Knowledge for Development

Demanding Innovation in African Fisheries and Aquaculture

Author: Dr. Sloans Chimatiro, NEPAD Fisheries Advisor, South Africa

Date: 25/05/2007


In Africa, the fish sector makes a vital contribution to meeting the food and nutrition security needs of 200 million Africans and provides income for over 10 million engaged in the production, processing and trade in this industry (see tables 1 and 2). Moreover, fish has become a leading export commodity, with an annual export value of US$ 2.7bn (1).


Climate change represents a potentially detrimental factor to fish-dependent communities as extremely high rainfalls or severe droughts may cause changes in fish and human habitats (See annex 1). Governments, individually or regionally, need to put in place strategies to predict changes as well as mitigating measures for fishing communities (2) to adapt (3) to climate change. The full realization of such strategies and measures requires effective and equitable governance arrangements to achieve social and environmental sustainability.

Table 1. Total and per capita food fish supply by continent in 2003

. Total food supply (million tonnes live weight equivalent) Per capita food supply (kg/year)
World 104.1 16.5
Africa 7.0 8.2
North and Central America 9.4 18.6
South America 3.1 8.7
Asia (including China) 69.4 40.1
Europe 14.5 19.9
Oceania 0.8 23.5

Source: FAO (2007)

Table 2. World fishers and fish farmers by continent

Total Year
1990 1995 2000 2003 2004
Africa 1,832 1,950 2,981 2,870 2,852
North and Central America 760 777 891 841 864
South America 730 704 706 689 700
Asia 23,736 28,096 34,103 36,189 36,281
Europe 626 466 766 653 656
Oceania 55 52 49 50 54
World 27,737 32,045 39,495 41,293 41,408
Of which fish farmers
Africa 3 14 83 117 117
North and Central America 3 6 75 62 64
South America 66 213 194 193 194
Asia 3,738 5,986 8,374 10,155 10,837
Europe 20 27 30 68 73
Oceania 1 1 5 5 4
World 3,832 6,245 8,762 10,599 11,289

Source: FAO (2007)

The NEPAD Action Plan for the Development of African Fisheries and Aquaculture is a strategic response to address the challenges facing the fish sector as the over-exploitation of natural fish stocks is reaching unsustainable limits. Aquaculture production has not yet fulfilled its potential. The Plan calls for urgent strategic investments to safeguard the future contribution of Africa’s fish sector to poverty alleviation, food and nutrition security, and regional economic development. Broadly-speaking, investment is needed to:

  1. develop the scientific capacity for conducting research across the production to consumption chain including maintaining the genetic resource base and addressing food safety issues;
  2. improve the management of natural fish stocks;
  3. develop aquaculture production, and
  4. enhance fish trade in domestic, regional and global markets.

Capacity needs to be strengthened at national and regional level in order to generate the data and transfer of information and knowledge on science, technology and innovations (ST&I) across regional borders, as well as for policy development.

Status & priorities for research and capacity building

Forty-two percent (4) of the African research institutions are weak in fisheries and aquaculture, leading to a lack of a common and strategic understanding of the challenges being faced by the sector and the importance of fisheries and aquaculture research for development. Three factors constrain research and development, namely insufficient funds, lack of core research staff and weak research infrastructure (FAO, 2006b). There is also a general lack of scientific capacity to undertake stock assessment to generate new knowledge for managing fisheries. More investment is needed in education and training of fisheries scientists and for building effective linkages between education and research institutions so that the scientific and academic community can be more attuned to the needs of the sector. Senior decision-makers and planners would be better able to guide decision-making if there was adequate scientific data on the fisheries and aquaculture sector. The national and regional ST&I policies would also be more coherent. Key priorities include planning and management of fisheries resources, fisheries post harvest management, processing and marketing, development of standards, the expansion of the aquaculture sector in Africa, and trade and export of fisheries.

Fisheries resources management

Science-based, long-term management plans are key to properly regulated and sustainably harvested marine and inland fisheries resources. Such management plans (5) are needed in Africa and should take into account the trans-boundary nature of fish stock and the migratory feature of many fishing communities. This will require harmonization of laws and institutional frameworks (6) in line with the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Science and policy development and implementation underpin the preparation of management plans. These should include assessing the fish supply and demand trends, trade policies, as well as enhancing technical innovation among fish producers and processors. Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) measures and development of ICT capabilities offer opportunities to the fisheries sector. In many cases, management plans will need to address the politically and socially difficult issue of reducing both large-scale and artisanal fishing. Furthermore, arrangements that regulate the access of foreign fleets to African fish stocks need to be considered from a long-term perspective of the sustainability of the fish supply and economic development opportunities in the host countries.

