By: Kevin Obiero, (Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Department of Water, Atmosphere and Environment, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Gregor-Mendel-Straße 33, A-1180 Vienna, Austria
The United Nation’s 2030 development agenda adopted in 2015 outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a corresponding 169 targets that are expected to guide national, regional, and international agencies’ actions to achieve sustainable development over the next decade. In particular, SDG 2 aims at addressing all forms of hunger, as well as food and nutritional insecurity. Despite significant progress being made towards reducing hunger and combating malnutrition and food insecurity, significant challenges persist.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (2018) revealed that over the past three years, the human population suffering from hunger has increased to levels recorded a decade ago. Almost 1 billion people are food- and nutrient-insecure, posing a greater risk to diet-related non-communicable diseases. The emerging “triple burden” of malnutrition—obesity, under-nutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies—are now the leading cause of poor health globally . Recent studies advocate for changes in global food production systems, for the provision of high-quality dietary requirements, to achieve the SDG 2 and the Paris Agreement targets.
Fish, including finfish and shellfish, contribute 17% of animal protein, and 7% of all proteins, and are crucial for over 3 billion people in developing countries. Fish provides high-quality essential amino acids, docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, especially iron, zinc, and vitamins, often in highly bio-available forms. As such, fish is widely recognized as “nature’s super-food”. Globally, fish consumption rates is growing faster than the global population growth, because of increased incomes and awareness of the health benefits associated with consuming fish, as well as rising urbanization. In addition to directly providing high-quality food, fisheries and aquacultures create economic value through the production, trade, and marketing of wild and farmed fish.
Fish food is obtained from marine and freshwater-capture fisheries and aquaculture. Taken together, these fish production systems have contributed to the impressive growth of fish production within six decades, rising from 19 million metric tons (MT) in 1950 to 171 million MT in 2016. Global capture fisheries production peaked in 1996 at around 96 million MT. In contrast, aquaculture production has doubled every decade for the past 50 years to produce 80 million MT of food fish, 30.1 million MT of aquatic plants and 38,000 MT of non-food products in 2016. In 2014, aquaculture overtook capture fisheries in the provision of fish for human consumption. As the global fastest growing food production sector, the future expansion of fish as food is expected to come from aquaculture in the next decades. According to the OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook global fish production will increase by more than 1% p.a. over the next decade to 195 MT by 2027, owing to an increase in aquaculture production. Indeed, the outlook projects a 30.1% growth in aquaculture production, equivalent to 24 MT between 2018 and 2027, which will result in aquaculture surpassing capture fisheries production in 2020. However, food fish availability can also be increased through reductions in post-harvest losses and waste.
The fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Africa are increasingly contributing to food and nutrition security, foreign exchange, employment, and livelihood support services. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) estimates that total fishery production in the region stands at 10.4 million tons comprising of 6.0 million tons from marine capture fisheries, 2.8 million tons from inland water fisheries, and about 1.6 million tons from aquaculture. Currently, more than 30% of the continent’s population, or roughly 200 million people, consume fish as the main animal protein source and micro-nutrition. Besides, 12.3 million people in Africa work in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, with 6.1 million (50%) being employed as fishers, 5.3 million (42%) as processors and 0.9 million (8%) as fish farmers. In terms of economic value, fish produces an estimated total of US$24 billion annually, accounting for 1.26% of gross domestic product (GDP).
However, the continent continues to be burdened with numerous problems that are impeding long-term resource sustainability, reducing prospects for increasing its contribution to food security, poverty alleviation, and wealth creation. Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest proportion of undernourished people globally, accounting for 25% (224 million people) in 2016. Aquaculture in Africa is still in its infancy and is practised in only a few countries fetching an estimated US$3 billion annually. Although the aquaculture industry in the continent is growing faster than any other part of the world, Africa contributes least to the amount of fish produced, consumed, and traded globally. For instance, aquaculture contributed 17% of total fish production in Africa, which is equivalent to a paltry 2.5% of global fish production in 2016. Taken against the backdrop of wider regional food insecurity and a projection that Africa’s population will double by 2050, aquaculture is poised to play an important role in providing valuable animal protein foods to poor and food-insecure populations. Considering that 33% of the wild fish stocks are over-exploited , aquaculture will play a critical role in meeting increased fish demand in Africa .
Since aquaculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is young and growing, the sector is experiencing complex socio-economic and environmental impacts that require systematic quantitative assessment and monitoring approaches toward achieving evidence-based policy planning. However, there are still gaps in quantitative information to guide decision-makers in formulating national and regional policies to optimize synergies between the socio-economic development and environmental performance of the sector. The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) acknowledges that quantitative information on aquaculture’s socioeconomic and environmental performance is scattered in the literature, ”leading to underutilization and sometimes misuse of available information”. In this paper, we present current knowledge to guide national and regional policy formulation and implementation in Eastern Africa (EA) subregion. Given the recognition of fish as “nature’s super-food”, crucial in alleviating malnutrition in all its forms, we reviewed published information to inform the policies that recognize tradeoffs and synergies that are aimed at tackling food insecurity and malnutrition in the region. The paper synthesizes current information on the extent to which fish contributes to food and nutrition security by highlighting recent production trends, consumption, and trade in the EA subregion.