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People have been farming fish for thousands of years. But today aquaculture has become big business in Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe. In 1994, world aquaculture production was worth US$39,000 million. Whether in large ponds, sea cages or tiny backyard ponds, aquaculture holds much promise for meeting increasing food demands. In fact, with most capture fisheries in decline, aquaculture is the best way to maintain and increase supplies of marine and freshwater fish.

Aquaculture for Food and Profit

AQUACULTURE, the farming of aquatic animals and plants, provides important economic and nutritional benefits to many regions of the developing world. In fact, aquaculture is overwhelmingly concentrated in the developing world, which accounts for more than 85 percent of output by volume and 71 percent by value.

Exports of high-value species such as shrimp and prawns earn much-needed foreign currency for these countries. More importantly for food security, the production, processing and sale of fish offer the prospects of improved local nutrition by providing a ready source of high-quality protein as well as giving an opportunity to generate income.

Small-scale farmers see aquaculture as a way of making their food supply more secure by spreading their risks: pests or drought may decimate their maize or rice but there will still be fish to eat or trade for other foods.

Aquaculture in Mixed Farming Systems

Low-input aquaculture in rural areas is geared to providing food and diversification of income for the rural farmer and his immediate family and is just one of many part-time agricultural activities. The fish maintain their own populations and feed on the natural productivitiy of small ponds supplemented by household vegetable wastes and composts.

Taken by itself, this basic fish farming unit may not be economically viable but, when combined with the cultivation of cereal crops and vegetables, it can make a unique contribution to the economies and nutritional levels of rural communities. Invariably, the success of subsistence aquatic farming depends on location, which in turn depends on land ownership and available water resources.

The growth of aquaculture
Finfish, crustaceans and molluscs million/tonnes

Aquaculture Facts

Crap framing in China

Aquaculture and the Environment

In spite of this promise, aquaculture projects are vulnerable to disease and environmental problems. Marine aquaculture is constrained by the rising pollution of coastal waters. Nutrient and organic over-enrichment, the accumulation of toxic chemicals, microbial contamination, siltation and sedimentation all jeopardize expansion. Where aquaculture results in the degradation of coastal mangroves, the breeding grounds of many wild species, it poses a major threat to biological diversity.

Better selection of production sites to safeguard the environment and sound management techniques can overcome most of these difficulties. Few environmental problems are experienced, however, with the low-input systems that make up the bulk of aquaculture.

How aquaculture Helps Food Security in Southern Africa

THE AQUACULTURE for Local Community Development Programme (ALCOM) is a regional programme that operates in nine southern African countries. The programme aims to improve the standard of living of rural subsistence communities through aquaculture. The potential is considerable. For example, southern Africa has an estimated 20 000 small water bodies, most of them reservoirs built to provide water for domestic use, watering cattle and irrigating crops. In the past, some were stocked with fish but, lacking adequate management, their production remained low. They could yield an estimated 50 to 200 kg per hectare per year. Production is aided by warm water and plentiful food while nutrient-rich runoff promotes plankton growth. Aquaculture is sustainable because it does not reduce the water resource or conflict with most other uses.

ALCOM takes a new approach. It recognizes that rural farmers are only likely to pursue fish farming on a part-time basis and therefore introduces aquaculture as an activity that complements existing farming systems and depends on little or no additional inputs. Activities are broad-based and involve studies, investigations and pilot projects in the integration of aquaculture with farming systems and promotion of a wider role for women and youth in aquaculture development.

Trainer teaches how to harvest fish from reservoir.

Top eleven aquaculture producers, 1994









United States






Republic of Korea









Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture

The cultivation of carp has a long tradition, particularly in Europe and Asia. They still dominate aquaculture, accounting for most of the fish production. For home ponds they have the advantage of being non- carnivorous and so not requiring expensive protein-rich foods.

The carp

Tilapia, the mainstay of small-scale aquaculture for many poor farmers, have spread far from their original African home. Dubbed "the aquatic chicken" they are most 7 widely farmed in Asia, particularly China, the Philippines and Thailand.

The tilapia

About half of the annual harvest of shrimp a high value export product - comes from aquaculture. Progress in the production of shrimp over the past 10 years has been largely responsible for a fourfold increase in the annual harvest of crustaceans.

The shrimp

Culture of salmon in marine cages has been a high growth industry over the last decade, particularly in the cool temperate waters of Canada, Chile, and Australia.

The salomon

The Future

It is difficult to assess the absolute growth potential of the aquaculture sub-sector, as it is more similar to agriculture than to fisheries. To attain 31 million tonnes of aquaculture production by 2010 will require a doubling of the estimated 1993 production in a period of 17 years. This seems feasible considering recent annual rates of expansion, the available technical knowledge, and the interest of the private sector, governments and financing institutions.

Nevertheless, the challenge is formidable. Proper planning, environmental considerations, proper system management and disease control will have to play a more important role than at present if crashes in production are to be avoided.

For further information, please contact:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy
Information Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3276/5225-4781/5225-4243
Fishery Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-5007
Internet, or

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