The United Nation’s 2030 development agenda adopted in 2015 [1
] outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a corresponding 169 targets that are expected to guide national, regional, and international agencies’ actions to achieve sustainable development over the next decade [1
]. In particular, SDG 2 aims at addressing all forms of hunger, as well as food and nutritional insecurity. Despite significant progress being made towards reducing hunger and combating malnutrition and food insecurity, significant challenges persist. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (2018) revealed that over the past three years, the human population suffering from hunger has increased to levels recorded a decade ago [2
]. Almost 1 billion people are food- and nutrient-insecure, posing a greater risk to diet-related non-communicable diseases [2
]. The emerging “triple burden” of malnutrition—obesity, undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies—are now the leading cause of poor health globally [4
]. Recent studies advocate for changes in global food production systems, for the provision of high-quality dietary requirements, to achieve the SDG 2 and the Paris Agreement targets [5
Fish, including finfish and shellfish, contribute 17% of animal protein, and 7% of all proteins, and are crucial for over 3 billion people in developing countries [7
]. Fish provides high-quality essential amino acids, docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, especially iron, zinc, and vitamins, often in highly bioavailable forms [6
]. As such, fish is widely recognized as “nature’s superfood” [9
]. Globally, fish consumption rates is growing faster than the global population growth, because of increased incomes and awareness of the health benefits associated with consuming fish, as well as rising urbanization [10
]. In addition to directly providing high-quality food, fisheries and aquacultures create economic value through the production, trade, and marketing of wild and farmed fish [11
Fish food is obtained from marine and freshwater-capture fisheries and aquaculture. Taken together, these fish production systems have contributed to the impressive growth of fish production within six decades, rising from 19 million metric tonnes (MT) in 1950 to 171 million MT in 2016 [7
]. Global capture fisheries production peaked in 1996 at around 96 million MT. In contrast, aquaculture production has doubled every decade for the past 50 years to produce 80 million MT of food fish, 30.1 million MT of aquatic plants and 38,000 MT of non-food products in 2016 [7
]. In 2014, aquaculture overtook capture fisheries in the provision of fish for human consumption [6
]. As the global fastest growing food production sector, the future expansion of fish as food is expected to come from aquaculture in the next decades. According to the OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook global fish production will increase by more than 1% p.a. over the next decade to 195 MT by 2027, owing to an increase in aquaculture production [14
]. Indeed, the outlook projects a 30.1% growth in aquaculture production, equivalent to 24 MT between 2018 and 2027, which will result in aquaculture surpassing capture fisheries production in 2020 [14
]. However, food fish availability can also be increased through reductions in post-harvest losses and waste.
The fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Africa are increasingly contributing to food and nutrition security, foreign exchange, employment, and livelihood support services [15
]. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) estimates that total fishery production in the region stands at 10.4 million tonnes [16
] comprising of 6.0 million tonnes from marine capture fisheries, 2.8 million tonnes from inland water fisheries, and about 1.6 million tonnes from aquaculture. Currently, more than 30% of the continent’s population, or roughly 200 million people, consume fish as the main animal protein source and micronutrition [16
]. Besides, 12.3 million people in Africa work in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, with 6.1 million (50%) being employed as fishers, 5.3 million (42%) as processors and 0.9 million (8%) as fish farmers [15
]. In terms of economic value, fish produces an estimated total of US$
24 billion annually, accounting for 1.26% of gross domestic product (GDP) [16
However, the continent continues to be burdened with numerous problems that are impeding long-term resource sustainability, reducing prospects for increasing its contribution to food security, poverty alleviation, and wealth creation [16
]. Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest proportion of undernourished people globally, accounting for 25% (224 million people) in 2016 [17
]. Aquaculture in Africa is still in its infancy and is practised in only a few countries fetching an estimated US$
3 billion annually [15
]. Although the aquaculture industry in the continent is growing faster than any other part of the world, Africa contributes least to the amount of fish produced, consumed, and traded globally [18
]. For instance, aquaculture contributed 17% of total fish production in Africa, which is equivalent to a paltry 2.5% of global fish production in 2016 [7
]. Taken against the backdrop of wider regional food insecurity and a projection that Africa’s population will double by 2050 [21
], aquaculture is poised to play an important role in providing valuable animal protein foods to poor and food-insecure populations [22
]. Considering that 33% of the wild fish stocks are overexploited [7
], aquaculture will play a critical role in meeting increased fish demand in Africa [25
Since aquaculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is young and growing, the sector is experiencing complex socio-economic and environmental impacts that require systematic quantitative assessment and monitoring approaches toward achieving evidence-based policy planning. However, there are still gaps in quantitative information to guide decision-makers in formulating national and regional policies to optimize synergies between the socio-economic development and environmental performance of the sector. The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) acknowledges that quantitative information on aquaculture’s socioeconomic and environmental performance is scattered in the literature, ”leading to underutilization and sometimes misuse of available information”. In this paper, we present current knowledge to guide national and regional policy formulation and implementation in Eastern Africa (EA) subregion. Given the recognition of fish as “nature’s superfood”, crucial in alleviating malnutrition in all its forms, we reviewed published information to inform the policies that recognize tradeoffs and synergies that are aimed at tackling food insecurity and malnutrition in the region. The paper synthesizes current information on the extent to which fish contributes to food and nutrition security by highlighting recent production trends, consumption, and trade in the EA subregion.
