Fishing provides key jobs and nutrients for the world’s poor and fish farming can increase 50% by 2022

Fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population. Since 1990 employment in the sector has grown at a faster rate than the world’s population and in 2012 provided jobs for some 60 million people. Of these, 84 per cent were employed in Asia, followed by Africa with about 10 per cent.

With the world’s population expected to reach 8.2 billion people by 2030, and with 842 million people estimated as having been undernourished in the period 2011–13, food supply will present a growing challenge in the next two decades. With increases in income along with demographic changes related to family size, population ageing and urbanization, and consumer trends such as concerns for healthy eating and sustainable production, there will be great shifts in demand and major changes in the composition of demand. This will in turn have an impact on food supply, which will need to both increase and become more efficient if it is to grow within the constraints presented by the availability of natural resources and existing technology.

The latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Economic analysis of supply and demand for food up to 2030 – Special focus on fish and fishery products publication (120 pages) presents projections of future food supply up to 2030, building on existing analyses but also providing more economic perspectives on the future evolution of food production. It thus looks at the main drivers of future demand and supply, with a particular focus on fisheries and aquaculture production. The analysis is supplemented with a number of new scenarios on fish production in the period until 2022.

World fish production has experienced tremendous growth, increasing from 20 million tonnes in 1950 to 156.2 million tonnes in 2012, of which 97 percent was used for direct human consumption. Per capita fish consumption increased from 9.9 kg in 1960 to 19.1 kg in 2012. The increase in production is mainly attributed to aquaculture, which has maintained high growth rates since the 1980s. By 2012,aquaculture production had increased to 66.5 million tonnes, or about 43 percent of total fish supply.Productivity growth and technological progress have been important factors underlying production growth in aquaculture. According to OECD–FAO (2013) projections, this trend is likely to continue, with world fish production reaching 181 million tonnes by 2022 – the main driver of this growth being growth in aquaculture production. Meanwhile, production in capture fisheries has levelled off since mid-1980s at about 85–95 million tonnes per annum, the main reason for this being the depletion of fishery resources.

Annual aquaculture production for the five scenarios is illustrated in Figure 11. As can be seen,
scenarios 3–5 are identical in terms of annual production.

Fishing important for relieving poverty and a great source of micronutrients for healthier people

More importantly, notes the report, is the added nutrition value an uptick in fish stocks will bring to areas of the world experiencing malnutrition as it helps feed millions of undernourished people and brings critical micronutrients to millions of children currently suffering from vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Currently, an estimated 800,000 children die each year from zinc deficiency; 250 million children worldwide are at risk of vitamin A deficiency; and almost a third of the world’s population is iron deficient. Seafood is also one of the only natural sources of iodine available.

“Fish is not just food,” says Jogeir Toppe, a FAO officer and expert on fish and nutrition. “The highest iron, zinc and calcium content of fish lies in their heads, bones and guts, which is often the part that gets thrown away, as with tuna.”

In Bangladesh, for instance, a pond fish known as mola contains extremely high levels of zinc, iron and vitamin A as well as 80 times the calcium content as tilapia. The report added that African lake sardines have “similar micronutrient profiles” while numerous other indigenous fish have yet to be studied.

The findings of a recent analysis of cross-country growth experience have shown that growth in agriculture reduces poverty among the poorest of the poor if the income gap is not significant. In low-income countries (excluding sub-Saharan Africa), the increase in GDP due to agricultural growth reduces poverty five times more than does an identical increase in non-agricultural growth. In sub-Saharan Africa, its impact on the reduction of poverty is 11 times greater than that of nonagricultural growth.

The production and productivity of fisheries and aquaculture in developing and poor countries also play an important role. First, a large fraction of poor people are employed in the sector, especially women who are traditionally involved in processing activities. The income from fisheries contributes significantly to improved nutrition.

Second, fishery resources are an important source of both macronutrients and micronutrients for humans. Although globally fish accounts for about 17 percent of animal protein intake, there is a significant difference in consumption between countries – low-income food-deficient developing countries consume on overage 10.1 kg per capita while industrialized countries consume 28.7 kg per capita.

However, in some poor countries, fish contributes more than 50 percent of animal protein intake. In West African coastal countries, the proportion of dietary protein that comes from fish is very high: 63 percent in Sierra Leone and Ghana, 62 percent in the Gambia and 47 percent in Senegal. Also in Asia and some small island States the contribution is high: 71 percent in Maldives, 59 percent in Cambodia, 57 percent in Bangladesh, 54 percent in Indonesia and 53 percent in Sri Lanka (FAO, 2012).

Foods from the aquatic environment are a unique source of the essential long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for optimal brain and neurodevelopment in children (docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) and vascular health (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA]). Sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids is particularly important during pregnancy and the first two years of life. Fish consumption among adults lowers the risk of coronary heart disease mortality by up to 36 percent owing to a combination of the effects of EPA and DHA.

SOURCES – United Nations, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization