Clifford Spencer, Encouraging support through global and government connections
It has been a very busy month for Aquaculture without Frontiers in the UK. Much activity has been centred around the UK"s new National Aquaculture Centre (NAC), that is co-owned by the UK AwF and for which activity is increasing as the centre"s establishment continues at the Humber Seafood Institute on Grimsby"s Europarc. The other co-owner of the NAC is the GBTF a UN Foundation mandated, not for profit organisation, interested in technology transfer to developing nations.
Currently discussions and efforts are taking place around the NAC"s important future IT capacity which is will be run by the GBTF"s David James. David is the holder of a double first in Mathematics from Cambridge University and his previous posting was as IT manager at global giant Nestle"s head office in York in the UK.
The capacity to trigger research of direct relevance to the national aquaculture needs of developing countries, will be a key asset for AwF in the capacity and services of the NAC.
In this respect the NAC"s official academic partner Hull University has global skills as held in their own Hull International Fisheries Institute and separate Institute of Coastal and Estuarine Studies. Only this week the university hosted a visiting delegation to the NAC from the African Union"s own development agency NEPAD, to discuss aquaculture and the surrounding so called blue economy.
It was very interesting listening to the various presentations made by Hull"s considerable research staff during the visit, and even areas such as the potential for integrating marine aquaculture into the increasingly developed marine wind farms, of which Hull"s North Sea hosts and is developing the largest and most efficient in the world.
The host of ground-breaking technologies (from communication to monitoring to farming) that are now already available to assist smallholder aquaculture enterprises through their use in developing countries, is huge. These technologies took on a whole new meaning as the current situation of inland fisheries and aquaculture in continental Africa was explained by the visitors and discussed with the NAC"s directors with the support of Hull University based experts. The fact that for instance virtually all subsistence aquaculture in Africa is unrecorded was emphasised and with that the enormous reliance of local populations on the output of this indigenous small-scale aquaculture.
The fish, often consumed whole, provide a currently irreplaceable healthy diet and source of high quality protein to the huge populations close to its production. The potential to do real harm, and the real harm already occurring when for instance major hydro-electrical power schemes are used for renewable energy schemes without proper consideration for inland fish life was described in detail. Conversely, the power to do real good using properly researched, designed and considered schemes was enormous.
The NAC is receiving support from UK regional government and also encouragement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the UK national government.
So great was the interest in our African visitors, that Lord John Prescott, previously Deputy Prime Minister of the UK joined our visiting party and gave details of work he was currently performing with Hull University in developing countries based around establishing new low carbon economies. This work was designed to establish such economies without saddling these countries with dealing with the cost associated with repairing the damage caused by industrialised nations in their historical and current carbon emissions.
Different fish and crustacean species from around the globe were viewed in the university"s research tank facilities, some of which will now transfer to the NAC site at Grimsby for increased development under the watchful eye of AwF.
Technology to model flood plains, sedimentation, tides and currents in marine and freshwater locations as well as to identify fish from their DNA in the surrounding water were showcased. Mobile phone technology was suddenly making this considerable technology all available to local operators in-situ to communities on the ground. This together with social science skills gained around the world will be used to assist AwF working closely with local communities to deliver what they want in a meaningful form for their local use and future prosperity.
So great was the national interest in all of this activity that the BBC sent a film crew to report on the activities and that evening we all sat down to watch a news report that described the national need and prospective international use of the NAC"s output through AwF in developing countries.
The health effects of lack of fish in the UK diet is considerable and puts massive strain on the National Health Service with diseases such as diabetes rampant in the UK as well as heart and brain medical problems e.g. dementia associated with longer life on a poorer diet. These are certainly problems that the work of AwF in developing countries is keen to avoid and indeed it is very keen to bolster the essential health effects of well-planned and supported aquaculture particularly in boosting the health of pregnant mothers and young children.
The UK AwF is now in contact with the other AwF"s in the US, South America and Australia to offer these substantial facilities of the NAC for AwF"s global use in assisting the practice of aquaculture in developing countries.
Currently Mr Spencer leads the Global Biotechnology Transfer Foundation (GBTF), which is dedicated to promoting the potential for biotechnology to support sustainable, long-term, socio-economic development. He is also Chairman of Trustees for Aquaculture without Frontiers UK.