What is integrated aquaculture and how can it help feed the world?

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Rumaitha Al Busaidi, Group Manager, Business Innovation, Fisheries Development Oman


  • Integrated aquaculture means linking two or more farming activities, where at least one is a fish-farming activity.
  • It offers a sustainable, resilient solution to increase food security.
  • Read the report “Davos Labs: Youth Recovery Plan” here.

The is increasing pressure for the seafood industry to be environmentally and socially sound. With the increase in standards, guidelines and requirements for selling seafood products in various global markets, the industry is looking for sustainable solutions.

One of the ways producers are working on improving their sustainability profile is through the adoption of integrated aquaculture systems, which link two or more farming activities, one of which is a fish-farming activity.

Here are four reasons why integrated aquaculture systems are powerful.

1. They date back to the first and second centuries B.C.

Integrated aquaculture may seem like a new concept focused on bringing sustainability to the core of the industry. But if we took the broadest definition of aquaculture, we would see that integrated aquaculture could be considered as old as fish farming itself. The beginning of aquaculture as we know it today started as an integrated model.

China has a documented history, dating back to the first and second centuries BC, of using integrated fish farming systems. This refers to food production through the comprehensive use of aquaculture, agriculture and livestock in one system. Asian countries have been incorporating these systems passed on generation after generation especially in the co-evolution of rice-fish farming.

2. They provide an ecosystem-based management approach.

Integrated aquaculture means different types of species are cultured together utilizing the same water source.

One type of system is aquaponics, in which fish and plants are grown together and the nutrient-rich water resulting from fish waste is used as fertilizer for the plants, instead of leaving the system. This is a perfect example of how interconnected interactions within an ecosystem, including humans can serve to better address sustainability concerns as shown below.

3. They increase production efficiency and investment profitability.

Integrated aquaculture provides a proven method to increase production efficiency. An example is the Tilapia farms in Egypt where integrated systems for horticulture and aquaculture focus on water use especially in a region considered the most water-scarce in the world. With looming water wars if this crisis is not handled correctly, the need for efficient use of water like these Tilapia farms is much needed.

I can also attest to my personal experience in Oman, where as a result of frequent cyclones and sea water intrusion, farmers were in jeopardy of losing their source of income until integrated aquaculture systems were introduced to better their production efficiencies and hence their economic situation. Aquaculture is now at the forefront of industries set to diversify Oman’s economy by 2040, with an even ambitious goal to contribute to achieving better sustainability metrics and standards for all concerned.

4. It paves way for Climate Smart Aquaculture (CSA)

Adopting integrated aquaculture as a strategy not only increases output productivity and efficiency in a sustainable manner; it also plays a major role in reducing the sector’s vulnerability and increasing its resilience to climate change.

One of the key strategies currently being used is encouraging Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture, better known as IMTA, a novel process of growing finfish alongside shellfish like oysters and marine plants like seaweeds. Interestingly, we are seeing more applications of this system in many forms.

A few examples include the recent announcement by SAARC countries of introducing IMTA as means to reduce climate change impacts on the sector, trials in Europe focusing on culturing lobsters alongside salmon, a vision to have a rainforest in the ocean, or better yet, an effort to carbon capture more CO2 than is produced by the Netherlands each year.

COVID-19 continues to expose vulnerabilities in how our food systems are structured, making food security critical. We must ensure that we not only honor the pledge of working to end world hunger by 2030 but also to do so while taking into account the climate and what we leave behind for our future generations. Furthering policies, research and technology adoption of integrated aquaculture on a bigger scale will be key.

Rumaitha Al Busaidi is Co-Chair of The Davos Lab.

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