Aquaculture for Africa and Asia, challenge accepted

Aquaculture has great promise in many ways. A quick run through the UN Sustainable Development Goals shows an impressive list of areas in which aquaculture can offer ways to meet these targets.

Some of these opportunities are particularly relevant for emerging economies throughout the world, and I’d like to consider two regions, Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Compared to western markets where the seafood is a discretionary, often luxury purchase, fish in much of Africa and Asia is a staple food for communities and an essential provider of employment and wages in rural and coastal areas.

The UN SDG’s covering Zero Hunger and Poverty, are critical considerations for these regions. But in both regions, there are some common obstacles and constraints. Governance, regulatory frameworks and institutions can be weak; there are high percentages of small-scale farmers who struggle to access markets, investment and technology, and climate change will have a disproportionate impact on communities with little capacity to adapt.

The population of Africa is forecast to increase to 2.4 billion by 2050 and, to date, the African aquaculture production is relatively small at 2.7% of global production in 2019. While the sector is growing, it is not keeping up with demand. Studies by Chan, C.Y. et. Al. 2021¹ and Ragasa, C. et. al. 2022² show some of the potential for aquaculture to contribute to food security and employment in Africa and the poor outcome for continuing with Business As Usual. Another review by Innovate UK KTN³ recommended investment to scale up farming, improved genetics to provide more disease resistant strains, better disease management and more government support.

Asia and Sub Saharan Africa map

Many of these recommendations would be equally relevant for South and Southeast Asia. This region differs from Africa in that more of its aquaculture (like shrimp and catfishes) is destined for export rather than domestic consumption and, in general, food security is not as much of a concern as in Africa. However, good nutrition and the provision of gender balanced employment are just as important and earnings from export markets do not always make their way back to the farmer.

If the needs are understood, how are solutions going to be delivered?

Broadly, there are three drivers of change – government, the private sector, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Governments in democracies are driven by re-election – providing jobs and improving living standards is a proven route to winning votes so Challenge One is to educate politicians on the benefits to them of supporting aquaculture. There is already momentum building for this, as evidenced by levels of attendance at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Committee on Fisheries, but more needs to be done at a national level by industry associations. Sadly, associations can see government processes as a threat to deflect and keep ahead of rather than an opportunity to pro-actively lobby and influence.

group of Indian fish farmers

Challenge Two is to mobilise the private sector and seek business solutions for change. Businesses in western markets that import aquaculture products from developing countries should ensure they have full visibility of their supply chain and support the farmers through education and better contractual relationships. Rather than buying on price through anonymous middlemen; these, buyers can encourage the formation of co-operatives where clusters of small-scale farms can co-ordinate harvests, feed purchasing, and broodstock sourcing. Farmers may only be able to sell a part of their overall harvest for export due to size or quality requirements, these outgrades are available for local markets and will have the benefit of any new technology or best practices applied to the farming system. Desperation and ignorance cause significant damage to the wider markets – banned antibiotics in farmed shrimp affect all sales, not just those from the few farmers who thought they could save their harvests from disease by using them. Greater collaboration among leading industry players, such as the CEO dialogue, can also help drive greater ambition for positive change.

NGOs are already at work trying to provide resources, education and recognition of responsible farming. However, NGOs tend to work on their own agendas, and often fail to see beyond short-term project funds – the philanthropic funds that support the NGOs could be more specific and co-ordinated to avoid duplication of effort, to prioritise investment. Challenge Three is for broad consensus to be reached at NGO forums on where support is needed and how best to provide it. With more co-ordination will come more positive impact, surely the outcome that the NGOs and their donors are seeking.

The opportunities are clear, as are the risks of doing nothing. If you are a believer in the “rising tide floats all boat theory,” you will appreciate that a little bit of philanthropy, altruism, and far-sightedness could yield long-term benefits for us all.

andrew- Mallison

Meet Andrew : Our Blue Blog Contributor
Andrew Mallison has worked around the world in all stages of the seafood value chain, both wild and farmed. He has been a champion of sustainable seafood for over twenty years, and has been recognized for his work by NGO’s and leading media groups. He now offers advice on strategy and marketing through his website FishThink.com and is a regularly published commentator on the seafood industry.

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