Published on Agriculture & Food

Lessons from Asia on aquaculture growth potential amid resource and climate challenges

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Biofloc Tilapia fish farm, Hyderabad, Pakistan Biofloc Tilapia fish farm, Hyderabad, Pakistan

Reshaping the “blue food” industry to help feed people in a sustainable way is one piece of the puzzle in meeting international development goals and respond to the entwined food security-environment-climate crises.


Aquaculture – the farming of aquatic animals and plants – is considered a resource-use efficient way for providing relatively low-cost protein to humans and key among climate smart, resource efficient food production systems.

The new AquaInvest Platform at the World Bank complements efforts elsewhere to boost food and nutritional security. The Platform emphasizes that aquaculture should be resource-efficient and climate smart in the face of resource scarcity and rapidly changing climate.

Some 2,500 species of aquatic animals, plants, or algae - caught or grown in freshwater or marine environments – make up the “blue” component of the agri-food sector. Aquatic organisms offer a significant part of the solution to satisfying nutritional needs of a ballooning population projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, a 25 percent increase from the current 8 billion.

An emphasis on low-trophic aquatic species – mostly consuming plants and vegetation on the lower rungs of the food chain – is a key method of ensuring sustainable expansion, resource-use efficiency, and lowering dependence of aquaculture on external resources. This approach, complemented by adopting polyculture – and integrated – aquaculture systems, which combine fish farming with at least one other agricultural practice can also improve sustainability.

With an annual growth rate of 8.8 percent, compared to 1.2 percent for fishing, and 2.8 percent for terrestrial meat production, aquaculture now accounts for 57.3 percent of 214 million tons total aquatic production – split between aquatic animals and algae. Global aquaculture, currently valued by FAO at $265 billion in 2020, has overtaken global catches (Figure 1). 

Sustainable development of aquaculture requires investing in operations that minimize impacts to the environment while ensuring optimal utilization of scant resources.  Research supports the assumption that aquaculture intensification works better with low-trophic species while embracing climate-smart and resource-use efficient technologies. 


Figure 1. World capture fisheries and aquaculture production,1960-2020 (


Source: World Development Indicators


Learning from Asia 

Regionally, continental Asia has demonstrated remarkable growth and continues to dominate aquaculture, producing roughly 90 percent of products globally.  Between 1950 and 1989, aquaculture in China was comparable to America, Europe, and the rest of Asia and a little less so than Africa (Figure 2). However, China experienced explosive growth between 1990 and 2008, exceeding the rest of the world. Lessons from Asia and China can unlock the potential of aquaculture in Africa, the Americas and Oceania. 

This growth – accounting for 56.7% of global aquatic animal production and 59.5% of algal production by 2018 – can be attributed to the relatively high proportion of non-fed species – low trophic fish farmed without feeds in China (Figure 3). In addition to non-fed, the principles of polyculture and integrated systems bring numerous advantages.

Figure 2. Regional contribution to world fisheries and aquaculture production in both inland and marine waters (FAO 2020) 


Five main factors have led to higher production in China and Asia:

Figure 3. Comparison of fed and non-fed aquaculture of animal species in China and rest of the world, 2000-2020 (adapted from FAO 2022)


  • Easier access to genetically improved fish seed - Selectively bred fish are fast growers, high yielding, resistant to stress and diseases, and are better converters – in other words, consuming less feed for a kilo of meat produced.
  • Better access to affordable good quality feeds - Fish feed constitutes over 70 per cent of total farm costs. Well-developed local fish feed production means easier and inexpensive access, resulting in efficiency and higher returns. A new activity jointly funded by PROBLUE and PROGREEN Multi-Donor Trust Funds will quantify future aquafeed demand and investigate sustainability of different feed ingredients.
  • Diversification of culture systems and application of technologies - Asia’s aquaculture sector has, to a large extent, evolved from traditionally extensive farming practices. Then gradually intensified with addition of locally made supplementary feeds, to the resource-efficient technologies that encourage the recycling of nutrients and maximizes yields. 
  • Established export and domestic markets through value addition – International trade of aquaculture commodities has increased rapidly in parallel to the expansion of aquaculture. Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Indonesia are among top exporters of aquatic products globally.


Locally made feed a local solution to global challenges. Photo: Harrison C Karisa/World Bank




Harrison Charo Karisa

Senior Fisheries Specialist (Aquaculture)

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