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Fast-growing Fish Can Contribute to Poverty Reduction in the Volta Basin

Fast-growing Fish Can Contribute to Poverty Reduction in the Volta Basin
Project leader
Dr Raul Ponzoni
1 Jan 2010
31 Dec 2022
This is an ongoing project that began in 1999 with partners in Ghana.
As urban populations continue to expand rapidly in Africa, the continent’s demand for fish grows accordingly. Unfortunately, existing stocks of fish cannot keep pace with this growth. Fish accounts for over 30% of total animal protein consumption in the diets of Africa’s poor. In some countries, it is even higher. In Ghana, that value is about 60%. Although Ghana and many other African countries import fish at a loss in an attempt to meet some of the demand for low-cost protein, they still face shortfalls. This dire situation provides African fish farmers with an opportunity to increase fish production, thereby improving food security and reducing poverty.
To help small and medium-sized farmers overcome poverty and hunger in Ghana and other countries in the Volta Basin, The WorldFish Center is working with partners to provide them with a genetically improved strain of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). These fast-growing fish, which are developed in an environmentally-friendly manner, are already benefiting many rural communities.

The Akosombo Strain

The ‘Breeding and Selection of Oreochromis niloticus for Faster Growth’ project came about as the result of another project involving WorldFish and Ghana’s Water Research Institute (WRI), which started in 1999. Working out of WRI’s aquaculture research and development station in Akosombo, Ghana, the two organizations took samples from various fish sources and assembled enough genetic variation to begin a selection line in 2000.
After several years of breeding and selection work, a new fast-growing strain of tilapia called the Akosombo strain was developed. Then in 2008, with the support of FAO, the current project was initiated with the involvement of Ghana and the five other countries in the Volta Basin that had expressed an interest in the new breed: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Togo. Worldfish, WRI and FAO extended the scope of the work to include not only the continued development, improvement and dissemination of the improved strain but also an assessment of the potential risks involved.
Today, supply of the Akosombo strain cannot keep up with demand. This new strain of Nile tilapia grows about 30% faster than other farmed tilapia currently being cultured, enabling fish farmers to harvest them after six months instead of the usual eight months needed for the non-improved stock. The Akosombo strain, which also has a higher survival rate, continues to attract the attention of fish farmers and hatchery managers across the Volta Basin.
Currently, there are about 15 medium to large-sized hatcheries in operation, and approximately 540 farmers use the new strain, with total production for 2010 estimated at 8,000,000 fish.

The GIFT Strain

The project has also been tasked with comparing the Akosombo strain with the well-known GIFT strain that was developed by the Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) project involving the WorldFish Center and partners in Norway and several Asian countries. GIFT has shown a remarkable genetic gain in growth rate (exceeding 80%) and has out-performed other strains being exploited in a variety of farming systems in Asia. Adoption of the GIFT strain in several Asian countries has increased production, lowered costs, increased consumption and in some cases improved the overall nutritional status of the sectors of the population involved.
To enable comparisons to be made between the two strains in a safe environment, the research station at Akosombo has been upgraded to make it bio-secure. It will soon be fully prepared to receive the first batch of GIFT fingerlings from Asia.
Scientists will monitor the relative performance of the Akosombo and the GIFT strains in the Ghana environment. The results will indicate whether widespread use of the GIFT strain in the country and region may be justified, bearing in mind not only any productivity increases but also the risk imposed by potential escapes from farms to natural body waters. It will take at least 18 months from the time GIFT arrives in Ghana before researchers have enough information on this matter.
Note: The process used to develop the GIFT and Akosombo strains is known as selective breeding. It uses naturally existing variation in the population, increasing the frequency of the genes that are favorable to farming. It is different from transgenesis, which results in genetically modified organisms and entails human intervention in the introduction of foreign genetic material (DNA) into a host genome.