Resilient Aquatic Food Systems for Healthy People and Planet


Aquatic foods — animals and plants grown or harvested from water for food or feed — provide micronutrient-rich foods for 3.3 billion people and support the livelihoods of over 120 million. However, access to food for low-income consumers and to food and income for more than 90% of small-scale actors in wild-caught aquatic food systems is threatened by inadequate management and competing demands for aquatic foods by wealthier consumers, leading to overharvesting, and marginalization of traditional and indigenous fishers. Climate change impacts aquatic food system productivity, viability and resilience. Aquatic animal diseases threaten production, and treating them can cause antimicrobial resistance that threatens human health. Reducing loss, waste and environmental impacts are imperatives throughout aquatic food systems.

Productivity, biodiversity and carbon-sequestering functions of aquatic ecosystems are threatened by competing water demands, pollution, infrastructure development, land use change and competition for space and resources. Aquatic food systems-dependent communities risk being excluded from these food environments, traditionally managed as commons. And underinvestment in breeding aquatic animals for improved growth, feed conversion efficiency and climate resilience and disease resistance constrains environmental performance and productivity, particularly for smaller-scale farmers.


This Initiative aims to build the resilience of aquatic food systems and realize their full potential for nature, people and climate by tackling systemic challenges such as data gaps, power asymmetries, water resource mismanagement, limited research investment and missed opportunities for scaling through agricultural innovation systems.


This objective will be achieved through:

  • Synthesis of existing data and production of new data to support equitable, evidence-based decisions and investments; provide benchmarking data for real-time monitoring and evaluation; and inform decisions and actions by farmers and fishers, the private sector and policymakers.
  • Partnering to realize the benefits of aquatic foods in sustainable development, including scaling up cost-effective models for community-based management and development systems, developing and strengthening partnerships, and synthesizing place-based learning to enable strategic engagement in international processes.
  • Integrated aquatic food systems in water and land foodscapes, through co-designing and upscaling integrated land and water production systems in multifunctional landscapes and aquatic food production in the ecosystems created by water infrastructure, as well as developing participatory diagnostics of water and land foodscape governance.
  • Delivering gains from genetic improvements in farmed fish through public-private partnerships. Aquatic food supply-demand gaps will be reduced by accelerating the development of better-performing strains of widely farmed fish (tilapias, carps and catfish) and their uptake in countries where aquatic foods are nutritionally important to large populations of low-income consumers and where aquaculture potential is high.
  • National innovation platforms for aquatic food systems, including the development of tools, partnerships and processes to identify, evaluate, pilot and scale new technologies and institutional innovations, helping to embed CGIAR research in national research and market systems and shift the locus of innovation closer to target aquatic food system actors.
  • Outcomes

    Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

    1. Enhanced availability, access and use of aquatic food system data, including databases and indexes, results in evidence-based policy formulation and/or reform and investment decisions in at least five countries.
    2. Novel and transformed partnerships across sectors and levels of governance lead to inclusion of demands and interests of small-scale aquatic food producers, thereby securing rights and livelihood benefits for 100,000 small-scale actors in island food systems (Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste) and the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh, India), bringing healthier and more nutritious diets that include aquatic foods to 700,000 people, at least 50% of whom are women.
    3. Adoption of rice-fish integrated production systems benefits at least 5,000 households in Myanmar, and the integration of fisheries and irrigation directly benefits 5,000 households in Ghana, creating employment opportunities and improving nutrition for 50,000 households in both countries. In Zambia and Cambodia, improved governance of 50,000 hectares of multifunctional water and land systems restores fish stocks and supports healthier ecosystems.
    4. Improved performance of tilapia, carp and catfish strains demonstrate increased productivity, profitability and environmental performance, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. New public-private partnerships provide a network for delivery of improved strains in Nigeria, India and Bangladesh.
    5. Aquatic food system hubs are operational in Solomon Islands, Bangladesh and Zambia, and increase national innovation systems’ ability to identify, evaluate and scale socio-technical innovations.


    Projected impacts and benefits include:


    Increased production supported by resilient aquatic food system innovations ensure 4 million people in target countries meet their minimum micronutrient requirements, reducing micronutrient deficiencies that can lead to disease and death, particularly for pregnant and lactating women and for children under five years of age.


    Improvements to fish strains, farming practices, and natural resource management provide benefits to 7 million farmers and fishers in target countries, increasing and stabilizing their income through inclusive and sustainable jobs and resilient livelihood opportunities created in aquatic food systems.


    Gender-transformative strategies to enhance integrated food, livelihood, and water-use outcomes in multifunctional land- and waterscapes are adopted by national stakeholders in two Asian and two African countries, benefiting 3.5 million women formally and informally employed in aquaculture and fisheries.


    Adoption of improved aquaculture management delivers substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in water and nutrient use efficiencies, saving 5.28 tonnes in CO2 equivalent emissions per year.


    Through community engagement and the adoption of more sustainable production and management practices for aquatic food systems in coastal and inland ecosystems, including deltas, 3.85 million hectares of coastal habitat are brought under improved management by 2030.


    For more details, view the Initiative proposal


    Header photo: Fishermen netting a stretch of a weed-choked irrigation channel in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar. Photo by M. Akester/WorldFish.