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Fish, rice and energy

Meeting Human Needs Through Integrated Methods of Food Production

Bina Roy is a wife, mother, farmer and fisher – and secretary of the Malihat Beel committee that oversees fishing practices in her village in Bangladesh. Like millions of poor people around the world, she relies on a combination of fishing and farming to feed her family and earn income.

Since 2002 she and her neighbors have implemented a number of measures to boost local fish production. Today, fish are 20% more plentiful. Adoption of these practices in 1,200 villages of Bangladesh's lowland floodplains has yielded more than 1,200 tons of fish a year and generated nearly US$1 million.

As in most parts of Asia and Africa, fish means a lot to the people of Bangladesh because it's a good complement to the dietary staple of rice. Fish provides high-quality protein and many micronutrients essential to good health. Bangladeshis have a saying that sums it up well: “We are made of rice and fish.”

Escalating food and energy prices around the world are increasing the threat of hunger and malnutrition among poor people in developing countries. Access to fish gives them an important “safety net” that must be protected.

The challenge of doing that grows tougher every day because the world's poor get their fish mainly from coastal and inland waters close to home, but most wild stocks of fish have fallen steadily in recent decades. Aquaculture will have to play a pivotal role in meeting the demand for fish. It's already the fastest-growing method of food production, providing about half of all fish consumed worldwide. Still there's room for considerable growth, if this is done through ecologically sound and energy-efficient approaches.

One region where such a strategy could bring enormous benefits is sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Food Program, 22 African countries are experiencing food shortages. Fish is especially scarce. This is troubling because fish is a major source of animal protein for millions of Africans, but per capita consumption of fish has been decreasing for quite some time and is now only half of what it is in the rest of the world.

Today, less than 2% of Africa's total fish supply comes from aquaculture. Projections show that if fish-farming was adopted on only one percent of the 250 million hectares in Africa identified by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization as suitable for aquaculture, the continent could produce 3.75 million more tons of fish per year.

Adding to the argument for such an approach is the greater efficiency of this kind of aquaculture compared with industrial fish-farming. Several fish species developed by WorldFish and its partners for low-input methods of production thrive without the need for expensive outside feeds; farm byproducts such as kitchen waste, leaves and crop residue do the trick.

Moreover, counter-intuitive as it may seem, water use in small-scale fish-farming also is quite efficient, especially when farmers learn water-management strategies to optimize recycling of pond water to irrigate crops and vegetables. WorldFish research found that smallholder farms in southern Africa where fish-farming had been integrated into traditional farming operations were 18% more productive than regular farms during periods of drought.

In the next decade, low-income countries where food deficits are a reality and fish is a major foodstuff will undoubtedly have to expand their aquaculture sectors. For many, integrating aquaculture into traditional farming systems is an effective and efficient way to increase both the food supply and the economic security of poor families.

As the world faces the huge task of feeding a growing population through more cost-effective methods, Much can be learned from the experience of Bina Roy and thousands of other fishers and farmers like her in Asia and Africa. Multiplying their success is vital if the world's poor are to continue having access to the fish they count on - so they can enjoy both fish and rice!