Fisheries post harvest management

In Africa, some estimates put post-harvest losses at 20 to 25% (7), which means that the productivity of African fisheries can be increased substantially by improving post harvest management. Effective participatory planning processes involving all legitimate stakeholders (local riparian communities, private sector) and leading to sustainable co-management frameworks need to be put into places and supported with appropriate legislation. Simple and cheap post-harvest technologies that build on fishers’ own indigenous knowledge need to be developed and adapted to local conditions in order to reduce post-harvest losses by at least 50% (8).

Aquaculture expansion

Per capita consumption of fish in Sub-Saharan Africa has decreased from 9.9 kg in 1982 to 7.6 kg in 2003. Aquaculture was expected to reverse this trend (FAO, 2007). The expansion of aquaculture in sub-Saharan Africa did not take place as expected because of limited and short-lived public investment in technical support to fish farmers as well as the fact that the private sector mechanisms have largely failed to provide alternatives (9). The sector can grow if more technical capacity is built among researchers, extensionists and fish farmers and consumer demand is assured. Technologies for increasing productivity (e.g. quality seed and feed) at different levels of investment, expanding aquaculture zones, enhanced management practices of production systems and improving product quality are available from many regions, including Africa itself. However, constraints exist in access to and application of these technologies and skills by resource-poor farmers. An enabling public-sector environment combined with a strategy to pursue development within the limits of available resources is required (FAO, 2006).

ST&I capacity building should focus on developing the technical skills required to identify, adapt, and help fish farmers utilize existing aquaculture technology to produce more fish while minimizing such risks as diseases and biosafety concerns in the case of new species. FAO (2006) recommended that efficient communication and knowledge transfer using modern information technology will both improve overall global knowledge and skills as well as link African aquaculturists with their counterparts in other countries. African scientists, extensionists and farmers should take advantage of the rapid advances in information infrastructure by investing in ICT to tap into the existing pool of global knowledge on aquaculture. Africa may learn from Asia’s experience in promoting aquaculture development by sharing information across regional intergovernmental aquaculture networks, such as the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA). Public-private partnerships are needed in order to identify and use suitable technologies for local production of fish under large-scale commercial enterprises.


In 2004, total world trade of fish and fishery products reached a record value of US$71.5 billion (export value), representing a 23% growth relative to 2000 and a 51% increase since 1994 (FAO, 2007). Liberalization of trade has generally resulted in lower tariffs and increased access to international markets by Africa. Therefore, Africa has generally become a net exporter of fish since 1985. Recent studies have shown that fish exports were the top ten foreign exchange earners for Ghana, Kenya, Namibia and Senegal and the earnings from international trade in fishery products contribute to ensuring food security (proceeds used to purchase food) in these countries (FAO 2005).

Table 3. Performance of continents in exporting to the European Union

. 1999 2000 2001 2002
. Border case /100,000 tonnes Rank Border case /100,000 tonnes Rank Border case /100,000 tonnes Rank Border case /100,000 tonnes Rank
To EU . . . . . . . .
Oceania - 1 - 1 5.9 5 - 1
North America - 1 1.0 3 1.1 2 0.7 2
Europe (not EU) 0.1 3 0.3 2 0.3 1 1.0 3
Central and South America 1.8 4 4.8 4 2.8 3 5.9 4
Africa 7.0 5 5.7 5 4.4 4 6.2 5
Asia 12.9 6 13.9 6 16.4 6 51.5 6

Source: FAO (2005)

However, African exporters continue to be constrained by non-tariff (technical and non-technical) barriers; for example, the European Union (EU) has enacted specific legislation concerning fish products (10). These are to ensure hygienic conditions for the production and handling of fish products; freshness of products; and, introduction of a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system in fish processing facilities. A great deal of fish is rejected and destroyed at the port of entry because of failure to comply with quality and food safety standards mandated by importing countries (see table 3). Therefore, harmonization of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures and standards is essential for achieving maximum international and regional trade in fish products. Furthermore, Africa needs to develop infrastructure to ensure compliance with HACCP, especially on landing sites and processing facilities. The continent should encourage the development of regional quality assurance standards for testing laboratories (Chimatiro 1998; Chimatiro & Heck 2006).

Although export of fish from Africa is an important economic activity for many countries, the marketing of fish locally needs to be promoted and marketing infrastructure developed. This may contribute to the reduction of poverty and hunger as highlighted in the Millennium Development Goal 1 (11). In order to harness and accelerate the impact of new opportunities in fish trade and its spin off effects on poverty reduction and food security, Africa needs to put in place the prerequisite scientific and technical know-how to improve marketing and trade of fish at local, national and global levels as a stimulus for economic development.

