Feeding Southeast Asia: Mekong River Fisheries and Regional Food Security

Brooke Peterson and Carl Middleton, International Rivers
Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Mekong River supports the world’s largest inland fishery. Its economic worth at first-sale value is at least US$2 billion per year and up to US$9.4 billion per year taking into account secondary industries. Yet, whilst contributing significantly to the regional economy, economic data such as this fails to capture the fisheries’ total value. From riverside communities to urban areas, throughout the Mekong Region, the river’s wild-capture fish are a vital source of animal protein and nutrients, making them central to regional food security.

This paper outlines the importance of the Mekong River’s fisheries to regional food security. It highlights that:

  • Food security is a foundation on which other important forms of development are built, such as good health, education, ability to work productively and, overall, that individual and family needs are satisfactorily met. Wild-capture fisheries are especially important to those rural families that have limited access to land and other productive resources and with a low monetary income.
  • Building and maintaining food security remains a priority of all Mekong Region governments, and protection and improving wild-capture fisheries should be central to poverty-reduction initiatives. Any reduction of fish catch will increase the incidence of malnutrition that is already a serious problem in some areas, deepening poverty.
  • The governments of Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand are considering plans to build eleven big hydropower dams on the Mekong River's lower mainstream. If built, these dams would block the major fish migrations that are essential to the life cycle of around 70 percent of the Mekong River’s commercial fish catch. Experience around the world indicates that these impacts cannot be adequately mitigated.  
  • Replacing the current contribution of wild-capture fish protein with other sources of protein, if possible at all, will be immensely expensive and a daunting logistical challenge.

The paper concludes that only by moving towards decision-taking that accounts for food, environmental and health security, in addition to economic growth, can the shared ambitions of governments, rural communities and the wider public to alleviate poverty, protect the environment and ensure sustainable and equitable development be achieved.

Download the paper.

More information: 

View a PowerPoint presentation on Mekong Region food security and the importance of fisheries presented at the International workshop on Mekong Environment and Livelihood, Cantho University, Cantho, Vietnam 3 February 2010.

Visit the Save the Mekong Coalition's website.