Skip to content
Start of page content below the header
Blog Post
27 September 2017
Author: Nolwandle Made

Aquaculture: Pandering to the elite or a tool for rural development and food security?

The saying goes that if you “give a man a fish, you feed him for only one day, but if you teach him to fish then he can feed himself for life”. I dare to say that if you teach someone in a low-income country to do aquaculture, you can empower generations to feed themselves and make sustainable livelihoods.

I come from a coastal city and I have always taken the seafood I eat and where it comes from for granted.  Although I have heard about aquaculture and knew that some of the seafood and fish on my plate is farmed, I have never really considered aquaculture as an area of interest. Well, colour me interested because, after attending sessions on the subject at the Agricultural Research for Development Conference 2017 (Agri4D), I am full of curiosity about aquaculture.

In his keynote speech David Little (University of Stirling) talked about the global trends in aquaculture and its societal impacts. As a student of Rural Development and Natural Resource Management and a former community developer, I was very intrigued by the points he made. According to him,  despite the general perception of aquaculture as the food of the rich, in countries like Nigeria and Vietnam, fish is the base of the livelihoods of the poor and ensures a big chunk of their food security.

Interestingly, according to the analysis David Little and his team made, the Sustainable Development Goal for Life Below Water (SDG 14) concentrates on marine biodiversity, but does not mention nutrition at all. At a time when 90% of the world’s stock are overfished, it seems rather peculiar that the connection between food security and oceans is not acknowledged in the Global Goals. Moreover, aquaculture that could help to decrease overfishing rates, seems to be reduced to the freshwater activity only.

So, can aquaculture be that missing piece of jigsaw in the food security puzzle? And if yes, how does it fit in the new development agenda?

I had a pleasure to have a one-on-one session with David Little over lunch. What I learnt was that aquaculture is not necessarily a fit for every low-income state. This is especially true for those countries that already have an adequate supply of wild fish: the demand for farmed fish in these countries is not high and marketing is challenging. On the other hand, I was glad to find out that aquaculture can be practiced even in water stressed places. How? You are soon to find out.

Aquaculture is buzzing with innovation. In Kenya, Geraldine Matolla (University of Eldoret) and her team are working with fish farming in small cummunal water reservoirs, mitigating the lack of land. According to Matolla the waste from fish is very low and does not compromise water quality. The trouble here is the competition over water use from the ponds. The reservoirs are normally used for basic human needs, for livestock and for crop irrigation. So, initially, the community was against the use of the ponds for fish farming, but there is more buy-in now thanks to the “Eat more fish campaign”. Meant to build awareness about health benefits of fish eating, the campaign created higher demand, generating acceptance of fish farming in community ponds.

Another cool innovation I learned about is the use of collapsible fish tanks in Nigeria, a project presented by Idris Badiru, University of Ibadan. The collapsible fish tanks can be folded and moved from one location to the another. This means that farmers can grow fish in their own backyards using borehole water. So, fish farmers without land and tenants in peri-urban areas can also undertake aquaculture. If they have to move they can take their mobile tanks with them which is impossible to do if your fish farm is in a conrete pond.

Aquaculture in dry Palestine? Why not! Mutaz Qutob (AlQuds University), and his team are integrating aquaponics and aquaculture. Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture in which waste from farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. This method seems the most convenient to me because you can grow the main and the side dish at the same time at the same place! Researchers succesfullly grow lettuce, cucumber and cauliflower, which are all ingredients of a perfect salad.

Vietnam has a very strong and thriving aquaculture industry and there is a lot of research going on there to ensure its sustainability. Who would have thought that tilapia fish will grow better on a diet of brewer’s yeast? Although, this is still at a research phase, it is a very good example of nutritent cycling. And according to Nguyen Huu Yen Nhi (SLU) the results of the study showed a fivefold increase in tilapia’s weight.

Research project by Trinh Thi Lan (An Giang University) showed that liquid smoke can be used to treat external parasites on striped catfish. Smoking fish is a well-known method for preserving fish, so the researchers wanted to test if liquid smoke can also kill parasites. The catfish were treated three times. The fish not only survived the immersion in smoke liquid but also showed a remarkable decrease in parasites.

One thing that is not so distinct about aquaculture, comparing to other agricultural activities, are the troubles with gender equity. Sadly, like in many other sectors, the role of women in aquaculture is lagging behind. And even in a matriarchal society, like of Malawi, men would take a leading role, even though as a head of a household, women have to ensure the means to livelihood. Linley Chiwona-Karltun (SLU) and her research partners, found that in Malawi men tend to do the physical aspect of fish farming. This includes digging of ponds and their maintenance, which generates more money, while women tend to be responsible for feeding the fish.

Judging by these presentations, I am convinced that aquaculture has a role to play in rural development. There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the countries like Vietnam and Nigeria that already have an established aquacultural industry. Clearly, more research is needed, but fish also offers a high quality nutrition and good market value.

I will keep my eye on the aquaculture innovations. Who knows, maybe farmed fish will become the main source of sustainable protein in the future!

This blog post is by Nolwandle Made. Originally from South Africa, Nolwande is doing Masters in Rural Development and Natural Resource Management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU thanks to Swedish Institute Study Scholarship Programme for South Africa. She is interested in the ways to uplift the lives of poor rural women in South Africa while ensuring sustainable management of natural resources, especially in the water and sanitation sector.

This post is part of the coverage of the Agri4D Conference 2017.