Averting a hidden food crisis in Africa
Population growth outpacing fish production - significant investment needed
22 August 2005, Rome - Starting today, African governments, international development organizations and fisheries experts from around the world are gathering in Abuja, Nigeria for a three day conference on how Africa's fisheries and aquaculture can produce more food for the hunger-beset continent.
A collaborative effort of the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), chaired by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, the WorldFish Centre and FAO, the summit aims to chart out a shared strategy for strengthening fisheries development planning for Africa and increasing investment in the sector to help eradicate hunger and poverty.
FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries Ichiro Nomura will be making a keynote address at the summit. In this Q&A he discusses the emerging fish production crisis in African fisheries and what should be done about it.
What does this summit on African fisheries hope to achieve?
If we are going to meet the UN millennium development goal of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture needs to go up significantly in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
During the past ten years, roughly, Africa's fish production has stalled and per capita fish supply has diminished, dropping from 8.8 kg/per capita in 1990 to around 7.8 kg in 2001. Africa is the only continent where you see this happening, and the dilemma it poses is that there are no affordable alternative sources of protein. For a continent where food security is so precarious, it's extremely worrying.
So the aim of the conference is to draw the attention of African governments and the international donor community to the need to invest in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture there, and to help countries in the region start planning together to strengthen fisheries and aquaculture.
How does Africa depend on fish to feed itself?
Well, even though Africa has the world's lowest per capita consumption of fish, African marine and inland waters ecosystems are very productive and they sustain important fisheries that have developed significantly over the years. With a fish production of 7.5 million tonnes in 2003 and similar levels in preceding years, fish contributes up to 50% or more of animal protein to the diets of many Africans - a level second only to Asia.
Even in sub-Saharan Africa, fish provides people with almost 19 percent of their animal protein intake. That is a significant dietary contribution in a region beset by hunger and malnutrition.
But as production levels from capture fisheries are levelling off, the population continues to grow. Given UN forecasts on population trends and the available assessments of future fishery production trends, just to maintain Africa's per capita fish consumption at current levels fish production will need to increase by more than a third during the next fifteen years. That is a challenge.
The situation has been in part compounded by the fact that exports have increased substantially, as well as harvests by non-African fleets operating under fishing agreements.
So where will the fish needed to feed Africa's growing population come from?
This is a key question. Coastal fishery resources are heavily exploited already, and marine capture fisheries are unlikely to produce a lot more, even with higher investment. Reducing exports would be difficult, considering the need for foreign exchange in the countries concerned. As a consequence, in Africa -- as in the world as a whole -- aquaculture will have to play a big role.
Unfortunately, aquaculture in Africa today is still essentially a subsistence-, secondary- and part-time activity taking place on small farms. If you look at the world level, around 30 percent of global fish supplies come from aquaculture. African aquaculture production amounts to just 1.2% of the world's total.
Also, marine aquaculture -- mariculture -- is developing rapidly in many parts of the world, and some of the constraints which have limited its sustainability are now being addressed. While it is too early to have an objective assessment of mariculture's potential in Africa, it is certainly a sub-sector which should be carefully considered where appropriate.
By the way, this doesn't mean that management of capture fisheries should be ignored. Improving marine and inland fisheries management in Africa would help safeguard those important food producing sectors.
FAO is in particular convinced that there is a large potential available, still, in the rather neglected Africa's inland capture fisheries. A very large number of small water bodies and rivers could be improved and used for a significantly higher fish production, provided the proper incentives and marketing support structures are put in place.
Why does fish farming have such a low profile in Africa?
There are several reasons, but the most important one is that it is not being undertaken as a business, in a commercially viable and cost effective manner. Until very recently, most countries in sub-Saharan Africa looked on aquaculture as primarily a small-scale food-supplying activity for local subsistence, rather than as an investment-induced industry capable of growing beyond subsistence levels and generating important economic returns. So lack of economic incentive blocked aquaculture's development. Thus, while capacity building and technical- and institutional support are important, the major hurdle is investment.
Information Officer, FAO
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