Towards Sustainable Development in Aquaculture

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
21 December 2007, at 12:00am

By Chris Harris, TheFishSite Senior Editor. At the recent FAO conference on the Role of Aquaculture in Sustainable Development in Rome, FAO ADG of the United Nation's FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Ichiro Nomura, spelt out the need for growth to meet the rising demand for aquatic food.

Aquaculture is currently the world's fastest growing food producing sector.

However, the world is going to need an extra 37 million tonnes of fish and aquatic food by 2030, if the same levels of consumption are to be maintained.

Ichiro Nomura, ADG of the United Nation's FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department told a special conference on The Role of Aquaculture in Sustainable Development in Rome last month, that the major challenge facing the industry was how to meet this growth in demand with a sustainable and expanding industry.

"Today, aquaculture provides nearly half of the world's food fish. What's more, aquaculture is perceived as having the greatest potential to meet the growing demand for aquatic food," said Mr Nomura.

"The main challenge facing policy-makers and development agencies is to create an 'enabling environment' for the aquaculture sector."
Ichiro Nomura, ADG of the United Nation's FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department

In 2005, the total production of aquatic animals amounted to 48.1 million tonnes with a farm-gate value of about US$ 70 billion. "Considering the projected population growth over the next decades, estimates show that an additional 37 million tonnes of aquatic food will be needed by 2030 just to maintain current consumption levels," he said.

"Aquaculture plays a vital role in global efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition. It supplies fish and other aquatic foods which are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

"Aquaculture also significantly contributes to development: it improves incomes, provides employment and increases the returns on resource use."

He said that given the present natural resources and technological advances, aquaculture is going to expand and in a more sustainable way in future, but he said this would only be possible if the benefits of aquaculture are acknowledged around the world.

"The main challenge facing policy-makers and development agencies is to create an 'enabling environment' for the aquaculture sector. This way aquaculture can continue to grow while meeting peoples' needs and preserving the natural environment," Mr Nomura said.

He said that the industry is already highly diverse - consisting of 442 cultured species in different culture systems, practices and environments.

Most aquaculture is produced in the developing countries, with China producing two-thirds of the global total. Taken as a whole, the Asia-Pacific region contributes 90 per cent of total aquaculture production, with Western Europe producing 4.2 per cent while Latin America and the Caribbean account for just 2.9 per cent.

According to an FAO study, in 2004, aquaculture directly employed over 12 million people in Asia.

Mr Nomura warned that the environmental impact of aquaculture development has already received a lot of attention in the past two decades. But he added that after years of public pressure, the aquaculture sector has considerably reduced its negative environmental impacts.

Governments increasingly recognize that aquaculture, when well-planned and well-managed, can bring about broad benefits to society without adding to environmental degradation.

"Moreover, some forms of aquaculture, such as algae and molluscs, actually make a positive contribution to the environment by reducing the negative impacts of other industries and activities," he said.

In 2005, about 40 per cent of world food fish production was traded in international markets for a total value of US$ 78.4 billion. New markets are emerging worldwide and international and regional trade is expanding. In order to gain wider access to export markets, aquaculture farmers must improve the quality and safety of their products, he told the conference.

"However, as markets impose stricter requirements, small-scale farmers face difficulties in producing for export. It is important and urgent to empower small-scale farmers to become competitive in global trade," he said.

"Perhaps this is a significant corporate social responsibility."

"Achieving social and economic goals requires fisheries and aquaculture to be responsibly managed"
President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse

The problems faced by the small scale producer were reiterated by the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse in a key note speech to the conference.

Mr Rajapakse said: "In the context of the ever diminishing access to food supplies for the vast mass of people, fisheries and aquaculture are today faced with increasing problems of expansion, marketing, and standards. Those worst affected by this are the small-scale fish farmers, with the threats faced by them no different to what is faced by those engaged in agriculture in the developing countries.

"FAO, I am sure, is acutely aware of the fundamental social and economic role played by these two sectors in meeting global and national sustainable food security, providing self and paid employment for fishing and aquaculture related communities, as a means of alleviating poverty in these fishing communities, and helping to stop rural-urban drift, as well as contributing to national and international trade and generating national income.

"Achieving these social and economic goals requires fisheries and aquaculture to be responsibly managed."

Mr Rajapakse added: In a largely rural based society, we see in aquaculture, many opportunities for low income earners to diversify their livelihoods to obtain a larger income.

"We look forward to the day when with the proper development of aquaculture in our inland waters, the culture of rice can be enriched with income and nourishment of fish, to make it an identifiable tool in improving the income of the rural communities."

Mr Nomura said that there are a number of factors forcing the aquaculture sector to intensify: declining resource availability, tighter regulatory environment, global economics and increasing demand for fish and fishery products.

"Of these, the main driving force appears to be a shrinking availability of suitable locations for developing aquaculture. As well, there are growing constraints due to competition for water and increased regulation on waste and abstraction," he said.

"But these constraints have created other opportunities. For example, there is a growing trend towards sea-farming where many countries are experimenting with off-shore and open-ocean aquaculture.

Sustainable development of aquaculture requires a government's commitment to provide appropriate support to the sector. Commitment is seen in the form of clear policies, plans and strategies combined with adequate funding for their implementation.

"While a government's commitment is necessary for responsible aquaculture development, it is not sufficient to ensure sustainability. The aquaculture sector needs to operate under sound macro-economic, institutional and legal frameworks, with solid private sector investments."

Mr Nomura added that in recent years, the rapid growth of the aquaculture sector has also seen a growing call for reliable and timely information on the status and trends of aquaculture. There have been many attempts to improve the information flow on aquaculture, globally.

He added that among the successes in the attempts to improve the sector globally, the NACA, the Network of Aquaculture Centres for Asia-Pacific, has resulted in a strong demand for establishing more of such networks in other parts of the world.

However, he also issued a warning that one exception to the rapid development of global aquaculture is poor development in sub-Saharan Africa. "Africa holds the full resource potential for aquaculture growth. We believe its overall contribution could be improved considerably, making Africa a high priority region for aquaculture development," said Mr Nomura.

"Development agencies and institutions should join hands in ensuring that aquaculture and fish production in sub-Saharan Africa becomes part of the continent's overall development course." The FAO's Special Programme for Aquaculture Development in Africa (SPADA) is attempting to provide the platform for cooperation.

Mr Nomura concluded that the major question was whether the aquaculture sector could grow fast and sustainably enough to meet the demand while preserving the natural resource base it needs to thrive.

"Unwavering government will and support will be the key to meeting this demand. FAO is committed to assist our Member Governments and the civil society in providing necessary technical assistance to create the required enabling environment," he said.

Further Reading

- To see the presentations and read more on the background papers at the
conference click here.