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Small fish may play big role in Africa

Fast-breeding fish may be an important tool in the fight against malnourishment in the poorest parts of the world, a UN report concludes. Professor of Biology, Jeppe Kolding, is lead author of the study.

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SMALL FISH, BIG POTENTIAL: A better use of fisheries in the South Saharan drylands can have great impact. Professor Jeppe Kolding is lead author of a report published by the UN, concluding that fishing as well as farming will be important.
SMALL FISH, BIG POTENTIAL: A better use of fisheries in the South Saharan drylands can have great impact. Professor Jeppe Kolding is lead author of a report published by the UN, concluding that fishing as well as farming will be important.
Photo:
Jeppe Kolding

“The fish are like vitamin gummy bears for kids,” Jeppe Kolding says. Kolding is a Professor at the Department of Biology at the University of Bergen (UiB).

He is lead author of a report published by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Before becoming a biologist, Kolding worked as a nurse and midwife in Kenya.

Eating the entire fish

While in Kenya, Kolding observed how mothers used small, sun dried fish as a supplement in their children’s food, which otherwise consist mainly of corn meal (Ugali). By eating the entire fish, with bones and innards, one acquires both calcium, iron and other important micro-nutrients.

“The proper development of the immune system as well as brain capacity in small children depend on certain fatty acids, solely ingested through milk or fish,” says Kolding.

The report points out that the dry regions south of Sahara can benefit greatly from establishing fish as a dietary supplement. Despite lakes occasionally drying up and later returning, there is a basis for life for certain species of small resilient fish in the area.

The fish return quickly to areas that have been dry, and can propagate incredibly fast when conditions are right. In all, the regions in question can produce 1.25 million tonnes of fish per year, according to the report. This amounts to 25 per cent of the total registered yield on the African main land.

“The fish are hardy and adapted to the conditions they exist in,” the biology professor says.

A massive potential

Harnessing the massive potential has its demands. Politicians and governments need to recognise fish production as part of the agricultural development including water reservoirs for irrigation. Kolding thinks that one for too long has only put emphasis on one thing: agriculture.

“One builds thousands of small water reservoirs, forgetting that they also can be used for fish. Most people in these areas have been fishermen and farmers for generations,” Kolding points out.

He is of the opinion that the current rules and regulations represent an out-dated and mistaken way of thinking, particularly regarding mesh sizes in fishing nets. The official demand is that fish grow large to adult size before being harvested, making it illegal to fish the smaller specimens. The justification is mainly economic interests, not matters of ecology, according to the biologist.

“This is the wrong way of going about it. A mere 0.001 per cent of the fish grow large enough to be caught in the larger meshes. This way, you lose 90 per cent of the potential energy the fish can provide,” Kolding says.

In addition to its economic and nutritional value, the small fish can play a big role in times of need such as droughts. Sun dried fish can potentially be stored for years, to be used in emergencies, according to the report.