Aquatic Foods to Drive Healthy Diets, Experts Say

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By Oluchi Chibuzor

A new policy brief on ‘Harnessing aquaculture for healthy diets’ by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GLOPAN) —with research contributions from WorldFish— has been launched, with experts highlighting the critical role of aquatic foods in responding to the global call to action for a sustainable and resilient transformation of global food systems.

They noted that fish and other aquatic foods are among the most traded food commodities globally.

The value of aquatic food production—through aquaculture alone—was $264 billion in 2018. The fastest growing agricultural sub-sector, its global production was projected to reach 105 million tons per year by 2029.

A report at the end of the forum showed that aquaculture has potential to accelerate economic growth, provide employment opportunities, improve food security, and deliver an environmentally sustainable source of good nutrition for millions of people, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

If managed sustainably, aquaculture could provide a viable means to support capture fisheries alongside more sustainable practices and help reduce our reliance on terrestrial protein sources.

It further noted that aquatic foods are a rich source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients. “Their production through aquaculture is key to support the provision of healthy diets for many who lack access to nutritious foods. For many people living in low and middle-income countries, aquatic foods are already the most accessible and affordable animal-source food. Compared to other animal source foods, they offer multiple nutritional benefits and are produced at a lower environmental cost,” the experts added.

WorldFish Director General Dr. Gareth Johnstone said, “Aquatic foods offer a critical solution for the two billion people worldwide who suffer the triple burden of malnutrition, with women and children poised to benefit most.

“As we move toward the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit this year, evidence-based recommendations must guide policy development to ensure aquatic foods are an essential part of a food systems transformation for healthy people and planet.

“Sustainable aquaculture—as an important component of aquatic food systems—is critical to meeting shared national and global aspirations for establishing healthy, nutritious, sustainable, and inclusive food systems capable of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GLOPAN) Chair, John Beddington, said, “Aquaculture has a clear role to play in supporting the challenge of providing healthy diets which are produced more sustainably, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. However, it is often overlooked in the global discourse on food system transformation.”

According to the report, globally, the human appetite for aquatic foods showed no signs of slowing. To ensure production caters to growing demand, sound scientific data and knowledge must guide the growth of aquatic food systems that are resilient in the face of changing climate conditions and unexpected shocks, like the COVID-19 pandemic, which cause major disruptions to be social and economic activities, it added.

The policy brief outlined three key recommendations: Food security and nutrition issues need to be better integrated into policy decisions relating to aquaculture; Fish and related products produced from aquatic food systems should be fully incorporated into agriculture and trade policies, national food-based dietary guidelines, and considered within nutrition and health strategies, governments, development partners, and private sector entities must promote aquaculture training and skills development, and wider adoption of existing feed-related technologies to countries in low- and middle-income countries.