Aquatic Foods


Aquatic foods support the livelihoods of more than 120 million people, and provide micronutrient-rich foods for some 3.3 billion. Aquatic food systems and the people who depend on them are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including gradual warming, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and changes in the frequency, intensity, and location of extreme weather events. Low-income countries face the most significant risk to health, equity, and sustainability as a result.

Currently, production of aquatic foods is not sustainable, nor is it keeping up with demand. New strategies are needed to cope with some of the sustainability concerns relating to aquatic food systems. Investing in effective and more sustainable aquatic food systems, and their governance, can address these threats by eliminating the key systemic challenges facing the sector, offering transition pathways to a more just, nutritious, healthy, low-carbon, and climate-resilient food system.

Building resilient aquatic food systems requires a shift from traditional “single issue” or “magic bullet” approaches, to those that address multiple systemic challenges simultaneously, including market linkages, institutions, policies, and power structures, to achieve impact at scale.


The CGIAR Initiative on Aquatic Foods aims to tackle systemic challenges to the sustainability and resilience of aquatic food systems, including data gaps that lead to exclusion of the sector from wider food and nutrition policies and programs, and limited research investment. Working closely with research partners in fisheries and aquaculture, civil society, industry, and governments, the Initiative will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the production of aquatic foods, and enhance ecological and social resilience through development and dissemination of improved fish strains, better management practices, integrated fish-rice production systems, and fish-friendly irrigation systems.


This objective will be achieved by:

    • 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, 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 the ability of national innovation systems 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 million 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.

              The CGIAR Initiative on Aquatic Foods has a wide array of demand, innovation and scaling partners that help us identify and shape research demand, provide expertise in research methods (ranging from gender to genomic analysis) and enable us to reach marginalized groups in particular.  Our partners include: in India, the Women and Child Development Department of the Odisha State Government and women’s self-help groups; In Timor-Leste, Municipal Fisheries Offices in Baucau and Lautem Districts; in Solomon Island, the Kastom Gaden Association. As well as ministries of fisheries, environment and marine resources in all the countries where we work, we also partner with five CGIAR Centers (WorldFish, IMWI, IITA, IFPRI, ICARDA), UN FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Division and global centers of excellence such as the Earlham and Roslin Centers in the UK (for genomics) and Wageningen University in the Netherlands (for innovation systems and scaling readiness analysis). 


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