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A looming shortage of fish supplies in Africa threatens the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, scientists have warned.

They say that fish supplies must increase by one-fifth by 2015 just to maintain present day levels of consumption, and that to achieve this, small-scale fish farming will have to increase massively across the continent.

The warning was made this week at the Fish for All Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, organised by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The WorldFish Center — an international research and development organisation — used the conference to call for major investment in fish farming, noting that sub-Saharan Africa is the world's only region where fish consumption is falling.

"The main reason for this decline is the stagnation in [wild fish capture] combined with a fast-growing population," says Patrick Dugan, WorldFish Center's deputy director-general.

To maintain present day levels of consumption, Africa would have to exploit just five per cent of its capacity for fish farming, according to the centre's analyses presented in Abuja.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is little fish farming, this would mean nearly trebling present efforts.

Dugan says that, worldwide, 32 per cent of fish production comes from farms, but in Africa this figure is less than two per cent.

"Small fish ponds are a valuable addition to farms, without substantially adding to the labour burden," says Daniel Jamu, the centre's programme director for southern Africa.

Some 200 million Africans eat fish regularly, which provides them with 22 per cent of their protein intake, on average.