The future of aquaculture value chain research

Aquaculture has emerged as a major sector in the global food system. The sector contributes up roughly half of global seafood production and one fifth of animal protein intake for nearly half of the world’s population.

Many of the gains in farmed production can be attributed to advances in technical research which increased yields around the world. But if we want to shape more sustainable and equitable growth of aquaculture globally we have to better understand how the industry is organised from production, trade to consumption.

In a recent special issue in the journal Aquaculture we brought together 19 papers from around the world to identify five current trends that are shaping the development of the global aquaculture industry.

First, we see that aquaculture production and trade is predominantly located in domestic markets in the global South, particularly domestic value chains in Asia and Africa. It is these markets that we will continue to drive the majority of demand for aquaculture in the future, rather than OECD markets.

Second, the growth of the aquaculture industry cannot be divided into categories of industrial vs. small scale, or intensive vs. extensive producers. Production is instead occurring at a range of scales and levels of intensity that all play a role that appear to be increasing production and creating wealth for farmers and their communities.

Third, the growth and organisation of the industry is driven by changes in the wider global food system linked, for instance, to urbanization and associated diet change. These wider transformations drive where aquaculture is produced, traded and consumed, by who and how.

Fourth, we see growing attention on issues of equity and environmental performance in the aquaculture industry. Which people are, for instance, included in, or excluded from, value chains. And whose values around environmental sustainability are most influential in shaping production practices.

Finally, research is now addressing how processes of technical and institutional innovation can foster improved production and trade. This is not only in terms of technical efficiency, productivity and profitability, but also in terms of environmental impact and social equity.

These emerging themes in aquaculture research also show us what is yet to be done. It is striking that so little international research has paid attention to the organisation of the largest global producer, China, either domestically or through its growing international reach.

There is also much work to be done on fish consumption. In doing so value chain research can reveal far more about changing demand for fish than the literature currently focused on food safety and marketing.

We’ve also only just started to scratch the surface when it comes to the disruptive role of digital trading, like the online retailers Ali Baba and Amazon, or new technologies like block-chain, are already playing in shaping aquaculture trade and logistics.

Likewise there is still a long way to go in understanding how aquaculture value chains can contribute to a more ‘circular’ economy’ leading to the efficient use and reuse of material (waste) flows.

In short, we’ve made progress. But there is a long way to go before we really understand whether and how aquaculture can meet the estimated forecast of 93 million tonnes of production need by 2030 to meet global demand in a sustainable manner.

To learn more read the Special Issue in the journal Aquaculture


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