Making Aquaculture More Accessible for All
With populations in Africa and the Middle East growing rapidly, farmers must increase production to ensure everyone gets enough to eat. Producing seafood is relatively cheap and has a low carbon footprint. So why are so few people practicing aquaculture?
The Growing Need for Fish Farming
Egypt is home to the al-Fayrouz Fish Farming Project, the largest aquaculture farm in Africa and the Middle East. Since its 2021 creation, Egypt’s fish production has risen by almost 18 percent, helping the country become nearly self-sufficient when it comes to fish. Just four years before, Egypt imported 40 percent of its fish.
Self-sufficiency is the key to gaining independence and economic freedom. Aquaculture helps countries bolster their food production and spend less on imports.
Additionally, seafood farming can help the environment. Over 30 percent of the world’s fisheries are overharvested. Breeding fish, shellfish and mollusks in captivity can boost their numbers and ensure people harvest them sustainably. Aquaculture can also produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use fewer resources than other types of meat production.
Expanding Aquaculture’s Reach
Despite the benefits of aquaculture, Africa and the Middle East have been slow to adopt the practice. Experts estimate the aquaculture market in North Africa and the Middle East will grow 4.8 percent from 2021 to 2028, but it faces several barriers to widespread adoption. Here’s what it will take to make aquaculture more accessible in the region:
Technological Upgrades and Training
A lack of skilled labor hinders fish farming in Africa and the Middle East. Poor record-keeping, stocking, sanitation, feeding and water management practices lower the productivity of small fish farms. Governments should invest in agricultural extensions and fish farming associations to improve training and outreach in the region.
Additionally, new technology can make up for skilled labor shortages. For example, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) can monitor fish feeding behaviors at different temperatures and times of day, giving farmers more time for other tasks.
New Genetic Strains
Selective breeding is important for sustainable aquaculture. Traits like disease resistance, fast growth and feed efficiency are crucial for improving fish production in underperforming regions. Introducing new genetic strains of fish could help farmers boost their yields.
More Affordable Feed
Feeding fish can be prohibitively expensive for small farmers. Importing raw materials and feed processing equipment is costly, and farmers need alternatives. Researching affordable, locally available ingredients for raising fish will make aquaculture more accessible in Africa and the Middle East.
For example, feeding fish rice and maize bran, banana and cassava peels, different types of insects, and food waste could lower the cost of aquaculture. It would also help create a more circular economy with fewer carbon emissions.
Government Support and Private Investment
Many African countries plan to implement aquaculture to promote job creation and food security. However, they often need more funding to carry out their plans.
For example, Ghana created the Ghana National Aquaculture Development Plan (GNADP) in 2012. Its goal was to increase aquaculture productivity from 10,200 metric tons of seafood to 100,000 tons by the end of 2016. But neither the government nor the private sector provided enough funding for the GNADP to reach its ambitious goal.
Transporting fish — whether alive or ready for market — requires consistent temperatures in refrigerated trucks. Unstable electrical grids and high transportation costs make producing and distributing seafood in Africa and the Middle East difficult. Better infrastructure funding is necessary to make aquaculture possible.
Bridging the Gap
Aquaculture is making waves in Africa and the Middle East’s food production sectors. Seafood is a cheap, nutritious source of protein that can have a lower environmental impact than red meat and poultry.
Making fish farming more accessible entails gaining government and private support, introducing more durable and productive strains of fish, lowering feed costs, upgrading existing technologies and training farmers in aquaculture. With these supports in place, farmers can take on the challenge of feeding the world’s growing, ever-hungry population.