The potential of aquaculture to improve human nutrition and health

Fish makes a vital contribution to the survival and health of a significant portion of the world’s population. Fish is especially important in the developing world. In some of Asia’s poorest countries, people derive as much as 75 percent of their daily protein from fish. In West Africa, fish accounts for 30 percent of animal protein intake, and this number would be larger if the poor could afford to buy more. However, with a significant percentage of the world’s fisheries over exploited and a highly complex international trade in seafood, the continued expansion of fish farming (aquaculture) – an ancient and traditional practice – may offer a real contribution to the supply, diets and economies of producer nations’ communities throughout the world. In spite of this potential to address nutritional and economic issues in rural development, aquaculture is often over looked by governments, and even philanthropic foundations, in their policies and planning processes.

During the course of this paper, it is intended to discuss a number of potential attributes that aquaculture can bring to communities in developing countries to address the potential of fish as a ready provider of essential nutrients, a tradable commodity and as such, a contributor to development and social stability. Beyond this, the author will seek to raise and explore some of the key challenges and issues associated with this development opportunity and inquire as to how they might be positively addressed. If aquaculture was to become more of a front line in rural development and communities, what considerations might regulators need to take to ensure responsible, sustainable and financially viable practices that contribute to poverty reduction and nutritional improvement?

  • Food security: According to FAO food security is a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. With global populations rising, climate change altering the production opportunities and first nations continuing to take precedence on food distribution, aquaculture may offer an alternative, viable food source that can be produced, traded and consumed either on a micro or macro level. However, the environmental challenges of good aquaculture practice are complex and the question of how to ensure development is forward thinking and responsible continues to concern both social and environmental thinkers.
  • Economic opportunity: Demand for food, whether for subsistence or luxury, will continue. This in turn offers revenue for producers. As aquaculture is the fastest growing food commodity in the world, de facto the opportunity for economic development must surely exist on many levels. However, what are the implications of economic opportunity in terms of a desire for intensive production, cheap labour, land and water rights and energy costs? How can positive development be best supported to enable good business while mitigating these key environmental and social issues?
  • Healthy societies: The need for good protein sources and omega-3 fatty acids to ensure healthy children and adults alike is well documented. Strong evidence shows that omega-3s are essential for good brain development and likely responsible for the human brain’s evolutionary size and capacity. Further the author suggests that where there is a consistent supply of food and employment better opportunity also exists to enable stronger communities and families. Sometimes deemed “the” food security issue, a lack of food can result in violence and disorder. Moreover if the supply of food is at a level that can be traded, even at a local level, and provide income, then the potential for expanded community development is great; for example, collaborative investment in schools and health care provisions.

Certainly aquaculture appears to offer a myriad of opportunities and benefits to communities in developing countries and broader rural development. However, we have seen how this can lead to environmental and even social breakdown over resource and human rights, and as such the author proposes that it is our collective responsibility to continue to identify these risks and to work with communities for collaborative solutions and best practice plans that will enable and support these communities in their aquaculture development process, both now and long into the future. Governments can play a key role in enabling responsible best practice, while aid agencies and philanthropic support might do well to include appropriate aquaculture development in their portfolio of programmes, beyond agriculture.



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Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010

The conference was organised by FAO, the Thai Department of Fisheries and NACA and held in the Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Phuket, Thailand, 22-25 September. The conference was the third in a series of aquaculture development conferences, following on from the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok 2000, and the FAO Technical Conference on Aquaculture, held in Kyoto 1976.