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Aquaculture: a key element to food security in Africa

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By Milthon Lujan

Freshwater and marine aquaculture have an extensive growth potential all across Africa and could contribute to feeding of the continent’s rapidly increasing population. However, the challenge is to find solutions to ensure seafood farming expands in a sustainable manner in the next years. The AfriMAQUA research network contributes to this reflection.

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The unexploited potential of African aquaculture

As the planet will host 2 billion more people by 2050, food security challenges will prove significant. Meanwhile, the global seafood catch is stagnating and most of fish stocks are already overexploited. Breeding fish, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plants in freshwater or marine aquaculture farms seems like one of the solutions to respond to the increasing global demand for sea products. More than half of the current seafood consumption currently comes from aquaculture.

Maria Darias, an aquaculture specialist at IRD, leads the IRD-funded AfriMAQUA research network on aquaculture: “Africa has the most rapidly increasing population in the world. Most fish stocks around the continent are fully or over-exploited. To ensure food and nutrition security, there is an urgent need for Africa to increase its aquaculture production capacity.”

Africa is currently accounting for less than 3% of total world production. “In Kenya, aquaculture represents only 15% of the national fish production. As demand for fish is growing, 300,000 tons must be either produced or imported every year to meet the recommended per capita fish consumption target of 10 kg/person/year”, states Mary Opiyo, a researcher at the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute. “Production is slowing growing, but the country has room for improvement.” Species diversification, local quality feed manufacturing and transformation from subsistence to commercial ventures are part of the solutions encouraged by the scientists.

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Other examples on the continent show the large growth potential of aquaculture. South Africa being one of the leaders of the African economy, its aquaculture only accounts for 0.34% of the continent’s production. Nadeem Nazurally, a lecturer at the University of Mauritius, studies the local infrastructure: “The lagoon shelters aquaculture farms and the country already exports seafood to the American and European markets, but their number could grow with adequate facilities and sufficient training. The flight interruptions due to Covid-19 and the recent oil spills also made exportation more difficult”.

The challenge of making aquaculture sustainable

Maria Darias underlines the need for Africa’s aquaculture to grow in a sustainable way: “Aquaculture should not create a significant impact on the ecosystems. It must also be economically sustainable, socially responsible and contribute to the communities’ well-being.”

Scientists view sustainability as a key element of the aquaculture development across Africa. In Mauritius, they assess the environmental impact of farms on the surrounding biodiversity and water quality. Kenyan researchers encourage the stakeholders to implement socially responsible measures such as Public–Private Partnerships, youth and women programs, increasing smallholder farmer productivity and Climate Smart Aquaculture technologies. South Africa focuses its efforts on high-value species (such as abalones and sea urchins) in order to get a quick return on investment and create more jobs in the community.

Maria Darias also insists on the nutritional aspects of sustainable aquaculture: “Aquaculture must not only contribute to feeding the population. It must provide a healthy diet that is affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate and safe. We are working towards well-being creation, via the diversification of aquaculture based on the selection of species with a rich and diverse nutrient content and the choice of healthy and sustainable feeds that do not compromise the nutritional quality of the product.”

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Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture systems: the optimal solution?

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Brett Macey is a specialist scientist at the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries: “One of the ways to balance environmental and societal challenges while increasing the aquaculture production in South Africa is through a wider adoption of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) technologies”.

These systems combine the “cultivation of fed aquaculture species (e.g. finfish/shrimp) with organic extractive aquaculture species (e.g. shellfish/herbivorous fish) and inorganic extractive aquaculture species (e.g. seaweed) to create balanced systems for environmental sustainability (bio-mitigation), economic stability (product diversification and risk reduction) and social acceptability (better management practices)” (FAO).

Breeding different species in an integrated system ensures more sustainable production through the recycling of nutrients and water and lower energy consumption due to reduced pumping costs. “For example, if a farmer produces seaweeds, they can be fed back into the system, as supplementary feeds and feed additives for other species”, Brett explains.

Those systems also entail challenges, as they are more complex to manage. Diseases can also spread more rapidly in an integrated system. Scientists across Africa work on finding sustainable responses to these challenges through microbiome research, new species development, sustainable feeds and vaccines and probiotics production.

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Brett concludes: “Aquaculture involves industries, policy-makers, communities and scientists. Multidisciplinary approaches and international partnerships are key to developing it in Africa, in order to feed a growing African population”.

Learn more about the AfriMAQUA project

Watch the webinar dedicated to sustainable aquaculture in Africa, held online on October, 14th 2020. 

Source: IRD

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