While the global demand for fish is climbing faster than current resources can meet, aquaculture remains a largely underdeveloped industry in African, Caribbean and Pacific regions. However, experts speaking at the 32nd Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) Brussels Briefing last week noted the “significant potential” of the sector across ACP (Groupe des Etats d\'Afrique, des Caraïbes et du Pacifique) regions if the right policies are in place.
During a roundtable discussion held at the ACP House, Senior Fisheries Advisor at the new partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Mr. Sloans Chimatiro said that while the tonnage of aquaculture production in Africa pales in comparison to Asia, the rate of expansion is “spectacular”, with an 80-90% growth within the last five years.
But even with this increase, fish supply – both captured and farmed – will not be able to fulfil demand in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2015.
“Africa might be able to import fish from other parts of the world, but I think there is potential is to increase the amount of fish produced locally could lie in the aquaculture subsector,” he said.
Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Mr Milton Haughton also pointed to the high per capita fish consumption in the Caribbean – 77kg each year in Antigua, and more than 30kg each in the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada and St. Kitts.
Yet most supply are imported, due to the high input cost of fish farming as well as a general decline of the industry since the mid-2000s, affected also by impacts of the global economic crisis and climate change.
In the Pacific, a strong domestic market base is buoyed by vast territorial waters similar in size to the African continent – but island landmasses are small and scattered. Bio-diversity is high with low incidence of diseases.
Aquaculture specialist from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Mr Tim Pickering stressed that for Pacific micro-economies, even small developments in aquaculture have an impact. While regional earnings top only US $200 – 250 million per year (mainly from blacklip pearl and shrimp), the socio-economic benefits for small communities are vital.
For instance, in Papua New Guinea 10,000 – 20,000 farmers raise tilapia and carp inland where fish is scarce. Sea weed farming is also ongoing in outlying small islands where there are few other economic opportunities.
“It is low in value, but a little bit of cash in empty pockets makes a big difference,” said Mr Pickering.
He added that the Pacific region can take lessons from aquaculture practices in Africa, especially in involving the private sector.
NEPAD’s Mr Chimatiro stated that market-led approaches were best to boost aquaculture growth in Africa, for example, the commercially driven model in Nigeria which also offers opportunities to rural youth.
Good governance and political will are also needed to develop the industry. In this case, the African Union Heads of States at the Food Security Summit in Abuja, Nigeria in December named fisheries and aquaculture as strategic commodities alongside rice, maize and other strategic food products.
For the Caribbean, a regional CARICOM development strategy for 2013-2020 includes plans to develop the sector by adopting an ecosystem approach to aquaculture, creating a regional working group, as well as enabling policy and legal frameworks. Voluntary guidelines and best management practices and standards are also expected.
“Despite the recent decline in aquaculture production, it has actually provided an opportunity to have a new look at the aquaculture industry in the region and learn from the lessons and experiences,” stated CRFM’s Mr Haughton.
The briefings session also cited possible cooperation amongst fish farming groups in Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific. The EU-funded ACP Fish II project provides assistance to fisheries development in ACP countries.
The Brussels Briefings are organized every two months by the ACP-EU Centre for Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), DG DEVCO of the European Commission, the ACP Secretariat and the Concord group.