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DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: A Small Step From Barnyard to Pond

Stephen Leahy

BROOKLIN, Canada, Aug 22 2005 (IPS) - Africa must urgently boost investments in aquaculture to fight hunger, as natural fish stocks on the continent and elsewhere decline, scientists say.

Africa is the only region in the world where the per capita fish consumption is dropping, placing an estimated 200 million Africans who depend on fish as a main part of their diet at risk of malnutrition. Experts are meeting Monday at the Fish For All Summit in the Nigerian capital of Abuja to find sustainable ways of reviving Africa’s dwindling fish stocks.

“The Summit is a major platform to define and endorse an action plan to increase Africa’s fish supply,” said Richard Mkandawire, senior agricultural advisor for the New Partnership for African Development.

“We’re hoping that some of our development partners will also invest in fisheries, particularly aquaculture,” Mkandawire told IPS from Abuja.

Annual fish consumption per person worldwide averages 16 kilogrammes, but just 6.6 kilogrammes in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa will need 20 percent more fish just to maintain that already low level of consumption over the next decade.

Like much of the world, Africa has experienced sharp declines in natural fish stocks in lakes and rivers, as well coastal fishing stocks. But unlike Asia and other regions, sub-Saharan Africa has not made investments in fish farming. In fact, just two percent of Africa’s fish protein comes from aquaculture, compared to 38 percent for the rest of the world.

Africa is behind for a number of reasons, including a traditional focus on agriculture and livestock. While an estimated 10 million African families are involved in fishing, fish farming has not been a big part of their activities, says Mkandawire.

However, small-scale aquaculture would not be a major shift, as it is easily integrated into traditional agriculture where wastes can be used as feed for fish, and fish wastes in turn can be used as fertiliser.

In communities suffering high rates of HIV/AIDS, aquaculture provides high quality protein that boosts the health and immune system functioning of those afflicted by the disease. That enables them to continue to be productive members of community. And once in place, fish farming is less labour-intensive than agriculture.

“They will need help building the infrastructure and global expertise on how to operate small-scale aquaculture,” said Mkandawire.

But despite the obstacles, fish farming at various levels has enormous potential in sub-Saharan Africa, experts say.

“Just five percent of the potential aquaculture resource could provide the protein Africa needs over the next 10 to 15 years,” said Stephen Hall, director-general of the WorldFish Centre in Penang, Malaysia.

The WorldFish Centre, one of the sponsors of this week’s summit, is a nonprofit organisation trying to alleviate poverty and hunger by improving fisheries and aquaculture. Although African droughts make frequent headlines, water is not a major constraint, Hall told IPS from Penang.

And it would only take a 30- to 60-million-dollar investment in African aquaculture to quickly improve the contribution of fish to African food security, he said.

That assessment is based on several successful projects the centre currently runs in Malawi, which involved creating small, inexpensive ponds on existing farms and teaching farmers, often women, how to manage them.

Malawian families affected by HIV/AIDS have tried this approach with impressive results, says Daniel Jamu, the centre’s programme director for southern Africa.

“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/AIDS care and medicines,” Jamu said in a statement.

Similar programmes in other countries also show an enormous return in terms of employment, improved nutrition and food security, and even trade, for relatively small investments, said Hall.

Sharing that expertise and knowledge within Africa is important. Perhaps even more important is learning from Asia’s experience in both small- and large-scale aquaculture, he said.

“It’s important that these fisheries be sustainable, and based on their experience we know how to do it properly now,” Hall noted.

Sharing expertise is the key to boosting Africa’s fish supply, agreed Mkandawire. South Africa has both the cash and facilities, but lacking in-depth knowledge, it is producing far fewer fish than it should, he said.

“We need to identify and use the successful technologies from Asia and apply them in the African context.”

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