Our food system currently leaves three billion people undernourished and will have to feed 10 billion people by 2050, all under the intensification and unpredictable effects of climate change.
Aquatic “blue” foods — fish, crustaceans and algae that are caught or farmed in fresh or salt water — will play an increasingly important role in closing this gap and building a better food system in the future.
A groundbreaking new study, the Blue Food Assessment (BFA), shows how we can take advantage of the many opportunities that exist in the world’s waters.
Already predicted to nearly double the demand for aquatic food by 2050, researchers found that expanding blue food production even further could make a big difference to public health. Their models indicate that an additional 8 percent increase in supply would drive down the prices of blue foods, making it easier for poorer households to buy and eat, and as a result, an estimated 166 million cases of malnutrition. are prevented around the world. In addition, in three of the four countries, these benefits accrued even more to women.
However, to make the most of this rising demand, improvements are urgently needed to move the sector towards greater efficiency, sustainability and equity. Here’s what we need to do to maximize that potential and really turn the tide against the global challenges of climate change and malnutrition.
First, we must recognize that blue foods are important foods. The policies and programs that shape our food systems have long focused on agriculture, leaving blue food on the sidelines. Blue foods already provide essential nutrition to more than three billion people – and they can play an even more vital role in meeting the challenges ahead.
Second, we need to take advantage of the incredible diversity of blue foods. We eat more than 2500 different aquatic animals. They vary greatly in the nutrients they provide. For example, small pelagic fish such as anchovies and sardines contain about eight times more iron, five times more omega-3 fatty acids and four times more vitamin B12 than tilapia (a common white fish).
Blue food production systems also vary widely in their carbon footprint – bottom trawling can have very high greenhouse gas emissions; on the other hand, the cultivation of bivalves and seaweed can be carbon negative.
Our research shows that embracing this rich diversity offers rich opportunities to meet our many needs and tastes and to find avenues that allow us to achieve multiple goals at once: have foods that have a higher nutritional value, a lower ecological value. footprint and a fairer livelihood.
That means encouraging better practices in many parts of the industry. More fundamentally, it also means broadening our horizons for blue foods — eating more diverse types of fish, like sardines and anchovies, rather than just salmon, and branching out further into other foods like oysters, mussels, and seaweed.
Third, we must recognize and support the crucial role of small-scale producers in the blue food sector. Small-scale operators produce, process and sell most of the blue foods destined for human consumption, while providing livelihoods and safety for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Yet these actors are often neglected by policy makers and by markets, which often target large industrial producers. Small-scale actors should be at the table when managing blue food sources. And they need support – including infrastructure, such as cold chains, to access markets; financing for innovation and sustainable intensification of production; and cooperatives that give small players access to national and international markets.
Finally, like other food systems, blue food systems will be disrupted by climate change. The blue food sector must do its part to reduce emissions. For example, better fisheries management can reduce emissions, as fishermen can catch their quota with less time on the water. We also need to invest in climate resilience. Our research shows that the countries and communities most dependent on blue food consumption are also the most exposed to climate risks and least prepared to address them. Even if the world achieves the Paris targets for controlling emissions, more than 50 countries will be at high climate risk due to the high reliance on blue food benefits and the high vulnerability to the loss of those benefits.
With nine fishing seasons to go to reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the study shows that blue food is one of the best solutions to the twin challenges of climate change and malnutrition that are increasing rapidly worldwide.
Ultimately, we can begin to turn the tide against these global challenges, but only if we unlock and unleash the vast potential of blue foods.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.