Thursday, 3 July 2014

What does fish have to do with food and nutrition security?

The short answer is: a lot.   Fish from capture fisheries and aquaculture is estimated to provide more than half of the world population with 15 – 20 % of their total intake of animal protein.  In some low-income countries such as Gambia, Sierra Leone and Ghana, the share is more than 50 %.  Fish also provides several of the micronutrients that are essential for healthy living and a large share of those who benefit are poor.  Fisheries and aquaculture, including the related value chains, are also very important sources of income for low-income people and the interaction with natural resource management is very significant.

I expect that those working in or with the fisheries and aquaculture sectors know that.  Unfortunately that knowledge does not appear to have penetrated the food and nutrition security deliberations.  If you do not believe me, think about how many of the last 100 articles, books or briefs about food and nutrition security you have read included a significant section on fish?  In fact my guess is that most of them did not even mention fish.  The current debate and the many papers written recently about how agriculture can be made more nutrition sensitive also miss the point.  We should talk about how the food system, including fisheries and aquaculture and the total supply chain, can be made more nutrition sensitive.  If we limit the discussion and policy recommendations to agriculture, we are foregoing some very big opportunities for improving food security and nutrition.  This is much more that semantics.  Ignoring fish in efforts to improve diet diversity and reducing micronutrient deficiencies is particularly troubling.   The CGIAR does include research and development for the fisheries and aquaculture sectors but the World Fish Center has the lowest budget of all the 15 centers and accounts for only 2-3 % of the total CGIAR budget.  

As a food policy analyst I am as guilty as the next guy.  It was not until a few years ago that I began to include fish in my food and nutrition security work, and it was not until I started interacting with the team who worked with the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security (HLPE), that I fully realized what I had been missing.  The HLPE report No. 7 (Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture for food security and nutrition) just completed, is a powerful reminder to all of us, that fisheries and aquaculture and what they produce, are critically important to any debate and action to reduce poverty and improve food security and nutrition.  The report, which is available at or in hardcopy from , is a goldmine of policy-related knowledge about the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, their importance, sustainability issues, governance and recommended policies for consideration by governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. It provides a comprehensive assessment of the interaction between the fisheries and aquaculture sector and food and nutrition security.  The report is a must-read for those of us interested in food policy.

Per Pinstrup-Andersen

Graduate School Professor, Cornell University and Chair, HLPE Steering Committee.