By Nicki Holmyard, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 05 February, 2014
Hunger and poverty are words we often hear, but have little — if any — personal experience with. Yet for a large part of the world, it is part of the daily struggle for life.
One in eight people in the world, (around 850 million) are currently estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life. Almost all of them live in developing countries.
African countries are particularly affected, with one in four or 239 million people hungry, and this figure has grown by 20 million in just the past few years. In sub-Saharan Africa, a modest progress had been achieved in the early part of this century through a variety of food programs to alleviate hunger, but since 2007 this situation has reversed, with hunger now rising at a rate of 2 percent annually.
In developed countries, Food and Agriculture Organization 2012 figures put the number of undernourished people at 16 million.
Aquaculture Without Frontiers (AWF), which is now twelve years old, has been working to tackle food security issues in developing countries by helping communities and individuals to set up their own hatcheries and fish farms to alleviate hunger and to provide a much needed income.
Their work and the successes it has achieved are on a very different scale to that normally discussed in SeafoodSource, yet they have meaning in a global context.
We are all aware that aquaculture will have to take up the slack to provide seafood for a growing global population, so anything that can be grown locally is bound to ease some pressure on the international supply situation.
The fish grown in these projects such as carp, tilapia, milkfish and catfish may never be traded beyond the local village or town, but they can and do make an enormous difference to the survival of local communities and empower their men, women and children.
AWF was conceived and set up by Michael New OBE, who remains as patron, and it has already undertaken a number of successful projects in Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.
“I introduced the concept of a voluntary organization to contribute to the alleviation of poverty through small-scale aquaculture at a conference in Brazil in 2003 and the idea was stimulated by the activities of Médecins Sans Frontières,” he said.
Projects were solicited through the organization’s website and volunteers recruited for fieldwork and farmer-to-farmer (knowledge transfer) programs, for which the organization has become well know.
In India, AWF worked with tribal groups to integrate aquaculture into watershed management programs to help poor farmers cultivating rice and vegetables. Experts helped farmers to grow popular carp species in their ponds, along with a few self-recruiting species to ensure sustainability. A second phase helped them to almost treble output per hectare of pond. One farmer was able to sell more than 80kg of fish in his first year, as well as feeding his firmly from a 0.16 ha pond.
Another project in Nepal helped families to set up small fish ponds that produced more than 40 kilograms (kg) of fish in around 8 months. By eating the fish, local per capita consumption increased from a national average of about 2kg to 10kg, and had a real impact on nutritional intake. Surplus fish provide an income of around USD 26 (EUR 19.19) per family, which is enough to support education for two children.
“AWF volunteers have served in many countries, and we have expertise from almost every aquaculture scientific discipline, including from the private sector. By the end of 2012 we had 350 aquaculture specialists and volunteers on our books,” said New.
“At the same time we were fund-raising to get projects started, and raised almost USD 450,000 (EUR 332,126) to 2012 and such was the generosity of our board members, giving their time and energy for free, that we had zero management costs, and this is very unusual for any charity organization,” he stated.
According to Roy Palmer, executive director of AWF, the organisation’s focus for the next ten years is shifting, and will concentrate on transferring knowledge and technology through aquaculture learning centres and student networks, as well as creating and developing partnerships and affiliations with other organizations.
“Our vision is a network of centers all over Africa, Latin America and Asia that are centers of teaching and learning and that also actively farm and sell supplies and services,” he explained.
“AWF has already joined the Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition, which currently supports national Alliances on four continents with combined populations of more than a billion people. We are firm believers that aquaculture can make a difference and that the skills, knowledge and experience of our aquaculture specialists and volunteers can add another dimension to the food equation,” said Palmer.