Beijing, 18 April 2002 - The role of aquaculture in fighting hunger and poverty and promoting rural development will be the main focus of an international meeting convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) opening in Beijing today.

According to FAO, aquaculture can make an important contribution to poverty alleviation, food security and social well-being, and already does so in many developing countries. In others, however, the potential has not yet been fully realized.

With an overall growth rate of 11 percent a year since 1984, aquaculture, including culture-based fisheries, has been the world's fastest growing food-producing sectors for nearly 20 years. In 1999, 42.77 million metric tons of aquatic products (including plants) valued at US$ 53.5 billion were produced, and more than 300 species of aquatic organisms are today farmed globally. Approximately 90% of the total aquaculture production is produced in developing countries, and a large proportion of this is produced by small-scale producers particularly in Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs).

While export-oriented, industrial and commercial aquaculture practices bring much needed foreign exchange, revenue and employment to a country, more extensive and integrated forms of aquaculture do not only make a significant, grass-roots, contribution to improving livelihoods among the poorer sectors of society but also promote efficient use of resources and environmental conservation, according to a paper prepared by FAO for the first session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture. Representatives from governments, inter-governmental organizations, UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations will participate in the meeting, which takes place at the Beijing International Convention Centre, Beijing, China, from 18-22 April.

"The challenge for aquaculture is to help strengthen the assets available to rural households," says Mr Rohana Subasinghe, Secretary of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture and FAO's focal point for the meeting in Beijing. "Aquaculture provides food of high nutritional value for households, and when small-scale farmers combine agriculture and aquaculture they also improve their food supply, increase their income and become better able to withstand shocks. It decreases the risk to production, increases farm sustainability and in general boosts rural development".

Aquaculture contributes almost a third of global fisheries production. FAO's latest studies on future demand for, and supply of, fish and fishery products predict a sizeable increase in demand. The majority of this increase will result from expected economic development, population growth and changes in eating habits. Fish supply from marine capture fisheries in most countries is expected to remain constant or even to decline, since catches have either reached or are close to the maximum sustainable yield. Hence, aquaculture and fisheries in inland waters will play a major role in increasing future supplies of fish and fishery products. Global growth in aquaculture is forecast to continue in the future.

At the meeting in Beijing the participants are to discuss sustainable aquaculture development and the implementation of aquaculture-related provisions of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Addressing the recent public debate related to the negative environmental and social impact of aquaculture, Mr Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General, of FAO's Fisheries Department said at the opening of the meeting:
"Historically, most aquaculture practices around the world have been pursued with significant social, economic and nutritional benefits, and with minimal environmental costs. However in certain parts of the world and in certain aquaculture sectors there have been some inadequately-planned and inappropriately managed forms of aquaculture that have created significant social and environmental problems. Typically, theseimpacts often arise from weak regulatory frameworks and the too rapid development associated with the great commercial potential of some high value species. It is our responsibility to take collective measures to improve our understanding of the real impacts and causes in order to make the sector more and more environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable."

Mr Subasinghe says: "There is enormous potential for aquaculture, and where the focus has mainly been on producing more food, earning higher incomes and improving economies, there now also is a growing awareness within the sector and among governments of using aquaculture to ensure food security, alleviate poverty, and promote social equity and prosperity," but he adds that unfortunately donor support for aquaculture development has declined in the past 10 years.

Promoting a environmentally sound and sustainable aquaculture development requires that "enabling environments" are created in particular aimed at ensuring human resource development, institutional strengthening and capacity building at all levels. Also improved cooperation among all stakeholders at the local, national, regional and inter-regional levels is also imperative. The establishment of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture is a step in the right direction.

The Sub-Committee on Aquaculture was established by the 24th meeting of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 2001. The aim is to provide a forum for consultation and discussion on aquaculture and to advise COFI on technical and policy matters related to aquaculture and on the work to be performed by the FAO in the subject matter field of aquaculture.