Feeding a world of nine billion people sustainably

By 2050, the population of Earth is expected to top nine billion people, 34 percent higher than it is today. Nearly all of this increase will occur in developing countries.

Not only is the world’s population expected to grow, its diet is expected to change. Every year, people are eating significantly more meat and fish. That is the byproduct of more urban lifestyles. By 2050, about 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban compared to 49 percent today.

Producing enough food for that many people isn’t the challenge. Producing it in a manner that will not destroy our oceans, forests, and climate is. For that reason, we need to consider the environmental impact of our food production more than ever before.

The importance of aquaculture to our future

Given this challenge, aquaculture seems likely to play a major role in the solution. Compared to other meat sources, the overall carbon footprint for fish is quite favorable. In comparison studies between farmed salmon and traditional meat production, the carbon footprint for the farmed salmon is 2.9 carbon equivalents per kilogram of edible product. Corresponding numbers for chicken and pork are 3.4kg, 5.9kg respectively. Cattle’s carbon footprint is as much as 30 carbon equivalents per kilogram of edible product.

But, unlike our tropical species, salmon are carnivores, which adds to their environmental impact since other fish have to be caught and processed to feed them. One pound of farmed salmon can require up to three pounds of other fish to produce. The savings to the environment get even greater when you compared non- carnivorous, “low-trophic” tropical species such as pangasius. Pangasius are omnivorous and able to thrive on a far more ecological diet. The Fish Feed Equivalence Ratio (FFER) and economic Feed Conversion Ratio (eFCR) for pangasius are among the most favorable of all farmed fish.

The silent revolution that’s reshaping the food industry

Aquaculture is new to most people today, but has been practiced on a commercial scale for thousands of years. One of the earliest known aquaculture projects dates back to 6000 BC. Evidence suggests indigenous Australians developed about 100 square kilometers (39 sq mi) of flood plains near Lake Condah into a system of channels, dams, and pens to farm eels for consumption. We also know aquaculture played a role in the economies of ancient Rome, China, and Japan.

The practice was introduced across Europe in the mid-1700’s and in North America a hundred years later. Despite this lineage, public awareness of aquaculture is remarkably low. Remarkable because no other civilization over the last 8,000 years has depended on aquaculture more than we do today.

The growth of modern aquaculture could best be described as the food industry’s silent revolution. This unknown force has been quietly gaining momentum in modern times since the 1970’s.

In fact, aquaculture has been the fastest growing sector of the food industry for the past three decades, with average growth of about 10% annually. In the process, it has helped ensure global food security, kept the overall price of fish down, and made fish and seafood more accessible to consumers around the world. You may be surprised to learn that today around 50% of all seafood consumed globally is the product of aquaculture. That percentage is expected rise.

A unique opportunity for the developing world

Demand for fish grows in step with the world’s rising population. Global wild fish catch peaked in the 1990’s and has flatlined ever since despite the constant increase in demand. The inability of wild catch to keep pace with demand created a vacuum in the market that has been rapidly filled by aquaculture. Global aquaculture production more than doubled between 2000 and 2012. Research now suggests that aquaculture production will need to more than double again between now and 2050 to keep pace with the demand of a growing population.

 

One interesting aspect of the growth in aquaculture is that most of it has and will continue to come from the developing world. Over 60% of the world’s total aquaculture output comes from developing nations. This has a significant social impact when you consider that today’s aquaculture industry already employs around twenty million people directly — while contributing exponentially to the livelihood of many times that number along the value chain.

This provides many poorer nations with an unprecedented opportunity to develop more reliable food production and economic stimuli — if they are able to create a viable aquaculture program. Today, many developing nations have the climate and natural resources for aquaculture to thrive. What they often lack is the experience, technology, and know-how to do so sustainably. Vinh Aquaculture sees these regions as a top priority for our efforts.