrition security (Kawarazuka & Bene, 2010; UNHRC, 2012). This paper sets out to redress the situation and considers the technological and policy innovations needed to ensure that fish cultivation fulfils its potential to meet the global population’s food and nutrition needs. This paper focuses on fishes that account for two-thirds of gross global aquatic animal source food supplies, and make particular reference to Africa and Asia.

Further Reading

You can view the full report and list of authors by clicking here.

January 2014

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