Tilapia demand: SA not ready to swim with the big fish

With the demand for fish in sub-Saharan Africa expected to almost double by 2050, tilapia has been identified as an ideal source to accelerate aquaculture production in Africa. However, aquapreneurs in South Africa reckon it will be years before they will be able to take full advantage of this multi-billion-dollar market.

Fish farmers believe that rigid industry regulations and inadequate access to capital are but some of the industry bottlenecks holding them back. Additionally, producers think Egypt – who is the biggest producer of tilapia in Africa – will likely dominate the growing market anyway.

The demand for fish in Africa, according to Aqua-Spark’s new Aqua Insights report, will exceed the current 10 million tonnes and reach up to 29 million tonnes annually. Tilapia farming, which is currently the second-most farmed fish in the world and the most farmed fish in Africa, has a bright future on the continent, the report indicates.

According to Aqua-Spark senior aquaculture industry analyst Willem van der Pijl, with the region’s population set to increase from 1 billion to 2 billion by 2050, they have no doubt that farmed tilapia production in sub-Saharan Africa will grow.

He explains, “Due to overexploitation, wild catch can’t be increased, and thus won’t be able to meet the additional demand. We believe that aquaculture production will have to accelerate and have identified tilapia to be the fish to do so; it’s scalable and it’s healthy, sustainable and affordable.”

Africa’s attractive fish

Explaining why tilapia is so attractive to farmers in Africa, North West fish farmer and owner of Aquamor Fish Farming, Morena Khashane, highlights exceptional environmental conditions for tilapia production.

“I believe tilapia is so attractive globally because it is a very nutritious fish full of proteins and easy to farm,” Khashane says.

He is excited about the anticipated rise in fish consumption in Africa and believes tilapia is “the future of Africa” due to natural fish stocks depleting on the continent. “If you go to Lake Volta in West Africa, farmers there used to fish from the lake but now the lake is empty due to overfishing.”

The Aqua-Spark report says that although tilapia species are native to sub-Saharan Africa, the region’s farmed tilapia production is negligible compared to major producers such as Brazil, China and Egypt. Egypt – reported to produce over 1 million tonnes of tilapia per annum on some 115 000 hectares of fish farms – produces by far the most tilapia in Africa. It is also the sixth largest producer in the world, vaulting past Norway and Chile in overall fish farming production.

SA impact at micro level

According to David Fincham, director of David Fincham Aquaculture in Gauteng, a lot needs to be done to get to Egypt’s level.

“What is needed is investment. The farming part is easy enough but without access to capital, farmers cannot be developed,” he tells Food For Mzansi.

“We [tilapia producers] are starting to impact Africa at a micro level. We’ve trained 200 potential farmers and will train many more. These farmers are applying for funding and support. I believe that by building the critical mass, the [industry] will be taken seriously in time,” Fincham says.

Meanwhile Khashane reckons there is a lot that South African tilapia farmers can learn from Egypt.

The North African country, he states, is investing in skills transfer and many farmers there are well educated. “On top of that, their regulations are not as stiff as is the case in South Africa. Also, they are not too focused on technology.

“Their environmental conditions are similar to South Africa’s, but we are not achieving the results they are. This is mainly because our policies are not right. Government is just talking and not implementing.”

Expanding on the comparison between South Africa and Egypt, Khashane explains that “fish farmers there are subsidised with operational inputs in order grow and scale up”.

Favourable investment policies

Van der Pijl also believes that the rest of Africa can look at Egypt and study its success in Tilapia production.

The focus of sub-Saharan Africa’s tilapia-producing countries, he believes, should be on promoting and attracting additional investment from large-scale tilapia producers. They have the capacity to diversify into processing, marketing and distributing seafood.

Also, governments should work to promote favourable aquaculture investment policies and support the deployment of intensive fish-farming systems.


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