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A genetic blueprint for African aquaculture

Rob Fletcher
Rob Fletcher
10 October 2017, at 10:14am

Plans to produce a model means of improving the efficiency of aquaculture production in Africa have moved ahead, following a meeting hosted by WorldFish in Lusaka last week.

The meeting was arranged to follow up the Cape Town Call to Action that was issued after this year’s World Aquaculture Society conference and, as Dr Sloans Chimatiro, WorldFish Director for Zambia and Tanzania, explains to The Fish Site, it has brought the call’s ideas one step closer to realisation.

Dr Sloans Chimatiro, WorldFish country director for Zambia and Tanzania.
Dr Sloans Chimatiro, WorldFish country director for Zambia and Tanzania.

© WorldFish

“As set out in the Call for Action, WorldFish aims to support aquaculture companies to harmonise their production methods in order to increase the efficiency of their operations. The meeting in Lusaka was held to establish and develop approaches for both the private and state sectors to follow,” he explains.

One of the more obvious areas for improvement the initiative is targeting relates to improving the strains of fish being farmed by providing access to quality seed stock – an area in which the NGO has an impressive pedigree.

“Most of the fish being produced in African aquaculture are essentially just wild strains that have been put into ponds. On average, these perform about 20 percent less efficiently than the top performing strains,” Sloans reflects.

Trading tilapia, Barotse Floodplain, Zambia.
Trading tilapia, Barotse Floodplain, Zambia.

© Clayton Smith

While a wide variety of species – both marine and freshwater, invertebrates and fish – are currently farmed in Africa, WorldFish believes that tilapia offer the most widespread options for growth. And, in particular, they are keen that more producers adopt improved stocks, such as the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) strain, which has been developed by the organisation and refined to grow quicker and more efficiently over the last 30 years.

“Using these strains will help improve aquaculture efficiency and help countries reach their production goals,” says Sloans. “For example, Tanzania aims to increase its aquaculture output from its current level of 10,000 tonnes and year to 40,000 tonnes a year by 2022. We have explained that adopting the GIFT strain will speed up the process by 20 percent. Now we have to help them to develop a tramline for genetic performance gain.”

“The Lusaka meeting has resulted in an agreement between the 16 members of the South African Development Community (SADC) to harmonise regional mechanisms for growth. WorldFish will establish the platform and the genetic improvement initiatives and guidance on the requisite science and infrastructure required to deliver these improvements. For example, if a strain of tilapia is growing well in Mozambique, it’s likely to perform well in Malawi too,” he continues.

Blueprint for success

Increasing African aquaculture production is seen as a crucial means of helping to feed the continent’s growing population, as well as generating income. Sloans is aware of the scale of the task in hand, but believes that if it can be shown to work in a least one country, others will be more likely to follow.

“We have decided to start by focusing on Tanzania and Zambia and plan to use the programme we develop in these countries as a model for similar initiatives in other countries across Africa,” he says.

As well as helping to feed the people, he is also aware that there will be political pressure for the projects to succeed – especially as they will rely in part on substantial government funding.

“As one of the important food production systems in Zambia, aquaculture is socially and politically important. In order for the models to gain credibility, we need to show the impact of the initiative within five years. Government is aiming to grow aquaculture production by 46% within this period. We will provide the scientific and technical expertise and advise government on where to invest to have the best chance of achieving this,” Sloans explains.

“The funding will come from a mixture of sources, including Zambia’s Ministry of Fisheries, and the African Development Bank,” he adds.

Private companies are also showing an interest in the initiative. 

“They are excited by the opportunities to improve their performance and know WorldFish are world leaders in this field,” Sloans concludes.