The way forward for ST&I capacity building and policy interventions

Organizations like NEPAD, FARA and their partners recognise the importance of ST&I in development and have agreed on a number of priorities for research, capacity strengthening and information dissemination as can be seen from the NEPAD Action Plan for the Development of African Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Regional Stakeholder Consultation: Research coordination in support of the AU/NEPAD Action Plan for the Development of African Fisheries and Aquaculture (FARA, in press). These priorities include: the need for Sub-regional Research Organizations (SROs) to mainstream fisheries and aquaculture within their programmes; the formulation of regional research agendas to allow countries to jointly address generic problems; a review of curricula at all levels of training to focus on development priorities in fisheries and aquaculture; and, information dissemination to make use of all available regional and local networks. Improved human capacity is imperative for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture development as good quality human resources will trigger the development of more efficient technologies, legislations and management plans. In order to enhance cross-learning and sharing of practical science, technologies and innovations by fishers, fish farmers, extensionists, researchers and policy-makers, innovation platforms must be created at all levels, including local, national and regional levels.

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  1. NEPAD (2005). NEPAD Action Plan for the development of African fisheries and aquaculture
  2. Allison et al. (2005). Effects of climate change on the sustainability of capture and enhancement fisheries important to the poor
  3. UNEP (2006). New Report Underlines Africa’s Vulnerability to Climate Change
  4. FARA (2006). An assessment of the requirements for efficient effective and productive national agricultural research systems in Africa.
  5. Science-based, long-term management plans are those plans which are formulated based on scientific information, in order to take care of long-term (over 5 years) management of the fisheries resources.
  6. For example, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is working towards harmonization of a fisheries regulatory framework using the SADC Protocol on Fisheries.
  7. Ames (1992). The kinds and levels of post-harvest losses in African inland fisheries. FAO. Post-harvest losses in artisanal fisheries
  8. NEPAD (2005). NEPAD Action Pan for the development of African fisheries and aquaculture
  9. Muir, et al. (2005). HIDDEN HARVESTS: Unlocking the Potential of Aquaculture in Africa. NEPAD Technical Review Paper on Aquaculture.
  10. These health conditions are laid down in Directives 91/493/EEC and 91/492/EEC
  11. Millennium Development Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger


Allison E.H., Adger N.W., Badjeck M-C, Brown K, Conway D, Dulvy NK, Halls A, Perry A, and Reynolds J.D. 2005. Effects of climate change on the sustainability of capture and enhancement fisheries important to the poor: Analysis of the vulnerability and adaptability of fisherfolk living in poverty. Department for International Development (UK) project number: R4778J. Online available
Ames, G.R., 1992 The kinds and levels of post-harvest losses in African inland fisheries. In: Teutscher, F. (ed) 1992. Proceedings symposium post-harvest fish technology Cairo October 1990. FAO CIFA Technical Paper 19.

Chimatiro, S.K. 1998. Aquaculture production and potential for food safety hazard in sub-Saharan Africa: with special reference to Malawi. International Journal of Food Science and Technology 1998, 33, 169-176.

Chimatiro, S.K. and Heck, S. 2006. Eastern and Southern Africa Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. Discussion paper prepared for COMESA on Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Negotiation Strategy and Position.

FAO. 2005. Responsible fish trade and food security, J. Kurien (eds.) FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 456. Rome.

FAO. 2007. The state of world fisheries and aquaculture, 2006. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. Rome, Italy.

FARA. 2006. An assessment of the requirements for efficient effective and productive national agricultural research systems in Africa. Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, Accra, Ghana.

FARA (in press). Regional Stakeholder Consultation: Research coordination in support of the AU/NEPAD Action Plan for the Development of African Fisheries and Aquaculture. FARA Secretariat, Accra, Ghana, 6-7 November 2006.

Handisyde, N.T., Ross, L.G., Badjeck, M-C and Allison, E.H. 2006. The effects of climate change on world aquaculture: A global perspective. Online available

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Muir, et al. 2005. HIDDEN HARVESTS: Unlocking the Potential of Aquaculture in Africa. NEPAD Technical Review Paper on Aquaculture. New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Johannesburg, South Africa.

NEPAD. 2005. NEPAD Action Pan for the development of African fisheries and aquaculture. New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Johannesburg, South Africa.

UNEP. 2006. New Report Underlines Africa’s Vulnerability to Climate Change. Online available

WorldFish Centre. 2006. The threat to fisheries and aquaculture from climate change. Policy brief. Penang, Malaysia.

