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GLOBEFISH - Analysis and information on world fish trade

A case for fish to lead greater food security and nutrition outcomes

If done right, fisheries and aquaculture can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people centred rural development and protecting the environment. Fish is widely looked to as a nutrient dense food containing high quality protein (readily digestible, with essential amino acids) and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients, but has only recently been recognized as having “... a special role in nutrition and health“. The fisheries sector is crucial to food and nutrition security, and its importance is growing: people have never consumed as much fish nor depended so much on the sector for their livelihoods. Of the 30 countries most dependent on fish as a protein source, all but four are in the developing world. To maximise potential of fish to contribute to national policies towards economic, social and environmental goals, we must analyse and clearly communicate the role fish can play in food security and nutrition. To this end, FAO engages an intradepartmental technical group on fish, food security and nutrition, connecting sectors which together can support sustainable fisheries practices and improved nutritional and food security outcomes.

Food security and nutrition has risen to the top of the global political agenda, and stands as Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals, to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition“. This focus is essential as one in nine people in the world today are undernourished, with poor nutrition causing 45 percent of deaths in children under five years old . If done right, fisheries and aquaculture can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people centred rural development and protecting the environment.

Fish is widely looked to as a nutrient-dense food containing high quality protein (readily digestible, with essential amino acids) and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients, but has only recently been recognized as having “... a special role in nutrition and health“ (International Conference on Nutrition, 2014) . The fisheries sector is crucial to food and nutrition security, and its importance is growing: people have never consumed as much fish nor depended so much on the sector for their livelihoods. Of the 30 countries most dependent on fish as a protein source, all but four are in the developing world. In many of the least developed countries of Africa and Asia, fish accounts for more than half of the total animal protein intake for food insecure populations. Fish products and other aquatic foods (including seaweeds, molluscs, crustaceans, fish, and amphibians and reptiles) are a central and natural source of essential nutrients such as long chain omega-3 fats essential for optimal cognitive development in children. Micronutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, selenium and even vitamin A can be obtained through various fish products, particularly when fish is eaten whole, such as the case with small pelagic fish. In larger fish, the levels of these micro-nutrients are high usually found in parts that are not eaten, such as heads and bones. By using innovative approaches and available technologies, valuable nutrients could be made available for human consumption and waste could be cut. Such low cost fish by-products have the potential to play an important role in achieving nutrition and food security where these gaps persist.

Within the Fisheries sector, aquaculture’s contribution to food security is of particular interest, as until recently it has been the fastest growing food-producing sector in the world. It is critical to promote food security through aquaculture in a sustainable way, especially considering a great proportion of this production comes from the developing world (91.2% in 2000), in particular Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) (83.9% in 2000). Despite its prominence in the diets of the poor (especially internally displaced persons and coastal communities), fish has remained in the margins of global discussions on food security and nutrition policies. During the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), world leaders and member states committed to eradicating hunger and preventing all forms of malnutrition worldwide. FAO’s food based approach includes food production, dietary diversification and food fortification, and thus increased consumption of fisheries products can be used to combat most of the major micronutrient deficiencies. To maximise potential of fish to contribute to national policies towards economic, social and environmental goals, we must analyse and clearly communicate the role fish can play in food security and nutrition. To this end, FAO has recently engaged an intradepartmental technical group on fish, food security and nutrition, connecting sectors which together can support sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices and improved nutritional and food security outcomes. 

J. Toppe, M. Beveridge, E. Graham. 2017. FAO Aquaculture Newsletter. No. 56, pp. 4243.

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