BLUE TRANSFORMATION:1 A VISION FOR TRANSFORMING AQUATIC FOOD SYSTEMS
The prevalence of moderate to severe food insecurity has been rising since 2014, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 800 million people now suffer from hunger and 2.4 billion people have severely limited access to adequate food. As we enter the Decade of Action to deliver the Global Goals,2 the challenge to feed a growing population without exhausting our natural resources continues to increase. In this context, aquatic food1 systems are increasingly in the spotlight for their potential to provide a larger proportion of humanity’s nutritious food requirements.
Aquatic foods offer highly accessible and affordable sources of animal proteins and micronutrients, playing a vital role in the food and nutrition security of many, particularly vulnerable coastal populations. Their crucial role as suppliers of highly nutritious food, essential for physical and cognitive development, has been growing (UN Nutrition, 2021), even though less than half of public health nutrition policies currently identify their consumption as a key objective (Koehn et al., 2021). In addition, fisheries and aquaculture already support 58.5 million jobs in the primary sector, including part-time and occasional, and 600 million livelihoods, and the trade in aquatic products1 provides an important source of hard currency and income for exporting countries and regions.
Unfortunately, production and distribution of aquatic foods are not without problems. Strategies to deliver healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems do not adequately include the critical long-term impacts of overfishing, habitat degradation and unequal access to resources and markets. In 2021, the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) unanimously endorsed the COFI Declaration for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture (FAO, 2021b). This Declaration recognized the contributions of the sector in combating poverty and hunger since the endorsement of the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
Successful experiences of restoring healthy fishery stocks and securing livelihoods through proper management or expanding sustainably aquaculture operations continue to emerge. Our growing understanding of the impacts of climate change and other natural and human-made shocks may also help secure and expand the services provided by aquatic food systems. Considering this knowledge, the 2021 COFI Declaration identifies priority areas to further transform fisheries and aquaculture, thus developing a twenty-first century vision for the sector where successes from around the globe are shared and scaled to transform aquatic food systems from a perceived problem to a recognized solution for food and nutrition security and environmental and social well-being.
Blue Transformation is the vision and the process by which FAO, its Members and partners can use existing and emerging knowledge, tools and practices to secure and maximize the contribution of aquatic (both marine and inland) food systems to food security, nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all.
Why do we need Blue Transformation?
In recent decades, policy development, public and private sector innovation and rising consumption have spurred significant evolution in aquatic food systems. In the 25 years following the endorsement of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, capture fisheries production remained stable, but aquaculture production grew by 250 percent, enabling the sector to meet the increase in aquatic food demand and consumption which rose to 20.5 kg per person per year (a growth rate double that of the world population). The integration of aquatic foods in global and regional supply chains means that fisheries and aquaculture trade value is now 200 percent greater than in 1995, and the net trade value (exports minus imports) for aquatic food products by non-high-income countries is larger than that of all other food products combined.
Blue Transformation is a targeted effort to promote innovative approaches that expand the contribution of aquatic food systems to food security and nutrition and affordable healthy diets. Achieving the objectives of Blue Transformation requires holistic and adaptive approaches that consider the complex interaction between global and local components in food systems and support multi-stakeholder interventions to secure and enhance livelihoods, foster equitable distribution of benefits and provide for an adequate use and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems.
Through Blue Transformation, aquatic food systems can:
- support the provision of sufficient aquatic food for a growing population in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner;
- ensure the availability and accessibility of safe and nutritious aquatic food for all, especially vulnerable populations, and reduce food loss and waste;
- ensure that aquatic food systems contribute to improving rights and incomes of dependent communities to achieve equitable livelihoods; and
- support resilience in aquatic food systems, which are highly influenced by dynamic human and environmental processes, including from climate change.
Objectives of Blue Transformation
Blue Transformation has three core objectives:
- Sustainable aquaculture expansion and intensification – to support global food security targets and satisfy global demand for nutritious aquatic food and equitable distribution of the benefits.
- Effective management of all fisheries – to deliver healthy stocks and secure livelihoods.
- Upgraded value chains – to ensure the social, economic and environmental viability of aquatic food systems, and secure nutritional outcomes.
In the next ten years, aquaculture must expand sustainably to satisfy the gap in global demand for aquatic foods, especially in food-deficit regions, while generating new or securing existing sources of income and employment. This requires updating aquaculture governance by fostering improved planning, legal and institutional frameworks and policies. FAO and its partners must focus on the urgent demand for the development and transfer of innovative technologies and best practices to generate efficient, resilient and sustainable operations. The continued transformation of aquaculture applies to most regions but is particularly critical in food-insecure regions; the aim is to increase global production by between 35 percent and 40 percent by 2030, according to national and regional contexts.
Effective management of all fisheries is a non-negotiable objective of Blue Transformation. Where effective management exists, fishery resources have been rebuilt and are increasingly sustainable. To achieve this objective, FAO and its partners must apply and share effective fisheries management systems that restore ecosystems to a healthy and productive state, while managing exploited resources within ecosystem boundaries. Actions to achieve this objective include building global capacity to regularly collect, analyse and evaluate data that support decision-making and consider trade-offs, particularly in regions with limited data and poor capacity. This objective also strengthens social outcomes, applying actions and initiatives that promote equitable livelihoods, and co-management systems, securing access of small producers to resources and services.
Through upgraded value chains, public and private actors, including consumers, reduce food loss and waste, enhance transparency, improve access to lucrative markets and adopt emerging digital tools. Aquatic food value chain actors increasingly adopt these practices, which have seen a significant expansion and uptake because of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Upgraded value chains also add and create value to extract more wealth and food from the sector’s productive capacity. The promotion of healthy diets in an inclusive manner is also critical and requires programmes and initiatives that improve consumer awareness and increase the availability of healthy, safe and nutritious aquatic foods, including in areas with low food and nutrition security.
Towards Blue Transformation
Part 2, Towards Blue Transformation, discusses emerging and existing knowledge, tools and practices that have been driving sectoral transformation over the past 25 years, providing examples that are already delivering the outcomes envisioned by Blue Transformation. It describes how Blue Transformation can support FAO Members and the international community at large to maximize the contribution of aquatic food systems to the Sustainable Development Goals. FAO projects that if properly supported, aquatic food systems can sustainably provide a 25 percent growth in per capita aquatic food consumption by 2050. FAO is committed to working with FAO Members, partners and stakeholders to implement Blue Transformation in support of the food security and nutrition of a world population expected to reach 10 billion in 2050. This section opens a small window on how those interactions may succeed.