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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsfor a world without hunger
Small family fishponds provide a valuable source of food and make good use of available waste nutrients
Small family fishponds provide a valuable source of food and make good use of available waste nutrients


Food insecurity remains one of the most visible dimensions of poverty and is generally the first sign of extreme destitution. “Food security”, defined by FAO as “a condition when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”, concerns not only food production and distribution but also has social, economic and institutional dimensions.  Discussing the role of aquaculture in food security is difficult due to paucity of adequate and appropriate data and information. It is extremely difficult to access fish consumption data disaggregated into aquaculture and capture fisheries. This shortfall constraints us in conducting a true analysis of the contribution of aquaculture to food security. Therefore, in our analysis we include fish both from capture and aquaculture. Considering the role that aquaculture is currently playing in providing fish (aquatic food) to the world and the envisaged increasing role it will play over the coming decades, we believe it is appropriate to consider fish from capture and culture in this discussion.

FAO programmes

At present the main focus of FAO's programmes is to try to break the vicious circle of poverty and food insecurity by placing food security on the top of its agenda. Program activities are focused on increasing food production, improving the stability of food supplies, generating rural employment, and contributing to more accessible food supplies; ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger being one of FAO's main objectives stated within its Constitution. With this in mind the Organization has launched a Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), focused on Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs), the countries least able to meet their food needs with imports.

This approach was endorsed by the World Food Summit held in Rome in November 1996, which called for concerted efforts at all levels to raise food production and increase access to food in 86 LIFDCs, with the objective of cutting the present number of malnourished people in the world by half, by the year 2015. The Plan of Action adopted by the Summit concludes that in order to reduce hunger, action is required in the following areas: ensuring enabling conditions, improving access to food, producing food, increasing the role of trade, dealing adequately with disaster and investing in food security.

Poverty and food security

Poverty is a generally considered as being one of the major causes of food insecurity. Poverty eradication is essential to improve access to food. The World Bank defines poverty as a "multidimensional phenomenon, encompassing inability to satisfy basic needs, lack of control over resources, lack of education and skills, poor health, malnutrition, lack of shelter, poor access to water and sanitation, vulnerability to shocks, violence and crime, lack of political freedom and voice". It is estimated that about one-fifth of the world's population is currently living in extreme economic poverty; defined as living on less than US$1 per day (in 1993 dollars, adjusted to account for differences in purchasing power across countries).

Role of aquaculture

Fish contributes to national food self-sufficiency through direct consumption and through trade and exports. In traditional fish eating countries in Asia and Oceania, per capita consumption are mostly above 25 kg.  In some island countries in the Pacific the per capita consumption are above 50 kg per year or even as high as 190 kg as is the case in Maldives. The extreme importance of fish to food security and nutrition may be illustrated by assessments on the situation in Africa. FAO estimates that fish provides 22 percent of the protein intake in sub-Saharan Africa. This share, however, can exceed 50 percent in the poorest countries (especially where other sources of animal protein are scarce or expensive). In West African coastal countries, for instance, where fish has been a central element in local economies for many centuries, the proportion of dietary protein that comes from fish is extremely high: 47 percent in Senegal, 62 percent in Gambia and 63 percent in Sierra Leone and Ghana.

In general terms, aquaculture can benefit the livelihoods of the poor either through an improved food supply and/or through employment and increased income. However, at present little or no hard statistical information exists concerning the scale and extent of rural or small-scale aquaculture development within most developing countries and LIFDCs, nor concerning the direct/indirect impact of these and the more commercial-scale farming activities and assistance projects on food security and poverty alleviation. Despite the lack of information concerning the role of rural aquaculture, there is one sure benefit of consuming fish, and that is the nutritional and health benefit to be gained from its valuable nutritional content. Food fish has a nutrient profile superior to all terrestrial meats. It is an excellent source of high quality animal protein and highly digestible energy, as well as an extremely rich source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E), water soluble vitamins (B complex), and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iron, iodine and selenium). In fact, if there is a single food that could be used to address all of the different aspects of world malnutrition, it is fish - the staple animal protein source of traditional fishers.

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