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Opinion: Food Security & Nutrition

Melissa Benn: The Future of Fish for Incomes & Nutrition

Melissa Benn Melissa Benn

Aquaculture is on the rise globally, and has grown at an impressive rate over the past decades, promising to play a major role in satisfying the protein requirements of both the growing global middle income group and the poorest. Currently, fish represent around 16 percent of all animal based protein consumed, and this percentage is likely to only increase.

As one of the world’s largest emerging markets, Indonesia is a great example of the challenges and potential of creating modern and competitive fisheries. Researchers with the WorldFish group evaluated growth trajectories for aquaculture in Indonesia, indicating that aquaculture will overtake capture fisheries as the major source of fish in Indonesia before 2030. Investment in aquaculture is one of the essential pathways to increasing domestic fish consumption and nutrition, keeping fish affordable, and supporting income generation. Forewarning of this industrial boom can help communities and donor organizations begin working now to mitigate the negative externalities this change will have on the environment, and local communities.

What does this change represent for a bay in Indonesia and the communities around it? Are they prepared for this shift?

Creating the foundation for economic growth and improved nutrition

Bumbang Bay, Indonesia, covers 79,000 hectares, of which nearly a third has been proposed as a Regional Marine Conservation Area. This area is home to the largest lobster seedling area in the province, is a breeding ground for shrimp and fish, and is rife with seaweed farming beds, coral reefs, and various other natural resources. However, years of destructive fishing techniques, excessive garbage dumping, and conflicts between fishers, fish and seaweed farmers, and tourism operators, had further degraded the bay.

Bumbang Bay, Indonesia

Bumbang Bay, Indonesia

The Improving Sustainable Fisheries and Climate Resilience (IMACS) project, funded by USAID and implemented by Chemonics from 2010-2015, was focused on building the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), the lead institution in the Indonesian government for promoting fisheries, managing coastal areas, and promoting the welfare of coastal communities. Within Bumbang Bay, IMACS partnered with and delivered a grant to a local NGO and university to improve the community’s management of their resources, by working with the community and local government to formulate an awig-awig, or customary law, which sets the framework for best management practices based on community member consensus building. This customary law has helped the community manage its own marine resources, providing them with the agency to protect and design the future of their bay. Other successful management techniques included creating and aligning specific IMACS interventions with MMAF priorities, and involving the private sector early in their design. This model increased ownership of the interventions from the private sector, and were more sustainable because of strong MMAF support. For example, IMACS accessed corporate social responsibility funding to help combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, through successful community surveillance programs.

At the end of five years, IMACS had helped 5,200,000 hectares of marine environment under improved fisheries management, supported the creation of 25 new laws, regulations, policies, and related instruments to enhance fisheries and marine resource management, and accomplished much more to support the MMAF and local governments across the country.

What’s next for Bumbang Bay?

While IMACS helped to form the enabling environment for successful fisheries and aquaculture, the impetus is on the people of Bumbang Bay, with support from development partners, to leverage this platform to increase incomes and enhance nutrition outcomes.

Aquaculture and nutrition remain closely tied in Indonesia, as two thirds of the national protein supply is fish. A recent study from Airlangga University and Kansas State University on household dietary diversity and child stunting study in East Java, Indonesia, found the prevalence of stunting in children aged five and younger to be 39.4%. The study concluded that the consumption of dairy and meat was the lowest among the 12 food groups rated, and that to prevent stunting, animal product consumption needs to be a major focus, especially for pregnant and nursing women, and children. This is one large area where entrepreneurs, donors, private partners, and community organizers can work together to find creative solutions that simultaneously drive economic growth and enhance dietary diversity and nutrition outcomes.

Fisher folks around the globe are becoming aware that simply adopting new technologies is not adequate if there is no focus on value chains, in the rapidly urbanizing developing world. As USAID begins to integrate nutrition, diet diversity, income generation, and much more into the traditional agriculture and food security proposal, we must embrace our creativity; hatcheries, apps, new age fish farming, new technologies, and private public partnerships are all innovative ways to link fishing communities and businesses with lucrative urban and export markets to improve local livelihoods and nutrition outcomes.

In the far future, perhaps we will see more high skilled jobs in the fish processing industry, to help farmers move away from subsistence farming. Who knows; maybe the first awig-awig of 2040 in Bumbang Bay will be a shrimp export partnership with Tokyo. With continued involvement from the development community, Indonesia will surely have a revolutionary few decades ahead.

Linking Food Security to National Security

For years fisheries and aquaculture have often been ignored when discussing food security and agricultural development. Dr. Gregory Treverton, the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, acknowledged this perception gap within the greater community a panel discussion titled “The Power of Global Food Security: Examining Economic and National Security Implications” in mid-September. He described fisheries as often being left out of the discussion, even though four billion people in the world depend on fish, and one billion depend very much on fish. At this point, half of the world’s fish production comes from aquaculture, instead of direct fishing, and this percentage is expected to only increase in the future. Often, a lack of food security becomes the ignition for violent conflict. Fish, fisheries, and aquaculture are therefore a key element of both food and global security, and deserve an increased focus from all involved in the space.

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