Fish farming in the Amazon
Bjørn Tore Forberg
1. July 2013
The giant nation of Brazil with a population of 200 million has chosen little Norway as its collaboration partner to modernize and up-scale its aquaculture industry.
“The perspectives are reduced deforestation in the Amazon, less CO2 emissions and increased food security for the population in a developing country,” says Nofima Senior Scientist Atle Mortensen.
Since 2009 Nofima (more than 400 employees) has had an agreement with Brazil’s largest research institute for fisheries and aquaculture, Embrapa (approx. 9000 employees). The collaboration agreement has the complete approval of the fisheries ministers in both countries.
“But the collaboration has still not taken off to the degree one could expect in an area with such enormous potential. The freshwater resources in the Amazon are enormous. There is more fresh water here than in the world’s 11 next largest rivers combined. This is in addition to the enormous economic zone off the 8500 km long coastline,” says Mortensen.
Fish give climate benefit
“The perspectives are enormous. The huge rain forests play a decisive role in terms of both the world’s biodiversity and climate development. Deforestation in the Amazon has been perilous for many years and at the same time the global CO2 emission has increased significantly,” says Mortensen.
“In recent years Brazil has implemented several successful measures to reduce the deforestation, and the Norwegian government has allocated up to NOK 6 billion that will go into the Amazon Fund by 2015. For us at Nofima, it’s exciting that Norwegian fishery and aquaculture competence can be of use in something as important as curbing deforestation to contribute to food security in the Amazon region.”
The connections between fish and climate are as follows: The deforestation in the Amazon can be attributed to road construction and clearing of forest to obtain grazing areas for cattle farming and soya production. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef and soya and deforestation has had fluctuations in line with the economic situation for these products.
Model for other species
“The current efforts to go in for fish farming instead of cattle farming is reducing deforestation. There is also increased access to fish. The collaboration agreement states that in the first phase we will contribute to developing aquaculture of a local species in the Amazon, tambaqui, a species that has been extremely important in the region, but stocks are now severely depleted. What we achieve with tambaqui will act as a model for developing other species,” says Mortensen.
Another farmed fish species in the Amazon is the giant fish pirarucu, which can weigh up to 250 kg. These are both tasty white fish species. In Brazil, as is the case in many tropical countries, tillapia is the main species, but farming of tillapia in the Amazon region is prohibited.
Fish undergoing strong growth
Brazilians consume a lot of meat, but the politician goal is for some of the meat meals to be replaced with fish.
“They have already had partial success as Brazilians also love fish. Among other fish products, they consume Norwegian bacalhau. Capture and aquaculture of fish has increased from 600,000 tonnes to 1.4 million tonnes since 1990. The fish consumption in Brazil has increased from 6.8 to 9.75 kg per capita per annum. In the Amazon Region, people consume an average of 36 kg of fish per year. That is far higher than the average consumption in the highest fish-consuming countries. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization recommends 12 kg fish per person per year,” says Mortensen.
“It is absolutely a win-win situation for Brazil to concentrate on fish farming in cages using the technology developed by the aquaculture industry in Norway. As in most coastal nations, the wild fish stocks are depleted. With increased fish farming, the offer of healthy food will increase, while at the same time striking a blow for the global environment.”
Competition from bacalhau
“The giant fish is also called “Bacalao de Amazonas”. The Norwegian bacalhau industry has expressed fear that the use of “bacalao”, which means cod, will compete with the salted and dried brand of cod in Brazil.”
“When we engage in development aid to bring developing countries up to a higher level, we will always risk that in periods we receive competition from the markets. But here I believe that we as a rich country must be able to tolerate a period of increased competition of established products. Norwegian bacalhau of cod has a strong position in the market, not least in Portugal, Brazil and the Caribbean,” says Mortensen, who believes that Norwegian exporters will tolerate the competition from a local bacalhau variety from a totally different raw material.
An economic power
“Brazil is designated as a developing country, but is equally a major power that has had a stable economy for a long time. Brazil is an important collaboration partner for Norway and Norwegian industry. It is flattering that the country has sought collaboration with us by virtue of our competence in fisheries and aquaculture. For the Norwegian aquaculture industry and the supplier industry, the Brazil Project is an opportunity to join a boom,” says Mortensen.
He points out that Chile developed into a significant aquaculture nation, in part with Norwegian cooperation. But both Chile and the aquaculture giant Norway become small in relation to the potential Brazil has as an aquaculture nation. Even though the technology to date is mainly simple dam-based aquaculture, the fish farming of many extremely coveted fish species has multiplied.
Despite the grand visions and towering perspectives, the collaboration between Norway and Brazil over aquaculture in the Amazon Region has been covered by Nofima’s internal funding. The exception is support from the Peace Corps to the tune of NOK 108,000.
“The Norwegian goodwill in relation to the Amazon Region and the significance of the rain forest to the global climate has been significant. To date Norway has allocated NOK 3.55 billion to the Amazon Fund,” says Mortensen.”
“If the demands concerning reduced deforestation are fulfilled, Norway has committed to allocating NOK 6 billion by 2015As the farming of freshwater fish instead of cattle contributes to deforestation and improved climate, we are counting on the project finance will be worked out in the dialogue about the Amazon Fund and with the Brazilian development bank.”