August 22, 2005

Africa Needs Fish Farms to Offset Dwindling Supply

ABUJA -- Investment in fish farms in Africa is urgently needed to halt a decline in fish consumption in the continent because natural stocks cannot keep up with population growth, experts said on Monday.

Some 200 million Africans rely on fish as a main part of their diet, but the continent is the only region in the world where fish supplies per capita are falling, according to reports prepared for a "Fish for All" summit in the Nigerian capital.

"The main reason for this decline is the stagnation in 'capture fish' production combined with a fast-growing population," said Patrick Dugan of the WorldFish Center, a Malaysia-based international research organization.

Just to maintain today's fish consumption levels, African fish supply would have to increase by 32 percent by 2020. In a continent where a third of the population is undernourished, the stakes are high.

One answer, according to the WorldFish Center, is to develop small-scale fish farms which are cheap and easy to set up and offer poor families a source of nutrition as well as income.

Fish farms can also improve the lot of people with HIV/AIDS as fish contain combinations of proteins, vitamins and minerals that fortify the body against secondary infections while increasing the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drugs.

In a Malawi pilot scheme, families hit by HIV/AIDS, including many headed by widows and orphans, found that adding a small fish pond to an existing farm improved their situation without creating too much extra work.

"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," said Daniel Jamu, WorldFish program director for southern Africa.

Aquaculture, which has grown explosively in other regions, now provides 38 percent of fish production worldwide but less than 2 percent in sub-Saharan Africa although the continent's potential for fish farming is immense.

As well as developing that potential, measures should be taken to improve natural fisheries which will continue to provide the bulk of African fish supply for decades, according to WorldFish. It puts the investment needed to kickstart a plan that would improve the situation at just $60 million.

"For a relatively small investment, the international community has an opportunity to bring about significant improvement in the well-being ... of millions in Africa," said Richard Mkandawire of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

NEPAD, which promotes good governance in return for more investments and aid, organized the four-day summit together with WorldFish and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Experts and politicians from 26 African nations are expected to adopt an action plan to tackle the coming fish supply crunch.