Hunger, Malnutrition and Aquaculture

Hunger and malnutrition remain among the most devastating problems facing the world's poor. Tragically, a considerable portion of the global population is currently suffering from one or more forms of nutrient deficiency. This remains a continuing travesty of the recognized fundamental human rights to adequate food and to freedom from hunger and malnutrition, particularly in a world that has both the resources and knowledge to end this catastrophe.

At the Twenty Ninth Session of the Committee on World Food Security, held in Rome in May 2003, the issue of "The Role of Aquaculture in Improving Food Security at the Community Level" was discussed. Special attention was given to the contribution that aquaculture makes to food security, poverty reduction and improving the nutritional status of marginal and vulnerable groups, including pregnant and lactating mothers, children, the elderly and people living with HIV/AIDS. The delegates unanimously agreed that the potential of aquaculture to improve household food security and nutrition should be fully harnessed.

Aquaculture has an important role to play in this effort by providing fish and other marine and freshwater products that are rich sources of nutrients and by providing employment opportunities and raising incomes. Fish can make a unique contribution towards improving and diversifying dietary intakes and promoting nutritional well-being, especially among vulnerable communities. Fish have a highly desirable nutrient profile, providing an excellent source of high quality animal protein that is easily digested and of high biological value. Fatty fish, in particular, are an extremely rich source of essential fatty acids, including omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), so important for normal growth and mental development, especially during pregnancy and early childhood. Fish are also rich in vitamins and minerals (especially calcium, phosphorus, iron, selenium and in marine products, iodine). Fish therefore can provide an important source of nutrients, particularly for those whose diets are monotonous or lacking in animal products. Increasing the availability of fish in the diet also increases palatability and leads to increased consumption of a range of foods, thereby improving overall food and nutrient intakes. The challenge is to rapidly accelerate the pace at which hunger and malnutrition are eliminated through enhancing the contribution that aquaculture makes to this goal.

The world leaders who drafted the Rome Declaration at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 pledged to halve the number of hungry in the world by no later than 2015. They met again in 2002 to review the progress (World Food Summit: five years later) and to renew their global commitments. They resolved to accelerate the implementation of the WFS Plan of Action. They emphasized the need for nutritionally adequate and safe food and highlighted the need for attention to nutritional issues as an integral part of addressing food security.

This is not an easy goal to meet without all our help. It is clear that aquaculture can play an important role in achieving this goal. It is our responsibility and priority to address these issues through the design and implementation of aquaculture development programmes at both the national and international levels, so that we can be sure that our work in aquaculture development has maximum benefit for the poor and the nutritionally most vulnerable households.

Rohana P. Subasinghe
Chief Editor