Aquaculture central to African Fish for All Summit

ABUJA, Nigeria, August 23, 2005 (ENS): Africa must turn to fish farming to maintain its supply of fish, leaders from 26 African nations meeting here learned Monday. A 32 percent increase of the African fish supply is needed by 2020 just to keep consumption of the protein-rich food at present levels, participants in the NEPAD Fish for All Summit were told.

The three day Summit is a collaborative effort of the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), chaired by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, the WorldFish Center and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Participants aim to chart a shared strategy for strengthening fisheries development planning for Africa and increasing investment in the sector to help eradicate hunger and poverty.

“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,” said Hall.

Aquaculture in Africa today is still a subsistence, secondary or part time activity taking place on small farms. Around the world, 30 percent of global fish supplies come from aquaculture, but African aquaculture production amounts to less than 0.2% of the world's total.

The WorldFish Center and its partners are making an urgent appeal for help to boost the continent's fish production through a five-point plan that is under consideration at the Summit.

While developing aquaculture capacity, the plan would support capture fisheries that will continue to provide most of the fish for decades to come.

Central to the five-point plan is assistance to improve fish market chains so they can avoid current post-harvest losses to spoilage that now consume about one-third of the catch.

Marketing and trade stimuli are needed to help the fish trade grow, and decisionmakers need an information system that supplies current information about changing fish market structures, supplies and prices, the WorldFish Center says.

Addressing the opening session of the Technical Workshop at the Summit Monday, Nigerian Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Otunba Bamidele Dada said the Summit’s targets include improved regional food security, sustainable livelihood, management of natural fish stocks, and the development of aquaculture production systems, as well as enhanced fish marketing and trade.

The government is using the Summit to buttress its employment generation and poverty alleviation programs by creating awareness of how fisheries and aquaculture could contribute to both food and livelihood security for the poor, Otunba Dada said.

Dada announced that President Obasanjo has set up the necessary machinery to harness the enormous potentials and investment opportunities in the fishery subsector. A presidential committee to develop a blueprint for consideration on fisheries and aquaculture development has already begun to work, he said.

In his brief remarks, the NEPAD Senior Agriculture Adviser Professor Richard Mkandamire said that in the countries that had developed aquaculture the program had created jobs.

“For a relatively small investment, the international community has an opportunity to bring about significant improvement in the wellbeing and physical condition of millions in Africa, Mkandamire said.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only world region where fish consumption is actually falling, according to WorldFish Center Deputy Director-General Patrick Dugan. “The main reason for this decline is the stagnation in capture fish production combined with a fast-growing population,” he said.

FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries Ichiro Nomura says, "If we are going to meet the UN millennium development goal of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture needs to go up significantly in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa."

During the past 10 years, he said, Africa's fish production has stalled and per capita fish supply has diminished, dropping from 8.8 kg/per capita in 1990 to around 7.8 kg in 2001.

"Africa is the only continent where you see this happening," Nomura said, "and the dilemma it poses is that there are no affordable alternative sources of protein. For a continent where food security is so precarious, it's extremely worrying."

The WorldFish Center says small fish farms require little financial investment, physical strength or education. They offer a low-labor livelihood that can sustain both the poor and the growing number of HIV and AIDS affected households, especially those headed by widows and orphans.

“Small fish ponds are a valuable addition to farms without substantially adding to the labor 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.

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.

FAO's Nomura emphasized that the aim of the conference is to draw the attention of African governments and the international donor community to the need to invest in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in Africa, and to help countries in the region to start planning together to strengthen fisheries and aquaculture.

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