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Aquaculture’s Role on the Rise Though Challenges Remain

February 23, 2012

  • Ghana is working to create an aquaculture zone in Lake Volta, one of four aquaculture spots in Africa.
  • While African aquaculture contributed 1.8% to global production in 2008, Asia generated 89%.

Even with access to one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, Ghana’s fishing industry can only supply about half as much fish as Ghanaians would like to eat. Now, the government plans to control the number of fishers in its waters – and to encourage the country’s young Lake Volta aquaculture industry to help fill part of the protein gap over the next decade.

Ghana is not alone in looking to aquaculture for nutrition solutions. In the last 30 years, aquaculture has grown at a fast clip—especially in Asia—while, globally, wild fisheries have stagnated.

According the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), aquaculture accounted for 49 percent of total food fish supply in 2008. Aquaculture employs about one quarter of the total number of fisheries workers – almost 11 million people. In China alone, the number of fish farmers increased by 189 percent between 1990 and 2008.

After 50 years, commercial aquaculture is a young industry compared to centuries-old agriculture. Aquaculture’s potential to sustainably feed the world is therefore still largely untapped, with most technological advances yet to come in terms of breeding, energy efficiency, and development of sustainable feeds, say advocates.

Many see seafood as a winning protein - cheaper and more readily available than chicken or beef. Fish consume far less vegetable protein by weight and do not use fresh water like other animal proteins.

Explosive growth comes at a price

But aquaculture’s explosive growth has often come at a cost. Badly situated or developed aquaculture operations have destroyed valuable ecosystems, spread disease and caused pollution. Aquaculture production of shrimp and some fish still heavily depends on capture-fisheries for fish meal and fish oil and replacements for the latter are not currently available in the quality and quantities needed by the industry.

Now, a growing coalition of governments, development banks, organizations and private industry wants to see aquaculture develop in a well-managed, science-based and ecological way, to sustainably and efficiently feed people, bolster food security, and take pressure off wild fishing grounds.

Lack of financing, governance, and access to good quality fish eggs, fry, and feeds has restricted aquaculture in some developing countries where food security is a major concern. Additionally, lack of adequate planning and aquaculture zoning integrated with other users of coastal ecosystems has hindered the sustainable growth of the sector. FAO has produced a number of guidelines including for the implementation of an ecosystem approach to aquaculture that can enhance the realization of its potential. FAO says the farming of the seas, mariculture, if well planned and managed, can provide a significant proportion of additional protein needed in the future, without relying on freshwater and minimizing pressure on inland and coastal ecosystems. The main challenge is to minimize aquaculture dependency from fish meal/oil, through diversification of farming systems and through new feeds and feeding technologies.

The Bank’s Global Program on Fisheries (PROFISH) which began in 2005, is helping countries to promote good management of fisheries and aquaculture. The measures include zoning, data collection, record keeping, market access and financing for small and medium businesses.

In Ghana—now a middle income country—the World Bank, along with the Global Environment Facility,  is supporting the Ministry of  Food and Agriculture’s efforts to manage coastal fisheries, and also to create an aquaculture zone in Lake Volta.

" You think about feeding the world going forward, you think about a 50 percent increase in the population over the next 40 years, and seafood is the logical way to feed people if there is an increasing demand for animal protein. "

Dexter Paine

Founding Partner, Paine & Partners

African aquaculture contributed just 1.8 percent to global production in 2008 – in contrast to Asia’s 89 percent, according to the FAO report on the State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010.

The least developed countries, as a whole, accounted for 3.6 percent of the global total, despite arguably greater food insecurity and exposure to food price volatility. But with continued economic and population growth in developing countries, aquaculture investment is expected to grow.

"Seafood will be a winning protein,” says Dexter Paine, founding partner of the private equity firm Paine and Partners, an investor in food and agribusiness. You think about feeding the world going forward, you think about a 50 percent increase in the population over the next 40 years, and seafood is the logical way to feed people if there is an increasing demand for animal protein, which we think there will be.”