Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation assisting sustainable aquaculture in developing markets
Fish is climbing the global agenda for food and nutritional security, and the seafood sector has the scope to provide much more essential protein as long as industry and small-scale producers can find ways to come together and create shared value, according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Explaining the Gates Foundation’s interest in fish at this year’s North Atlantic Seafood Form (NASF), its deputy director for agriculture development, Samuel Thevasagayam, said that its vision is “a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life.” The foundation aims to achieve this through its six different divisions of global health, global policy and advocacy, gender equality, global growth and opportunity, global development, and U.S. programs that focus on education.
Aquaculture, Thevasagayam said, shows great potential for enhancing the production of sustainable proteins in developing parts of the world. For that reason, the foundation is planning to be a part of that development through partnerships with the private sector, boosting the industry in developing areas.
“We believe that industry has all the tools and technologies to help these small-scale producers realize this potential. That’s why we believe, at the foundation, that we should partner with the private sector in order to solve the problems that we face and to develop in a sustainable way,” he said. “Rather than looking at the poor people as charity cases, industry should look at them as underserved market segments. Then, we believe, everyone can win.”
Looking at aquaculture and fisheries, the “real growth” is predicted in Africa and Asia, and the foundation believes that, China aside, Asia is underproductive, while Africa is a completely untapped market, Thevasagayam said.
Part of that lack of productivity stems from a lack of access to tools that larger industry players use to enhance production, such as breeding and feed techniques that can enhance yields for even small-scale aquaculture operations.
“It’s a potential that is lying dormant, and it is there to be taken by industry and the small-scale producers,” he said. “If you really improve your husbandry, you can increase the productivity, and if you then improve the health, feed, and genetics, you could get much closer to the potential productivity.”
Thevasagayam’s role in the foundation with agricultural development sits within the global growth and opportunity division, focusing on livestock and fish, with three areas of priority or “bodies of work:” animal health, animal production, and animal systems. The foundation has outlined four goals in this arena: increase the productivity of these commodities, empower women, enhance household income, and improve nutrition – all leading to what the foundation calls “inclusive agriculture transformation” (IAT).
Thevasagayam said 3.3 billion people around the world consume some 20 percent of their average animal protein intake through fish, but that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the annual per-capita consumption of fish has decreased from 13.7 kilograms to 7.6 kilograms in the last decade.
“Contrast that with more than 20 kilograms per person per year in the developed world,” he said. “And Africa suffers with 40 percent of children under five being stunted, more than 30,000 pregnant women dying due to anemia, and nearly 600,000 children dying due to vitamin A deficiency – all of which could easily be solved through increasing the consumption of fish.”
The foundation also adheres to the vision that seafood is a suitable commodity to empower women, Thevasagayam said.
“Half of the people working in aquaculture are women, and up to 90 percent of post-harvest processing in the developing world is conducted by women. Therefore, we believe that fish offers a great opportunity to empower women, and through that empowerment, improve household nutrition and education,” Thevasagayam said. “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 are to create a sustainable food system – then fish plays a significant role in providing an adequate source of animal protein, particularly for people.”
Seafood, he added, can directly contribute to nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations.
“This is why we focus on fish,” he said.
Seafood production has continued to grow in recent decades thanks largely to aquaculture, which now accounts for more than 52 percent of the seafood consumed around the world, and some 70 percent of this volume is produced by small-scale producers, Thevasagayam said.
“This is where we believe inclusive agriculture transformation could be achieved – if industry and small-scale producers can come together and innovate to really transform the fish production system – thereby contributing to food production as well as economic growth, and also fulfilling industry goals of value creation as well,” he said. “The highest demand growth in the coming decade is projected in Africa and Southeast Asia and this is where we believe there’s a huge opportunity for industry to partner with small-scale producers. With more than 60 percent of the world’s fisheries stocks being overexploited, aquaculture provides a potential solution to solve these issues.”
Photo courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation