Small fish species can enhance food security in Africa – study by FAO shows

AFRICA – A new study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) poses that small freshwater fish around Africa offer a large and under recognised opportunity to boost food and nutrition security.

The study which was investigating an array of fish species and related livelihoods that too often are undervalued within the continent and offers a review of numerous tiny species and fisheries around Africa.

According to the study, small pelagic fish, generally processed, sold and eaten whole, account for three quarters of the total inland fish catch of the continent but because of their low economic value they are often undervalued.

However, the study urges that their unparalleled production rate, and simple technologies used for their capture make them ideal in nutrient-deficit regions.

FAO cites Lake Victoria in East Africa and the largest lake in Africa, where the introduction of Nile Perch fostered a lucrative although bust-prone industry but yet, catches of dagaa – an endogenous sardine like cyprinid- actually contribute more to fisheries output by weight and in terms of regional food security.

However, the paradox of rules meant to promote sustainability actually hinder opportunities for maximising yields while maintaining viable ecosystems.

“The largely unmanaged shift of many African fisheries towards small species may in fact represent a shift to more balanced harvesting” rather than a sign of overfishing of species higher up the food chain, said Jeppe Kolding, a professor of biology at the University of Bergen in Norway and lead author of the technical report.

It suggests that potential catches of small species in Africa’s lakes and rivers could be sustainably increased – a significant opportunity to tackle Africa’s hunger and nutrition challenges.

Africa is the only continent with large, natural tropical lakes, and boasts around 1.3 million square kilometers of freshwater resources, including lakes, rivers, reservoirs, floodplains and swamps, reports AgropreneurNg.

According to the study, the small species have an annual productivity of more than five times compared to their fancier peers and hence a focus on small species may allow Africa to significantly increase its production of inland fish.

The focus on large, often predatory species can result in complex conflicts between fisher folk and fisheries managers tasked with carrying out expensive enforcement efforts to protect higher value species, said Felix Marttin, a FAO fisheries resources officer and co-author of the report.

It also leads to “missed opportunities and investments” in a sector rich in promise for providing relatively cheap, local and highly nutritious commodities on a continent with the lowest per capita supply of animal-sourced protein, he said.

Comparably, the report argues that simple technology and low-investment operations deployed during fishing of the small species often ensures accessibility and available for human consumption.

“Moreover, sun-dried processing techniques require minimal energy inputs and produce food with a long shelf life that is suitable for storage in low-income homes that lack electricity and easily exported to cities around the region,” the report states.

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FAO recommends efforts to compile better catch statistics, recognize the neglected socio-economic and nutritional importance and potential of small pelagic “low-value” fish, and encourage revised regulatory frameworks to promote balanced fishing patterns through a shift towards lower trophic levels.

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