We are passing through an era of increasing population, food shortages and unsustainable farming practices. This will be exacerbated in the coming years by the global warming and climate change that will have an impact on the production of aquatic food. It has been estimated that 852 million or 14 percent of this global population are hungry and of these, 690 million are in Asia-Pacific, the region that contributes about 90 percent to global aquaculture production. Micronutrient deficiency is affecting more than 2 billion people globally. Fifty-seven percent of children suffer from vitamin deficiency. Over 1 billion under-nourished live in low-income countries. In this context, fish is considered as “rich food for poor” and the cheapest animal protein, and in many developing countries provides at least 20 percent of the animal protein intake for over 2.6 billion people. In addition, the aquaculture sector is directly providing livelihood to over 12 million people and to many more million in support activities, besides generating much needed foreign exchange earnings through export of aquatic products.
We cannot think of food security unless issues connected with poverty and livelihoods are addressed. In this context, aquaculture has been and will be playing an important role in poverty reduction among rural populations through improvement/creation of livelihoods and income generation. Relative growth of aquaculture as compared to crop agriculture suggests that aquaculture can be a major rural growth sector. For example, in Viet Nam, 50 percent of the farmers involved in aquaculture derive on an average a 75 percent higher household income; tilapia farmers in the Philippines get around 50 percent higher income than rice farmers; in China, annual per capita income of people involved in the aquaculture sector is double the income of rural terrestrial farmers. Shrimp farmers in Viet Nam, grouper and seabass farmers in Indonesia, fish seed producers in Cambodia, seaweed farmers in Indonesia and the Philippines and prawn farmers in Bangladesh have shown that aquaculture can contribute substantially to household incomes and create livelihoods. Aquaculture of carps in India has generated additional employment opportunities for the landless in rural areas. It has been demonstrated that the involvement of women in aquaculture can lead to their empowerment, in addition to better nutrition for their families, especially children. It has been estimated that empowerment of women in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa could improve the condition of 13.4 and 1.7 million undernourished children, respectively.
Aquaculture has grown tremendously in the last few decades, from less than a million tonnes per annum in the 1950s to over 50 million tonnes in 2008, and is expected to meet the increasing demand in the coming years. However, the annual growth of aquaculture has declined from 11.8% percent in 1985–1995 to 7.1 percent during the next decade and to 6.1 percent during 2004–2006. Further, environmental problems are increasing and the number of small farms is decreasing, threatening the livelihood of small farmers.
Since 75 percent of global aquaculture production comes from small-scale farms in developing countries involving poor rural households and landless, we have to address a number of issues to ensure that the livelihoods and food security of all those involved in the sector are not threatened, but that aquaculture also contributes to the food and nutritional security of the countries. Some of the issues that need to be addressed to ensure that small-scale aquaculture are sustainable, contributing to food security, poverty alleviation, rural development and enhanced livelihoods, are given below. Of the total aquaculture production, nearly 75 percent is contributed by freshwater aquaculture (excluding the aquatic weeds). Currently, the finfish being cultured in marine environment are high-value carnivores that need animal protein in their diets, making their culture too expensive/capital intensive for small farmers to be a part of the development of the sector.
- Science relevant to needs of small-farmers: The observed high yield gap between farmers’ productions and the potential from improved technologies indicates that it is necessary: (i) to develop technologies that can be easily adopted by the farming community; and (ii) to utilise the communication technologies that are opening new opportunities for knowledge and information sharing between researchers and farmers.
- Aquaculture in the context of rural development: Small-scale rural aquaculture should be seen from the perspective of rural development and not as a stand-alone activity and be incorporated with other farming activities. With availability of land and water becoming scarce, sustainability of extensive or low-output aquaculture is threatened. It is necessary to equip the farmers with the latest technologies for higher per unit production.
- Seed and seed certification: In spite of the availability of induced breeding technology for over five decades, aquaculture of some species, especially the marine finfish, depends on wild seed supply. Hatchery seed production technologies need to be developed for some of the high-value species; in freshwater aquaculture, inbred seed from hatcheries is leading to low productions; there is need for seed certification in most of the major aquaculture-producing countries.
- Application of biotechnology: Unlike in the case of crops and livestock, less than four percent of aquaculture production comes from improved breeds. There is an urgent need for application of genetics and biotechnology in aquaculture species and to develop improved breeds for aquaculture. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that these improved breeds/strains are accessible to small-scale farmers.
- Disease management: Disease outbreaks crippled freshwater aquaculture in 1980s and coastal aquaculture in 1990s, causing losses amounting to billions of dollars. With the expansion and intensification of aquaculture in the coming years, fish health management needs to be given greater importance through developing diagnostic kits for more species and diseases and setting up diagnostic laboratories in areas with high aquaculture activities.
- Feeds and feeding: Feeds constitute about 40–60 percent of total costs in aquaculture. Mariculture and intensive culture systems depend on fishmeal and fish oil in their feeds. Shortages and increasing costs threaten the industry. There is a need to look for alternate vegetable proteins to replace the animal proteins in the fish feeds and also to develop culture techniques for more herbivores and filter feeders.
- Food safety and product quality: Rising market standards in terms of food safety, quality, traceability, certification and ecolabelling should not form a barrier or additional impediment for entry of products produced by small-scale farmers. Farmers need to be informed and trained to comply with food safety standards set by domestic and export markets.
- Micro-credit: Lack of access to credit from public-sector banks has been a constraint for small-scale farmers. Micro-credit delivery is needed for (e.g. in Bangladesh) motivated small farmers to take up new technologies and increase productions.
- Involvement of landless: Excellent opportunities exist for the involvement of rural landless in culture-based capture fisheries in wetlands, reservoirs, ox-bow lakes, etc., as has been demonstrated in a number of countries in Asia.
- Culture of non-food species: Culture of ornamental fish and seaweed farming offer excellent opportunities for small farmers to take advantage of the huge market without much investment and can create livelihoods for rural and coastal poor.
- Markets and marketing: Small farmers are not able to get needed inputs at reasonable prices and lack bargaining power to market their products. Further, stringent food safety and product quality requirements of domestic and export markets make individual small farmers vulnerable. It is necessary to develop BMPs for a greater number of aquaculture species. As has been demonstrated in some of the countries of Asia, formation of farmers’ associations/cooperatives/clubs has resulted in farmers being able to negotiate input prices, get better prices for their products and minimise environmental impacts.
- Policy: Fisheries has been mainstreamed into national policy documents relating to poverty reduction and rural development. However, allocation of adequate resources (human and financial) by governments is needed for these policies to bear fruit. To encourage aquaculture growth, it is necessary for the governments to treat aquaculture on par with agriculture for subsidies, tariffs for power and water, taxation, etc.
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