Annex 1: Impact of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture

Drivers of change Impacts on aquaculture and fisheries systems Effects
Higher inland water temperatures Reduction in fish stocks Increased stratification and reduced mixing of water in lakes, reducing primary productivity and ultimately food supplies for fish species
Possibly enhanced fish stocks for capture fisheries or else reduced growth where the food supply does not increase sufficiently in line with temperature. Possible benefits for aquaculture, especially intensive and semi-intensive pond systems. Raised metabolic rates increase feeding rates and growth if water quality, dissolved oxygen levels, and food supply are adequate, otherwise possibly reducing feeding and growth. Potential for enhanced primary productivity.
Aquaculture opportunities both lost and gained. Potential of species and alteration of species composition for capture fisheries. Shift in the location and size of the potential range for a given species.
Altered stocks and species composition in capture fisheries. For aquaculture, altered culture species and possibly worsened losses to disease (and so higher operating costs) and possibly higher capital costs for aeration equipment or deeper ponds. Reduced water quality, especially in terms of dissolved oxygen. Changes in the range of pathogens, predators and competitors. Invasive species introduced.
Potential loss of species or shift in composition for capture fisheries. Impacts on seed availability for aquaculture. Changes in timing and success of migrations, spawning and peak abundance.
Changes in sea surface temperature For aquaculture, changes in infrastructure and operating costs from worsened infestation of fouling organisms, pests, nuisance species and/or predators. For capture fisheries, impacts on the abundance and species composition of fish stocks. More frequent harmful algal blooms. Less dissolved oxygen. Increased incidence of disease and parasites. Altered local ecosystems with changes in competitors, predators and invasive species. Changes in plankton composition.
Potential for increased production and profit, especially for aquaculture. Longer growing seasons. Lower natural mortality in winter. Enhanced metabolic and growth rates.
Potential benefits for aquaculture and fisheries but perhaps offset by changed species composition. Enhanced primary productivity.
. Potential loss of species or shift in composition in capture fisheries. Impacts on seed availability for aquaculture. Changes in timing and success of migrations, spawning and peak abundance, as well as sex ratios.
Aquaculture opportunities both lost and gained. Potential species loss and altered species composition for capture fisheries. Changes in the location and size of suitable range for particular species.
Reduced recruitment of fishery species. Worsened wave damage to infrastructure or flooding from storm surges. Damage to coral reefs that serve as breeding habitats and may help protect the shore from wave action (the exposure to which may rise along with sea levels).
Changes in precipitation quantity, location and timing that alter water availability (changes in evaporation rates may also be significant). Altered abundance and composition of wild stock. Impacts on seed availability for aquaculture. Changes in fish migration and recruitment patterns as well as in recruitment success.
Altered distribution, composition and abundance of fish stocks. Fishers forced to migrate more and expend more effort. Changes in lake and river levels and overall extent and movement patterns of surface water.
Higher costs of maintaining pond water levels and from stock loss. Reduced production capacity. Conflict with other water users. Changes of culture species. Lower water availability for aquaculture. Lower water quality causing more disease. Increased competition with other water users. Altered and reduced freshwater supplies with greater risk of drought.
Sea level rise Reduced area available for aquaculture. Loss of freshwater fisheries. Loss of land
Shifts in species abundance, distribution and composition of fish stocks and aquaculture seed. Changes to estuary systems
Damage to freshwater capture fisheries. Reduced freshwater availability for aquaculture and a shift to brackish water species Salt water infusion into groundwater
Reduced recruitment and stocks for capture fisheries and seed for aquaculture. Worsened exposure to waves and storm surges and risk that inland aquaculture and fisheries become inundated. Loss of coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests.
Increased frequency and/or inStensity of storms Loss of aquaculture stock and damage to or loss of aquaculture facilities and fishing gears. Impacts on wild fish recruitment and stocks. Higher direct risk to fishers; capital costs needed to design cage moorings, pond walls, jetting, etc that can withstand storms; and insurance costs. Large waves and storm surges. Inland flooding from intense precipitation. Salinity changes. Introduction of disease or predators into aquaculture facilities during flooding episodes.
Drought Loss of wild and cultured stock. Increased production costs. Loss of opportunity as production is limited. Lower water quality and availability for aquaculture. Salinity changes.
Reduced wild fish stocks, intensified competition for fishing areas and more migration by fisherfolks. Changes in lake water levels and river flows
El Niño-Southern Oscillation Changes in the distribution and productivity of open sea fisheries. Changed location and timing of ocean currents and upwelling alters nutrient supply in surface waters and, consequently, primary productivity.
Reduced productivity of reef fisheries. Changed ocean temperature and bleached coral
See impacts for precipitation trends, drought and flooding above Altered rainfall patterns bring flood and drought

Source: Handisyde, et al (2006). The WorldFish Centre (2006)