Calling fisheries critical for nourishing the poor and for helping Africa cope with the health, economic and social devastation of problems like HIV and AIDS, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the WorldFish Center and partners are making an urgent appeal to boost the continent's fish production and strengthen the contribution of fisheries to economic growth and food security.
Experts and political leaders from 26 African countries are convening for the NEPAD-Fish for All Summit in Abuja, Nigeria Aug. 22-25 amid warnings of a fish production crisis in Africa ?the only world region where per capita fish supplies are dropping.
Analyses prepared for the Summit by the WorldFish Center, a global development and science organization, warn exploitation of natural fish stocks is leveling off as the population steadily grows. African countries face a major challenge to ensure fish supply to the estimated 200 million mainly poor people relying on fish as a main part of their diet. Also at stake are the livelihoods of more than 10 million African families involved in small-scale fisheries and fish.
However aquaculture, just emerging in Africa, offers new opportunities for farmers and small-scale enterprises, WorldFish says. Africa has massive untapped aquaculture potential that can yield affordable protein and nutrient-rich food together with jobs and economic opportunities.
The NEPAD-Fish for All Summit, organized in cooperation with the WorldFish Center and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will highlight the urgent need for fisheries investment to address a suite of problems and to help meet the UN Millennium Development Goals in Africa.
Hosted by Nigerian President HE Olusegun Obasanjo, expected participants include Ghanaian President John Kufuor, other heads of state and senior ministers, WorldFish Center D irector-General Stephen Hall, FAO Assistant Director General Ichiro Nomura, and academic, NGO, private sector and international development experts.
Africa's Fish Production Crisis
The Center's call for investment in small-scale aquaculture in Africa comes amid concern over falling fish supplies on the continent, where more than one-third of the population is undernourished.
While sub-Saharan Africa has the world's lowest per capita fish consumption, more than 200 million Africans eat fish regularly. The FAO estimates that fresh, dried, salted or powdered fish provides 22 per cent of the protein intake in the region.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only world region where fish consumption is actually falling. "The main reason for this decline is the stagnation in capture fish production combined with a fast-growing population," says WorldFish Center Deputy Director-General Patrick Dugan.
The situation also threatens one of Africa's leading sources of export revenue, with an annual value of US$ 2.7 billion.
Dr. Dugan notes that aquaculture, which has grown explosively in other regions, now provides 38% of fish production worldwide but less than 2% in sub-Saharan Africa.
The WorldFish Center warns that simply maintaining today's per capita fish supply in sub-Saharan Africa (6.6 kg/year) requires a 20% increase in production within 10 years and a 32% increase within 15 years (2020). Given the minimal additional potential of capture fisheries, though, aquaculture will need to provide most of the production increase.
Exploiting just 5% of the entire continent's estimated aquaculture potential could allow Africa to meet those targets, according to the analyses. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, aquaculture is currently so sparsely developed that an estimated 260% expansion in fish production from aquaculture there is needed by 2020 to maintain per capita consumption levels.
Fish and HIV/AIDS in Africa
The WorldFish Center says small fish farms require little financial investment, physical strength or education ?a low-labour livelihood that can sustain both the poor and the growing number of HIV and AIDS affected households, especially those headed by widows and orphans.
Called "rich food for poor people," fish contain combinations of proteins, vitamins and minerals that help fortify people with HIV and AIDS against secondary infections while increasing the effectiveness of retroviral drugs.
"Small fish ponds are a valuable addition to farms without substantially adding to the labour burden," says Daniel Jamu, the WorldFish Center's program director for southern Africa, adding that HIV and AIDS affected families in Malawi, including many headed by widows and orphans, have tried this approach with impressive results.
"Their nutrition has improved because they are eating fish and they are using the income from selling excess catch to obtain medical attention, including HIV and AIDS care and medicines," he says.
Says Prof. Richard Mkandawire, senior NEPAD Agriculture Advisor: "For a relatively small investment, the international community has an opportunity to bring about significant improvement in the well-being and physical condition of millions in Africa."
A five-point strategy to boost fish production
The Fish for All Summit is designed to build a common, strategic understanding among regional stakeholders of the importance of fisheries and aquaculture for Africa's development and of challenges faced by the sector.
"African fisheries and aquaculture are at a turning point," says WorldFish Director-General Stephen Hall. "There is a pressing need for strategic investments to better natural fish stocks management, develop aquaculture and enhance Africa's fish trade at every level. Regional and national research, technology transfer and policy development also need improvement.
"An immediate investment of around $60 million would kick-start a five-pronged strategy that can quickly improve the contribution of fish to African food security."
1. Support capture fisheries
Although aquaculture has great growth potential, capture fisheries will continue to provide most of the fish for decades to come. Investments are needed to develop improved fisheries and environmental management practices that promote and protect Africa's small, labour-intensive coastal and inland fisheries.
2. Develop aquaculture
Aquaculture will play an increasing role in African food security. Small integrated fishing-farming operations will provide employment for growing populations in remote rural areas. Around the cities, opportunistic small operations will spring up to meet demand from growing urban populations. The success of this new micro-enterprise sector will depend on investment to create effective support services.
3. Improve fish market chains
In many parts of Africa, post-harvest losses to spoilage due to inadequate landing, processing and trading sites exceed 30% of the catch. Weak market infrastructure in rural areas means most fish is still marketed as dried and/or smoked products. Investments to support small-scale businesses, most of them headed by women entrepreneurs, in processing and marketing could improve food and nutritional security for both producers (more income) and consumers (better quality and more quantity).
4. Increase benefits from fish trade
Local and regional fish trade is already substantial but has the potential to grow. Regional cooperation and appropriate national policies can provide a major market stimulus and reinforce national and regional food security.
5. Support decision-makers with information
Changing fish market structures, supplies and prices will have an impact on food availability and the nutritional sta tus of the population. A system to monitor these impacts will help fisheries managers and other decision-makers strengthen the role of fish in providing food and nutrition security.