Fast-growing Nile Tilapia bring vast benefits
|Women fish sellers in a fish market, Egypt. Photo by Samuel Stacey 2012|
Two improved breeds of Nile Tilapia that grow up to 30% faster are helping farmers in West Africa and Egypt to increase the productivity of their fish farms. Almost 4 million people across Africa depend on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods, and faster-growing fish have financial benefits for farmers who can save money on labor and fish feed costs. A rise in aquaculture productivity also increases food and nutrition security by making fish available and affordable for the growing population that depend on fish and fish products.
These developments are the result of breeding programs in Ghana and Egypt by WorldFish and partners to improve two strains of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), an economically important fish that is native to much of Africa.
Through a selective breeding program in Egypt spanning over a decade, WorldFish has developed the ‘Abbassa’ strain of Nile Tilapia that grows 28% faster than the most commonly used commercial strain in the country, the ‘Kafr El Shaikh’ strain. The ‘Kafr El Shaikh’ strain is widely perceived to be the most productive tilapia in Egypt, yet rigorous scientific evaluation found that the ‘Abbassa’ strain has a faster growth rate and superior harvest weight. This is expected to have significant economic benefits for the booming Egyptian aquaculture industry, which is the world’s second largest producer of tilapia after China.
The Egyptian aquaculture industry has seen rapid growth over the last decade and forms an important component of the national food supply, with fish making up 38% of all animal protein consumed by the Egyptian population. An increase in aquaculture productivity could result in greater availability of fish in the market, reducing the price, and making it more accessible to poor consumers. This will help to provide healthy and affordable protein for many Egyptians, including almost 20% of the population that the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish reports are living on less than $1USD per day. Fish contain micronutrients essential for a balanced diet, and increasing the availability and affordability of Nile Tilapia will help food and nutrition security in the country.
These benefits are mirrored in Ghana with the development of the acclaimed ‘Akosombo’ strain by the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in partnership with WorldFish. WRI was awarded winner of the National Best Agricultural Researcher Award during the 28th National Farmers Day 2012 celebration in Abokobi, Ghana for the development of the ‘Akosombo’ strain, which grows 30% faster than unimproved Nile Tilapia.
|Ghanaian children enjoying a healthy meal. Photo by Arne Hoel for The World Bank|
Nile Tilapia usually takes eight months to reach maturity from the fingerling stage when they are purchased from hatcheries. The ‘Akosombo’ strain, which was bred by selecting the fastest growing fish over eight successive generations, matures in as little as five months, meaning that farmers can produce more fish each year. This is good news for the people of Ghana who according to the World Health Organization rely on fish for up to 74% of their animal protein intake.
Dr. Felix Attipoe, the Officer-in-Charge at WRI adds that the tilapia industry in Ghana is “booming” with the new ‘Akosombo’ strain. “Most of the hatcheries have adopted the new strain as their brood stock, and are producing fingerlings for the whole industry. At the current pace, tilapia production in Ghana is projected to increase tenfold by 2015,” he says.
The ‘Akosombo’ strain is also benefiting the West African sub-region with surplus fish exported to Côte d'Ivoire, and fingerlings sent to Burkina Faso and Nigeria for breeding. The ‘Abbassa’ selection line also has the potential to be disseminated outside of Egypt to other Mediterranean and West Asian countries with a similar climate. Release and dissemination of both strains is being done after rigorous scientific testing against local stock, and a careful assessment of the local environment for potential risks of releasing the improved breeds of Nile Tilapia.
According to FAO, Africa has the highest employment growth rate in the aquaculture sector worldwide, and the development of the ‘Abbassa’ and ‘Akosombo’ strains have the potential to make significant contributions to the broader industry. Together, by providing bigger fish, faster, to millions of people throughout West Africa and Egypt, the ‘Abbassa’ and ‘Akosombo’ strains are bringing much needed economic, productivity and food and nutrition security benefits to Africa.
By Holly Holmes