Aquatic Foods


Micronutrient-rich aquatic foods — animals and plants grown or harvested from water — nourish 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 overharvesting and the 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, which poses a threat to human health. Loss, waste and environmental impacts are damaging aquatic food systems. 

The productivity, biodiversity and carbon-sequestering functions of aquatic ecosystems are threatened by competing water demands, pollution, infrastructure development and land use change. Aquatic food systems-dependent communities risk being excluded from these environments, traditionally managed as commons. Underinvestment in breeding aquatic animals for improved growth, feed conversion efficiency, 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 and power asymmetries, improving water resource management, investing in genetic improvement and addressing missed opportunities for scaling, through agricultural innovation systems.


This objective will be achieved through:

    • Synthesizing existing data and producing new data to support equitable, evidence-based decision-making and investments and provide benchmarking data for real-time monitoring and evaluation. 
    • 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. 
    • Integrating 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 by accelerating the development of better-performing strains of widely farmed fish (e.g. tilapia, catfish) and increasing uptake in countries with high aquaculture potential where aquatic foods are nutritionally important to large low-income populations. 
    • Developing national innovation platforms for aquatic food systems, including tools, partnerships and processes to identify, evaluate, pilot and scale new technologies and institutional innovations, to embed CGIAR research in national research and market systems and shift the locus of innovation closer to target actors. 


    This Initiative will work in the following countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Myanmar, Nigeria, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and Zambia.


    Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

      1. Scaling partners and stakeholders in seven countries use improved knowledge systems and data to inform at least five evidence-based investments supporting aquatic food systems transformation. 
      2. Improved management and co-production of sustainable development pathways secure rights and livelihood benefits for 100,000 small-scale actors in aquatic food systems in Asia-Pacific and bring more nutritious diets to 700,000 people.  
      3. Improved food, livelihood, water and environmental performance in multifunctional land and water systems in Myanmar, Cambodia, Ghana and Zambia. 
      4. At least two of tilapia, carp and catfish strains demonstrate increased productivity (30% increase) and environmental performance (25% reduction in greenhouse gas emission) in one African and two Asian countries. 
      5. Aquatic food system labs are operational in the 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.  


              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 tons 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. 


              Projected benefits are a way to illustrate reasonable orders of magnitude for impacts which could arise as a result of the impact pathways set out in the Initiative’s theories of change. In line with the 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, Initiatives contribute to these impact pathways, along with other partners and stakeholders. CGIAR does not deliver impact alone. These projections therefore estimate plausible levels of impact to which CGIAR, with partners, contribute. They do not estimate CGIAR’s attributable share of the different impact pathways.


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