While world hunger is falling, some 805 million people, or one in nine, still suffer from hunger, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, published annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This study also finds that undernourishment and under-nutrition coexist, whereby the quality of the diet does not allow for healthy growth and development.
The main challenges that governments and international development communities need to address, given the global population is projected to exceed nine billion by 2050, is to ensure both adequate food and nutrition security for all.
Fortunately, solutions are available. Most notably, it is widely recognised that seafood has the capacity – if supported and developed in a manner that is both environmentally and socially responsible – to address the challenges and contribute positively towards the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
Delegates at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), held at the FAO headquarters in Rome in November 2014, heard that fishery resources are an important source of macronutrients and micronutrients for humans as well as the primary source of income for tens of millions of people.
The 2,200 top-level participants from across the world, including representatives from more than 170 governments, also learned that fish accounts for about 17 per cent of the global animal protein intake, but in many low-income countries with water and fisheries resources, this share far exceeds 50 per cent.
The new paper Maximising the contribution of fish to human nutrition, compiled and presented at ICN2 by representatives of the FAO and non-profit research organisation WorldFish, confirms that fish consumption has many benefits, including improved neurodevelopment in infants and young children when the mother consumes fish before and during pregnancy. It also lowers the risk of coronary heart disease mortality among adults by up to 36 per cent. Both rewards are mainly thanks to the essential long-chain omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) present in seafood.
“Fish can therefore be considered an irreplaceable animal source, providing essential nutrients of high bioavailability which are found in limiting amounts in the diet,” states the paper.
The paper warns there is a risk that diets of the poor will become even less diverse and more dependent on starchy staples as a result of the increased volatility in food prices in recent years. It states there is a renewed emphasis on the production, access, distribution and utilisation of common, micronutrient-rich foods.
“Fish, especially nutrient-rich small fish, from the wild and from aquaculture, can play a vital role in improving human nutrition, but this will require changes to government policies, investment in infrastructure and encouragement of research. Means must be found to reduce post-harvest losses in fisheries, better utilise processing waste and to make use of the large quantities of small pelagic fish that are available for direct human consumption,” it says.
A number of international organisations such as FAO, bilateral agencies, governments, NGOs and the private sector have initiated programmes and strategies that provide a platform for fish to contribute to human nutrition, acknowledged the paper. But it adds that these “should be further strengthened and coordinated”.