In this study, we used a combination of tools and models to assess the performance of the fisheries and aquaculture sector, to provide national, regional and global projections on fish supply and demand. First, we used two user-friendly data tools: (i) the World Aquaculture Performance Indicators (WAPI) Production Module [26
], and (ii) the WAPI Fish Consumption Module [27
], to assess and monitor aquaculture sector performance. The tools compile, package, and disseminate data and information collected from various sources to assist in evidence-based policymaking in fisheries and aquaculture. The WAPI Production module analyses the volumes and values of over 650 freshwater and marine species in nearly 250 countries over the past seven decades, from 1950 to 2016 [26
]. On the other hand, the WAPI Fish Consumption Module examines food supply and utilization patterns and monitors three nutrition and seven food indicators in 270 countries over a specified timeframe [27
]. Second, data on the production, consumption, and trade projections for fish and seafood from 2018 to 2027 were obtained from the OECD–FAO Agricultural Outlook report [14
]. Third, we used data from the short-term projection model developed by FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, to assess and monitor potential future national, regional, and global fish supply and demand, as well as to estimate aquaculture stopgap requirements, to fulfill supply [28
]. This short-term model estimates: (i) growth in fish demand, due to income and population growth; (ii) growth in the supply trends from aquaculture; and (iii) other indicators that measure demand-supply gaps [28
]. Finally, we reviewed long-term fish projections in the updated version of the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agriculture Commodities and Trade (IMPACT), developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in collaboration with WorldFish, FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff [29
]. Apart from these models and tools, we also scoped for information in published research in peer-reviewed articles, books, book chapters, thesis/dissertations, and conference proceedings.
4. Conclusions and Recommendations
This paper synthesizes and provides information on the important role of fish in food security, based on production and consumption trends, trade, marketing, and future demand and supply gaps in the Eastern African region. At regional levels, fish production and supply are dominated by capture fisheries, while aquaculture production is modest compared to the top producers in Africa. Fish consumption is characterized by an increasing supply deficit, and low per capita fish protein intake. Correspondingly, the proportion of fish in animal protein intake in most countries in the region is less than the world average, signifying the crucial role that fish plays in food security and nutrition. Fish trade in the region is characterized with a steady increase in fish imports, due to fluctuating supplies from natural systems and steady population growth, as well as improved logistics reducing distance barriers and market distribution systems.
Given fixed fish prices and preferences coupled with rising income levels, the East African region is projected to realize increased fish consumption from 4.80 kg in 2013 to 5.49 kg in 2022. As a result of the rising population growth and increasing income levels, the East African regions will need 2.49 million tonnes of fish to fill the demand–supply gap. This widening demand and supply gap presents a host of new development opportunities for the smallholder farmers to invest in efficient production systems to significantly contribute to fish consumption, reducing rural poverty and unemployment. Attention should also be given to reduce post-harvest losses, which are currently estimated at over 20%, especially for the freshwater silver cyprinids, which contribute significantly to protein consumption in the region. This would involve an improvement in value chain efficiency, better infrastructure, preservation facilities and value-addition technologies, and in market information and linkages.
Based on the findings of this research, we propose further research into three main areas. First, continuous assessment and compilation of current research is needed, to fill gaps in understanding the nutritional values of the main species of fish consumed in urban and rural areas. Second, more robust projection models are needed, to better understand fish demand and supply projections beyond 2030, since the region’s population is expected to double by 2050. Third, further research is required to investigate the nutritional benefits of fish consumption, and drivers of consumer taste and preferences, especially in areas where fish has not been traditionally consumed. Future studies should also focus on the types of fish that are consumed and the nutritional effects of different fish-processing methods, as well as the socioeconomic and cultural issues influencing fish consumption options.
Looking into the future, the potential for aquaculture as a new frontier for development looks bright. More public and private investments are needed to maximize aquaculture’s full potential, to improve the region’s food and nutrition status. Now and in the future, fish consumption may increase with increased aquaculture production and importation of fish products, provided the barriers to intra-regional trade are addressed through ratifying regional and international trade agreements. Food security and nutritional programmes should recognize the potential of fish in providing essential micronutrients for improved dietary quality, nutritional status, and the general wellbeing of the region’s fast-growing population.