The ocean plays a critical role for global food security. Worldwide, it sustains the livelihood of more than 3 billion people, the vast majority of which live in low- and middle- income countries. Ignoring the consequences for food security, we are having a dramatic impact on coastal waters.
These waters get polluted with organic pollutants and trace metals deriving from fossil fuels and industrial production, and nutrients from agriculture, such as phosphorus and nitrogen contained in fertilizers. Waters are also contaminated by human waste. The United Nations highlights that more than 80% of wastewater resulting from human activities, including sewage, is discharged into rivers or sea without any treatment. Concerns over plastic pollution are also severe. In addition, climate change is dramatically affecting the conditions in which fish develops, increasing the acidity of waters and warming them. The recipe is further supplemented by over-fishing and the use of habitat-destructive fishing. The percentage of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90% in the 70s to just 66% in 2017.
This is a pressing issue for the African continent. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations highlighted in its last report on The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture the centrality of the ocean for coastal countries in Africa, and for the millions of citizens that live along their coasts. Fisheries and aquaculture employ here more than 5 million people, almost double the number of workers employed in the Americas. This sector is also expected to expand the most in the African continent as compared to other parts of the world, with a stunning 48 percent increase in production by 2030.
The ocean is also central for the nutrition of populations living in these areas. Fish provide an accessible source of macro- and micronutrients that are essential to health. This is particularly important for communities where fish plays a central role in the diet, such as coastal areas relying on small-scale and artisanal fisheries. However, this dependence is not restricted to these areas only. For instance, in a country like Ghana, fish contributes to 50 percent or more of total animal protein intake.
The consequences of deteriorating marine life are therefore clear in this region: reduced prospects for growth in an expanding sector and food insecurity. This is further highlighted by the fact that most coastal communities, where most of urbanization is currently occurring, are also highly vulnerable to other adverse climatic events. For instance, the United Nations Development Program estimates that the 2019 cyclone Idai in Mozambique caused damages for US$ 20 million in the fisheries sector.
While the negotiations at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference are ongoing, urgent attention is required for the state of coastal areas in Africa. The priority needs to be given to the development of a sustainable fisheries and aquaculture sector, and to raising awareness about the importance of preserving marine resources. Continental and global food security are at stake.
Alex Armand, NOVAFRICA researcher.