Fish is climbing the global food and nutrition security agenda, and the seafood sector has the scope to provide significantly more essential protein as long as industry and small-scale producers find ways to come together and create shared value, according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
At this year’s North Atlantic Seafood Form (NASF), its Assistant Director of Agricultural Development, Samuel Thevasagayam, explained the Gates Foundation’s interest in fish and said their vision is “a world where everyone has the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives respectively. “The foundation aims to achieve this through its six different divisions covering global health, global policy and advocacy, gender equality, global growth and opportunity, global development, and US programs with an emphasis on education.
According to Thevasagayam, aquaculture shows great potential for increasing the production of sustainable proteins in developing countries. For this reason, the foundation plans to participate in this development through partnerships with the private sector and to strengthen industry in developing areas.
“We believe the industry has all the tools and technology to help these small producers realize this potential. That is why we at the Foundation believe that we should work with the private sector to solve the problems we are facing and develop them sustainably, ”he said. “Instead of viewing the poor as charities, the industry should view them as underserved segments of the market. Then, we believe, everyone can win. “
Turning to aquaculture and fisheries, “real growth” is predicted in Africa and Asia, and the foundation believes Asia is underproductive, apart from China, while Africa is a completely untapped market, Thevasagayam said.
Part of this lack of productivity is due to a lack of access to tools that larger industrial companies use to increase production, such as:
“There is dormant potential that industry and small producers must exploit,” he said. “If you really improve your husbandry you can be more productive, and then if you improve your health, feed and genetics you could be much closer to potential productivity.”
Thevasagayam’s role in the Foundation for Agricultural Development is in the Division of Global Growth and Opportunities, which focuses on Livestock and Fish, with three priority areas or “working bodies”: Animal Health, Animal Production and Animal Systems. It also has four goals: to increase the productivity of these raw materials, empower women, improve household incomes and improve nutrition – all of these lead to what the foundation calls “Inclusive Agriculture Transformation” (IAT).
Thevasagayam pointed out that more than 3.3 billion people worldwide consume about 20 percent of their average animal protein intake through fish, but that in sub-Saharan Africa the annual per capita consumption of fish from 13.7 kilograms to 7.6 kilograms has declined in recent years.
“In contrast, with more than 20 kilograms per person per year in the developed world,” he said. “And Africa suffers from the fact that 40 percent of children under the age of five are stunted, more than 30,000 pregnant women die of anemia and nearly 600,000 children die of vitamin A deficiency – all of this could easily be resolved by increased fish consumption.”
The foundation also believes seafood is an appropriate commodity for empowering women.
“Half of the people who work in aquaculture are women, and up to 90 percent of post-harvest processing in developing countries is done by women. Therefore, we believe fish is a great opportunity to empower women and, through empowerment, improve nutrition and household education, ”said Thevasagayam. “Fish is also the most efficient form of animal protein in terms of feed conversion. Therefore, we believe that in a world with climate change – if we want to create a sustainable food system – fish play an important role in providing an adequate source of animal protein, especially for humans. “
Seafood, he added, can contribute directly to nine of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“That’s why we focus on fish,” he said.
Seafood production has continued to grow in recent decades, largely thanks to aquaculture, which now accounts for more than 52 percent of the seafood consumed worldwide, and most importantly, around 70 percent of that amount is produced by small-scale producers, Thevasagayam said.
“Here we believe that an inclusive transformation of agriculture could be achieved – if industry and small-scale producers can come together and innovate to really change the fish production system – thereby contributing to food production as well as economic growth and also the industrial goals of value creation,” said he. “The highest growth in demand over the next decade is forecast in Africa and Southeast Asia, and here we see a great opportunity for the industry to work with small-scale producers. With more than 60 percent of the world’s fisheries stocks overfished, aquaculture offers a potential solution to these problems. “
Photo courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation