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Ocean Conference Lisbon: how marine systems contribute to the global food challenge

Published on
June 28, 2022

From 27 June to 1 July, the United Nations Ocean Conference will take place in Lisbon, with the motto Save our ocean, protect our future. Central theme: how can we conserve and make the oceans, the largest ecosystem on earth, more sustainable. The keynote speaker at one of the side events is Ernst van den Ende, director of the Animal Science Group of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). He will talk about how we can use the potential of aquatic production to feed the world sustainably and healthily.

One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to make global hunger a thing of the past by 2030 (SDG 2). The potential of seas and oceans in this challenge is often still missing from food systems analyses, policies, and investments.

For example, WUR has recently conducted a lot of research into the larger-scale use of cultivated plants in fish and shellfish farming. In this way, it will be possible to produce food more efficiently and with the loss of fewer valuable nutrients.

Seaweed is another example of a so-called blue food that is rich in essential nutrients and fatty acids and can therefore be a sustainable alternative to food from land animals.

Aquatic system closely linked to ecological and food systems

However, the aquatic food system does not exist in isolation. It is closely linked to the coastal and food systems on land. WUR's research therefore focuses explicitly on the combinations of marine (sea) and terrestrial (land) ecosystems (SDG 14) and how we can make optimal use of them. During the side event, Van den Ende will provide examples of solutions resulting from this collaboration between ecosystems, such as soy grown on land that is now used as fish feed and fertilisers that wash into the sea, and vice versa, fishmeal that is used as food for prawns grown on land. This could all be done much better.

In this canal in Paikgacha, Bangladesh, mangroves will play a new, sustainable role in the future. Photo: Dolfi Debrot
In this canal in Paikgacha, Bangladesh, mangroves will play a new, sustainable role in the future. Photo: Dolfi Debrot

WUR is closely collaborating on this with universities from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Norway. However, the necessary transition to a sustainable and inclusive food system also requires the involvement of businesses, government organisations, and consumers. That is why WUR is the co-organiser of this side event during the Ocean Conference.

Participate in the discussion

Participate in the discussion during the UN Ocean Conference Side Event, or contact one of our experts.

Two short videos about projects that we work on with local partners will be shown during the Ocean Conference:

Bangladesh

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In Bangladesh, a project to restore mangroves began in 2017. The project aims not only to restore nature, but also to stimulate the local economy. “Mangrove ponds” are constructed in which farmers breed prawns. It works both ways: the restoration of the mangroves will provide a more diverse ecosystem with better water quality and the prawn production will benefit from the shade provided by the mangrove trees. A good example of a combination of plant and animal systems.

Indonesia

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Along the coast of Indonesia, there is intensive prawn farming as well as overfishing in some places. These practices lead to the disappearance of mangrove trees and fishing industry losses and often have devastating effects on both human populations and ecosystems.

A joint team of international and local scientists started the Aquatic Systems project in 2019. Their aim was to first discover how cultivating seaweed in ponds could help restore pond productivity. This prevents farmers from having to destroy new patches of mangrove forest. They also investigated how cultivating seaweed along the open coast could be improved as a sustainable alternative for food and income.