Aquaculture In Africa: Promises & Tradeoffs
Aquaculture in Africa has so far has seen limited success. Even so, international donors and aid agencies continue to fund the nascent industry. This sector is attractive because of its potential to contribute to increased food production in emerging economies while reducing the pressure on wild fisheries. Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector globally. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targeted the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, improvements in child mortality, improvement in maternal health, disease prevention, promotion of gender equity, and empowerment of women. Aquaculture in Africa can complement other efforts aimed at moving the continent towards these goals.
Aquaculture is defined as the process of growing marine animals and plants in fresh, brackish, or marine environments. In Africa, it dates to the 1940’s and 1950’s. Aquaculture can provide food, livelihoods, and foreign exchange earnings that contribute significantly to economic improvements in poor countries. Despite a wealth of natural resources and the high demand for fish products, aquaculture in Africa has lagged behind that of major global players. Asia is the largest aquaculture producer, with China at the forefront. By contrast, the catfish, tilapia, and Nile perch produced in Africa in 2014 was less than 1% of the world’s production. Within Africa, Nigeria and Uganda lead in the continent’s aquaculture industry.
The demand for fish is rising globally. Yet, in the face of increasing populations, Africa is the only region in the world where per-capita fish consumption has fallen over recent decades. It now stands at just under half the world average. In searching for causes for this decline, researchers point to the failed development of African aquaculture. Even so, investment in fish farming in Africa is increasing. The growth of domestic and export markets for fish, changing macroeconomic climates and the stagnation of inland capture fisheries are combining to drive this trend. Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Egypt are positioning themselves to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Economic activity in Sub-Saharan Africa consists largely of subsistence farming and the extensive grazing of animals used for food. Africans with aquaculture operations face a variety of challenges. They often lack sufficient resources such as water, good quality fingerlings, and technical assistance. To overcome these barriers, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) created the Special Program for Aquaculture Development in Africa (SPADA). The program assists countries with aquaculture production. It aims to improve producer access to markets and financial services, promote favorable industry regulation, and boost aquaculture investment.
Unfortunately, national governments have abdicated on their responsibility for aquaculture development. This has left the door open for international aid agencies whose methods aren’t suitable for Africa. While well-intended, these donors/investors emphasize technology transfer and capacity building. What local operators need is good supply chains, support systems, and access to credit and financing. Setups that require inputs of feed and fertilizers that are cost-prohibitive and/or cannot be locally sourced are of little benefit. Abundant land and water resources can make aquaculture in Africa highly successful if investor assets are properly aligned with local needs.
All of this raises the question of animal advocates’ role in the bigger picture. As this industry takes shape, animal advocates can insert themselves into the planning stages of new operations to promote fish welfare. The alleviation of poverty and hunger is a crucial priority on the continent, but as advocates we can campaign for these efforts to be undertaken in a humane and sustainable way.