Let Them Eat Carp: Fish Farms Are Helping to Fight Hunger
By Ben Belton, Dave Little and Simon Bush
Over the past three decades, the global aquaculture industry has risen from obscurity to become a critical source of food for millions of people. In 1990, only 13 percent of world seafood consumption was farmed; by 2014, aquaculture was providing more than half of the fish consumed directly by human beings.
The boom has made farmed fish like shrimp, tilapia and pangasius catfish—imported from countries such as Thailand, China and Vietnam—an increasingly common sight in European and North American supermarkets. As a result, much research on aquaculture has emphasized production for export.
This focus has led scholars to question whether aquaculture contributes to the food security of poorer people in producing countries. Many have concluded it does not. Meanwhile, the industry's advocates often emphasize the potential for small-scale farms, mainly growing fish for home consumption, to feed the poor. Farms of this kind are sometimes claimed to account for 70 to 80 percent of global aquaculture production.
Our research shows that both of these perspectives are wildly out of sync with current developments. In fact, the vast majority of farmed fish is consumed in the same developing countries where it is produced, and is widely accessible to poorer consumers in these markets. Most of it comes from a dynamic new class of small- and medium-scale commercial farms, the existence of which is rarely recognized. To understand the potential of aquaculture to feed the world, researchers and consumers need to appreciate how dynamic this industry is.
Farmed Fish is a Critical Food Source
Fish is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and high-quality protein. It plays a particularly important role in the diets of billions of consumers in low- and middle-income countries. Many of these people are poor, malnourished and unable to afford alternative nutrient-rich foods such as fruit, eggs and meat.
Throughout human history most of the fish people eat has been captured from oceans, rivers and lakes. But the total quantity of fish harvested from these sources peaked in the mid-1990s due to overfishing and environmental degradation. Demand for seafood has continued to increase since this time, as urbanization and average incomes have risen globally. Aquaculture is filling the gap.
Overemphasis on Exports
Academic research on aquaculture has focused predominantly on internationally traded species such as shrimp, salmon and Vietnamese pangasius. These three fish account for less than 10 percent of global farmed fish production, but are the focus of the majority of social science publications on aquaculture. This bias reflects the priorities and concerns of developed countries that fund research, as well as civil society organizations that work to promote sustainable aquaculture production through international trade.
Because they assume that this small group of internationally traded species is representative of global aquaculture, many scholars believe that fish farmed in developing nations is mainly exported to wealthy countries. The literature also suggests that fish farmers find it most profitable to grow species with a high market value, generating little benefit for poorer consumers.
Fact-Checking the Numbers
In a recent analysis of fish production and trade, we used data published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to show that the importance of global trade in farmed seafood has been vastly overstated. We analyzed farmed fish production and exports for 2011—the most recent year both sets of data were available—for the 10 most important aquaculture producing developing countries, which together account for 87 percent of global aquaculture production and half of the world's human population.
Our analysis shows that export trade from these countries is relatively insignificant. In fact, we found 89 percent of the fish farmed in these countries remain in their domestic markets.
Mobile vendor selling affordable fish in Bangladesh. Ben Belton, CC BY-ND
Aquaculture is Pro-Poor
But is this fish reaching the poor? To answer this question, we pieced together multiple sources of information on fish prices and fish consumption in these same 10 countries. A consistent pattern emerged: Where the quantity of farmed fish has grown substantially, the real price of farmed fish, adjusted for inflation, has fallen significantly, and the quantity of fish consumed by poorer consumers has grown.
For example, in Bangladesh—one of Asia's poorest countries—the farmed fish market grew by a factor of 25 in three decades to exceed two million tons in 2015. This growth caused the real price of farmed fish to drop by nine percent from 2000 to 2010, at the same time that wild fish were becoming scarcer and more expensive. Consumption of farmed fish by poorer households—who are particularly sensitive to changes in food prices—increased rapidly over this period, more than offsetting a decline in the quantity of wild fish eaten.
These trends imply that the expansion of fish farming has been good for the poor. Low-income households in the countries that we studied would eat less fish of any kind today, wild or farmed, were it not for the growth of aquaculture.
A Quiet Revolution
So who is producing this fish, and how? The "quiet revolution" in farmed fish supply has been driven neither by corporate agribusiness nor by tiny backyard farms. Rather, most of aquaculture's growth over the past three decades has come from a dynamic and increasingly sophisticated segment of small- and medium-sized commercial farms and the myriad businesses that support them by supplying inputs such as feed, logistics and other services.
Rather than focusing on producing expensive species for export markets or wealthy domestic customers, these unsung heroes have focused on growing affordable fish such as carp. Where these species are produced in large quantities, they have become affordable for huge numbers of low- and middle-income consumers close to home.
This transformation has not yet taken hold in many developing countries, particularly in Africa, where access to inexpensive fish could greatly improve food security. By learning from the example of nations where farmed fish supply has boomed, governments and aid organizations can make better targeted investments in infrastructure, institutions, policies and technologies to expand the impact of aquaculture's quiet revolution.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
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