By Ronald Musoke
Two improved strains of Nile Tilapia that grow about three times faster and heavier than the indigenous ones could help to increase aquaculture productivity and food security in some parts of Africa, according to new research released on Nov.30.
According to WorldFish, an international non-profit research organization that has been working with partners on two breeding programs in Ghana and Egypt to develop the ‘Abbassa’ and ‘Akosombo’ strains of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)— a variety of fish native to much of Africa—the rise in productivity also increases food security by making fish available and affordable for the growing African population that depend on fish products for nutrition.
About four million people are employed in the fish farming industry in Africa, and faster-growing, heavier fish have financial benefits for farmers who can produce more fish per year.
Through a selective breeding program in Egypt spanning over 10 years, WorldFish has developed the ‘Abbassa’ strain that grows 28% faster and heavier than the most commonly used commercial strain in the country, the ‘Kafr El Shaikh’ strain.
Similarly, in Ghana the Water Research Institute (WRI), in partnership with WorldFish, has developed the ‘Akosombo’ strain, which grows three times faster than non-improved tilapia.
Producing heavier fish faster means a greater income for Nile Tilapia farmers, and is expected to have significant economic benefits for the aquaculture industry in Egypt and Ghana.
“The response is phenomenal, the tilapia industry in Ghana is booming with the new Akosombo strain,” said Dr Attipoe, a WRI officer.
The Abbassa and Akosombo strains reach their harvest weight faster compared to non-improved strains, saving both time and money for farmers in terms of labor and fish feed costs.
For local consumption, an increase in productivity can result in greater availability of fish in the market, reducing the price of the product and making it more accessible to poor consumers.
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 region.
Dr Attipoe adds that the Akosombo strain is also benefiting the West African sub-region with surplus fish exported to neighbouring Ivory Coast, 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.
However, the research notes that any dissemination of the Abbassa or Akosombo strains is preceded by rigorous scientific testing against local stock, and a careful assessment of the local environment to examine any potential risks involved with the dissemination.