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Partnership Story – Fast-growing fish to reduce poverty in Ghana

A story of partnership from WorldFish, for the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) theme P - Partnerships.
 
Marketing fish, Ghana. Photo by Cambria Finegold, 2010
In Ghana, the Volta River basin reaches across over half of Ghana’s countryside. Lake Volta, the world’s largest (by surface) man-made lake, is the centerpiece of both the Volta River and the Ghanaian economy, as it provides a source of hydroelectric power as well as vast populations of fish for the locals. With demand for fish booming to support a growing population, meeting supply is often a challenge. Since 1999, the Water Research Institute (WRI) in Ghana has been working with WorldFish to make the Volta basin as productive as it can be through a Nile Tilapia breeding program.
 
Dr. Felix Attipoe, the Officer-in-Charge of the Aquaculture Research and Development Centre of the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ghana has been a long-time partner with WorldFish on this project. As Dr. Attipoe explains “This is a project concerned with the improvement of the Nile Tilapia in Ghana. In most parts of the world such as Norway where they experimented with salmon and also in the UK there has been a lot of improvement of farmed fish; that is fish from the wild being bred in closed environments. They improve the growth and that is beneficial to the farmers and goes to improve the economy as well. However in Africa and Ghana this was non-existent and farmers were breeding all types of tilapia and were unable to achieve the growth rate necessary for them to make much money.”
 
Following on from their successes in tilapia breeding in the Philippines, the WorldFish began working with Ghanaian scientists at WRI in 1999 to replicate the tilapia breeding program using the African tilapia species, Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). By selecting the fastest growing fish over eight successive generations, WRI have developed the improved Akosombo strain. Normally, tilapia takes eight months to reach maturity from the fingerling stage when they are purchased from hatcheries. The Akosombo strain matures in as little as five months, which means that fish farmers can produce more fish each year.
 
Not only does the Akosombo strain bring financial reward to the local fishers, but it provides the necessary dietary protein for some 170,000 Ghanaians who rely on fresh fish from the Volta basin.
 
Farmed Nile Tilapia, Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Samuel Stacey, 2012.
“The response is phenomenal,” says Dr Attipoe. “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.”
 
WRI is a public research institute, one of 13 research institutes that together comprise the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana. Dr. Attipoe notes some of the advantages arising out of the partnership with WorldFish. “The partnership has been very beneficial and progressive because we are using technology which is quite advanced and for which we have benefitted from training thanks to WorldFish. With this training we are currently improving local fish strains and also training our partners from Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Even in-country we have been able to train farmers, technicians, farm managers and what have you. Furthermore resource persons from WorldFish visit from time to time to observe what we are doing and also to infuse new ideas into our operations”. He goes on to add “through the partnership with WorldFish we here in Ghana have succeeded in using the same methodology we were taught in the Philippines to improve our local tilapia”.
 
In addition to increasing a much-needed supply of fish to the Ghanaian population, and improving the economic situation for many small-scale fishers in the country, the collaboration with the WorldFish has established the WRI as a trusted fishery resource for the entire region. Surplus fish is exported to La Côte d'Ivoire and other neighboring countries, and Ghana has become a hub for tilapia breeding in the area.
 
Dr. Attipoe is justifiably proud of the results of the partnership. “Ghana now is the nucleus of the breeding program for the subcontinent. What is more we have a national breeding program ongoing; providing the best growing materials for the farmers. Burkina Faso and Nigeria have all been here to take improved strains to culture in their home countries. We are impacting the sub-region” he adds.
 
WRI is continuing to develop improved strains of tilapia with the support of WorldFish. As the breeding program goes from strength to strength, the scientists at WRI will be conducting careful assessments of the potential risks involved with broad dissemination of the Akosombo strain to fisheries. They are also comparing the Akosombo strain with the GIFT strain in bio-secure facilities developed through the partnership with WorldFish and FAO.
 
“We have established a very strong relationship and the results are showing,” says Dr Attipoe. As the collaboration continues, Dr Attipoe would like to see the next generation of Ghanaian aquaculture researchers benefit from the in-depth training that the program provides. This will ensure that the WRI can continue to support the development of the fisheries sector in Ghana, a vital step towards alleviating poverty and malnutrition in the region.