Sustainable aquaculture's contribution to discussions at Rio+20
With eyes turning towards Rio+20 we are all reminded of the development challenges ahead of us. Central among these is how to feed the projected 9 billion people on our planet in a sustainable way. Among the discussions and side events, a full day (18 June)* will be dedicated to exploring this topic.
It’s increasingly clear that fish, as an important animal source food, makes a significant contribution to food and nutrition security and supplies need to increase to meet the demand for fish and the needs of those who are malnourished. But we also know that opportunities to increase fish catches from the wild are relatively limited. Even if fisheries are managed optimally – a significant challenge – we are reaching the limits of what nature can provide on its own.
The only route for substantially increasing fish supply then is aquaculture. Today almost half the fish being consumed in the world comes from fish farming and it continues to grow rapidly – the average annual growth rate since 1970 is 8.4%.
But this rapid growth also brings challenges. While it is worth remembering that in many respects, aquaculture is the most efficient means for producing animal source foods, impacts on biodiversity, environmental degradation and the depletion of wild fish resources to provide feeds, all raise questions about the longer term sustainability of the sector.
The report “Blue Frontiers: Managing the environmental costs of aquaculture”, published in 2011 by WorldFish and Conservation International, is a ground breaking study that examined the environmental impact of the world’s major aquaculture production systems and species. It offers the first-ever global assessment of trends and impacts of cultivated seafood. As we would expect, the analysis found that, from the 75 species-production systems reviewed, more production means more ecological impact. But there were large differences in performance among countries culturing the same species using similar methods; this tells us that there is considerable opportunity to reduce environmental impacts by sharing best practices. Investment in research and innovation in animal health, nutrition and production practices will also further improve environmental performance. This innovation needs to be supported and driven by sound environmental regulation and monitoring.
What does this mean to those who are trying to agree on the concrete decisions that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging? The bottom line is that aquaculture is one of the most environmentally efficient ways to produce the animal source foods that a growing and urbanizing world population needs. But increasing production will have increasing environmental costs unless developed in a way that minimizes the demand on the environment. The environmental impacts of growth in this sector can be managed if governments, businesses, non-government actors and researchers take steps together to improve production systems and techniques, invest in innovation, and strengthen regulation including improving monitoring and compliance.
*The 4th Agriculture and Rural Development Day is to ensure that the vision for a sustainable green economy includes clear steps for building a sustainable food system. The event will give voice to a wide cross section of people working on land, food and sustainability. Learning events will explore concrete cases of success that could translate into a thorough transformation of the global food system, and afternoon sessions will focus on science for a food-secure future highlighting the CGIAR’s comprehensive research portfolio, carried out with hundreds of partners and aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources. The CGIAR has outlined a seven-point plan for how agricultural research for development can contribute to a more sustainable, food-secure future.
CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations. www.cgiar.org
Photo credits : Netcages in Kuching, Malaysia. Photo by Fred Weirowsky, 2007