Nature-based solutions in small-scale aquaculture to improve food security

The context

The growing need for healthier diets to achieve global food security in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss requires new solutions for how we produce and consume food, particularly proteins, including aquatic plants and animals.  As the natural resource base and ecosystem services are the foundation of all food and agricultural systems, nature-based solutions can be used to deliver on food production, while curbing climate change and restoring biodiversity.  

Aquaculture is also one of the fastest growing food-subsectors producing 50 % of aquatic foods globally and moreover, is forecasted to increase by 15% by 2030. In terms of value, global aquaculture production in 2020 was worth approximately USD 80 billion (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2022).  The global aquaculture industry includes 20.5 million small-scale aquaculture producers and 37 million other workers, suppliers and intermediaries (Pita, 2022).  As large proportion of their harvests are consumed by domestic populations, these producers are particularly important in increasing food security and nutrition (Pita, 2022).

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms, including fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Farming suggests some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production.  This can be for example, regular stocking, feeding, and protection from predators.  Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated. For statistical purposes, aquatic organisms which are harvested by an individual or corporate body which has owned them throughout their rearing period contribute to aquaculture

Aquatic foods also provide at least 20 % of the average per capita intake of animal proteins for 3.3 billion people.  And while 88% of aquaculture production (excluding algae) takes places in Asia – China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh – small-scale producers contribute 80% of this volume (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2022)

Nature-based designs in aquaculture

The report discusses nature-based solutions in small-scale aquaculture with designs that aim to deliver on a range of ecosystem services including, but not limited, to food security along with improved livelihoods for small producers. These designs are pluri-disciplinary and integrate biological sciences, hydrological and ecological engineering, principles and practices from agroecology and permaculture, aquaculture and ecosystem restoration to manage natural ecosystems. The common goal of all these examples is to optimise the delivery of aquatic foods and ecosystem services to improve livelihoods, food security, and to protect and restore nature.

Read our report online, or click on link to download PDF.

Key findings and lessons learned

  • Nature based solutions take a whole-of-system approach and can provide a whole of systems benefits including food, ecosystem services and biological resilience in the longer term. This is demonstrated in the cost benefit analyses and anecdotal evidence presented in the stories.
  • The key element of the nature-integrated design is the careful management of all inputs including feed. Emphasis is placed on natural feed, using local ingredients from agriculture and kitchen waste.   
  • There is neither one standard recipe nor one design that can be scaled to fit all. Solutions are designed to suit the ecosystem and account the competing and conflicting demands by the different stakeholders. 
  • Nature-integrated aquaculture requires pluri-disciplinary expertise that ranges from biological and marine sciences to hydrology, engineering, agriculture, aquaculture, and landscape design.   
  • People are at the core of the design. Solutions are designed to meet the priorities of the stakeholders and communities that stand to gain benefits to their food security and livelihoods.
  • Nature integrated designs is not a panacea, implementation takes time and early design can fail. Continuous trial, error and adaptation is needed to reach the optimum level of delivery.

Next steps

  • To bring more opportunities of both stakeholders working on aquaculture and nature-based solutions exchange experience and work together.  
  • Most nature-based solutions are targeted climate resilience and restoring biological diversity, the production of food is almost an after thought.
  • Finding parallel solutions that are not ‘dependant’ on natural ecosystems but mimic natural processes in an artificial setting.
  • Finding solutions for the acute shortages of water Aquaculture on land will face .

Case Studies


Arnés García, M. and Santivañez, T. (2021) Hand in hand with nature – Nature-based Solutions for transformative agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Available at:

Bakhtary, H., Haupt, F. and Elbrecht, J. (2021) NDCs – A Force for Nature? WWF. Available at:

Crumpler, K. et al. (2021) 2021 (Interim) Global Update Report: Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Nationally Determined Contributions. 91. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at:

Edwards, P. and Demaine, H. (1997) Rural Aquaculture: Overview and Framework for Country Reviews. Bangkok, Thailand: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Available at:

European Commission (2021) Strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture for the period 2021 to 2030. Brussels: European Commission. Available at:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010) Aquaculture Development: 4. Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Available at:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2022) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. 2022, towards blue transformation. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Available at:,Nations%20Decade%20on%20Ecosystem%20Restoration.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2023) Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity (ESB), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: (Accessed: 1 July 2023).

le Gouvello, R., Brugere, C. and Simard, F. (2022) Aquaculture and Nature-based Solutions. Identifying synergies between sustainable development of coastal communities, aquaculture, and marine and coastal conservation. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Available at:

Henriksson, P.J.G. et al. (2021) ‘Interventions for improving the productivity and environmental performance of global aquaculture for future food security’, One Earth, 4(9), pp. 1220–1232. Available at:

Pita, C. (2022) The contribution of small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture to food systems. London: IIED. Available at:

Troell, M., Jonell, M. and Crona, B. (2019) Scoping report: The role of seafood in sustainable and healthy diets. Stockholm Resilience Centre and EAT Lancet. Available at:

United Nations (2023) Food Systems Summit 2021, United Nations. Available at:,to%20meet%20the%20Summit%27s%20objectives.

United Nations Environment Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) Nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation. Nairobi and Gland. Available at:

United Nations Environment Programme. 2022. Resolution 5/5. Nature-based solutions for supporting sustainable development (2 March 2022). [Online]. UNEP/EA.5/Res.5. [Accessed 25 February 2023]. Available from:

Research methodology

Research methodology explained.