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A 'Blue Revolution' to fight hunger in Haiti and world

Amid cropland and freshwater shortages, deep-water 'free-range' fish farming gives people protein – and jobs. Modern marine aquaculture could put Haiti on the cutting edge of the fastest-growing global food industry.

By Phil Cruver / July 8, 2011

Long Beach, Calif.

Like many developing countries, the Republic of Haiti imports most of its food. Of the 31 million eggs the population eats monthly, 30 million are imported from the Dominican Republic next door. Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the country spends up to $10 million a year to import twice as much fish as it can catch or raise.

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Solving the food-import dilemma with more agricultural production is problematic. Haiti's terrain is mostly mountainous, with little land capable of cultivation. And the dirt-poor country of 10 million people has very limited water resources. Almost every drop of fresh water goes to irrigation, and a growing population strains that supply. The United Nations categorizes these chronic scarcities of cropland and fresh water as "extreme," threatening to provoke civil conflict.

Haiti's complex land tenure system also constrains greater agricultural productivity. Most farmers are peasants without ownership of the postage-stamp-size lots they till. A "Blue Revolution" would provide these landless people with a piece of the sea and a much-needed source of protein.

Worldwide, half the fish consumed by humans is now farmed. It is the fastest-growing form of food production in the world, based on greater productivity of the sea over land. Moreover, none of Haiti's precious freshwater resources would be required for farming fish from the sea.

It's important, though, to distinguish the kind of fish-harvesting appropriate for Haiti. Coastal fish farms have multiplied around the world over the last three decades and they have spawned a host of problems: fish sewage that pollutes waters and grows algae blooms, shrimp ponds created by clear-cutting mangrove forests in Southeast Asia and Mexico, densely packed fish farms that too easily spread disease and parasites in the contained populations (and in the wild when fish escape).

Wild-fish harvesting is also not an option for Haiti. Its waters are overfished and stressed, creating a crisis for those who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods.

Why fish are more efficient

That leaves a new method in aquaculture that is just getting going around the world. It's being developed farther offshore, taking advantage of optimum currents for cultivating "free range" fish that are not sequestered in polluted bays and estuaries. These operations deploy cages in offshore waters, where currents quickly whisk away waste. And improvements in feed for farmed fish are reducing concerns about overharvesting of small fish that are used to nourish captive larger fish.

Open-ocean marine aquaculture would do much to provide food security if it were adopted in poor, coastal countries. Haiti has 1,100 miles of coastline, and its waters extend seaward 200 miles as an exclusive economic zone. Free-range fish farming would augment Haiti's agricultural economy.

As a source of animal protein, farmed fish are a godsend in a grain-limited world. Seven kilograms of grain are required to produce one kilogram of beef, and four kilograms are needed for one such measure of pork. But only two kilograms of grain can produce one kilogram of fish.


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