The Fish Innovation Lab: Improving Livelihoods through Food Security Research
The causes of food insecurity are not clear-cut. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of food due to insufficient resources to buy or attain nutritious food, but the reasons for food insecurity are diverse. They often include poverty, low levels of education, as well as social structures. For example, oftentimes, a mother will go without food during hard times for the sake of her husband and children having food.
Aquaculture and fisheries play an important role in food security by not only providing a product that is highly nutritious and a source of protein, but by also providing a source of income among people employed in the sector.
“Fish is an important source of high-quality protein and micronutrients, and it is one of the most traded food commodities globally,” said Mark Lawrence, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish. “As a result, it has tremendous potential to address nutrient security and provide livelihoods.”
Tackling the global challenge of food insecurity is complex. Fortunately, Feed the Future Innovation Labs, like the Innovation Lab for Fish, draw on the expertise of leading U.S. universities and partner country research institutions to examine the ways they can best help bridge gaps in food insecurity, based on the needs of a population.
The Innovation Lab for Fish aims to alleviate poverty and improve nutrition through several different avenues. From advancing aquaculture systems through genetically improved carps to facilitating home visits that provide nutrition education, the Innovation Lab for Fish brings together researchers from diverse areas of expertise to help communities in Africa and Asia improve their food security and nutrition.
Improving Food Security through Genetic Technology
In a recent success story by the Advancing Aquaculture Systems Productivity through Carp Genetic Improvement project, the team is helping Bangladeshi fish farmers through their genetically improved rohu carp.
“When I received the third-generation (G3) rohu from WorldFish, I was told that this fish would grow 30% faster than the conventional strain. I did not believe it then,” said Shafiujjaman Momin from Bagatipara upazila of Natore district in northwest Bangladesh. “However, I see it is growing even faster than 30%, so now, I have confidence in G3 and believe it can help fish farmers produce more with less.”
Thanks to genetically improved rohu fish, farmers like Momin not only can expect an increase in the growth rate, but also it was noted by one farmer that “each fish weighs one kilogram on average, which is much better than any conventional rohu strain.”
With fish accounting for 60% of animal protein consumed in Bangladesh, increased growth rate and bodyweight for rohu carp raised in Bangladesh will help positively increase food security.
Teaching Mothers and Fishers About Nutrition
Another project that is focused on increasing food security for vulnerable populations is the Samaki Salama team. In their recent success story, the project team made personalized home visits to increase Kenyans’ knowledge of the importance of consuming fish.
Maria, a mother of 10 children, received a home visit with a nutrition educator, which helped her to feel empowered to make changes to how she feeds her children and to share the information she received with other mothers.
Maria’s children enjoy eating fish, but she had not been feeding them the highly nutritious fish head because she was afraid of the bones. Since receiving her home visit, she plans to continue diversifying her family’s diet, especially that of her youngest children, by using what she has locally on her farm, as well as feeding them more fish.
“I will start feeding my children the fish head and eyes that I wasn’t giving them before,” she said.
Through these home visits, the Samaki Salama team aims to educate Kenyan families to help improve overall mother and child nutrition, health and diet diversity. Meanwhile, the team is also emphasizing to fishers the importance of catching mature fish for fisheries’ sustainability and improved income.
Fish Processing Techniques for Less Food Waste and Contamination
The Nourishing Nations team also knows the importance of bridging the educational gap to increase overall knowledge of how to add nutritious fish to people’s diets. The project team hosted nutrition and food safety trainings in Nigeria for fish processors.
Not only did the trainings provide education on how to have a balanced diet, but the trainings also taught the fish processors better fish processing practices, which will help decrease food waste and contamination.
Nigerian fish processor, Blessing Bosin, made improvements to her fish processing business by incorporating safe fish handling and processing methods, as well as by adding a modified smoking kiln and stainless-steel table to her operation.
“I have better quality processed fish products with an appealing color and aroma, without the smell of heavy smoke,” Bosin said. “This has led to an increase in my customer base. Also, due to increased product quality, many of my customers are willing to wait for my processed products to be ready rather than go elsewhere.”
Additionally, upcoming training sessions will provide fish processors with information on how to incorporate the nutrition information they learned into a marketing strategy to help them when selling their products. This will not only help the fish processors in selling their products, but it will also help spread nutrition education to the general public.
“These projects illustrate the impacts that the Fish Innovation Lab is having on improving the nutrition of families and livelihoods of fish producers and processors,” said Lawrence. “Through projects like these, the Fish Innovation Lab is working to improve lives in Africa and Asia, one family and one community at a time.”