The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) shut down its activities in December 2020 at the end of its mandate. The administrative closure of the Centre was completed in November 2021.

Aquaculture: a bright future for Africa



With rapid urban population growth and economic development in Africa, new, profitable markets herald a promising future for aquaculture. The African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) are counting on the private sector to develop sustainable aquaculture.

Aquaculture has been developing at an incredible rate over the past quarter century, with an average growth in global production of 8% per year, making it the fastest growing food production sector in the world. Fishery catches over the same period have stagnated, and nearly half of all fish consumed today is now farmed. Production has increased primarily in Asia, which accounts for almost 90% of global aquaculture production (53 MT in 2010). China - the world’s top producer and exporter - has seen particularly impressive growth, along with Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.

Occupying 9 million km2 or 31% of the total continental land area, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is, according to FAO, well suited for fish farming. However, while not having been left completely behind, little has been done in many countries to develop this considerable aquaculture potential. (The situation in the Pacific and Caribbean is reviewed in Spore 163 Blue economy in crisis?). Fishing is an essential activity for food security and economic development in Africa, meeting 22% of the protein needs of 200 million people - a fifth of all Africans - and sustaining 10 million others. But the continent urgently needs to develop its aquaculture sector to offset the current stagnation in wild catches and avoid having to increase fish imports.

Several initiatives are already underway. Between 2000 and 2010, aquaculture production in SSA - primarily in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia - increased 6.5-fold to 359,790 t, or 0.6% of world production, thanks to some high level support. Politically, the AU and NEPAD have confirmed their eagerness to develop the aquaculture sector via the private sector. Following the ‘Fish for All’ summit meeting in 2005, African governments adopted the Abuja Declaration on Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture in Africa. The following year, AU Heads of States classified fisheries and aquaculture as strategic assets, alongside rice and maize. They are also a key driving force of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.

A paradigm shift

Population growth, urbanisation and rising consumer purchasing power have led to a high demand for fish in Africa. Thus, the future of aquaculture on the continent seems to lie in the tremendous development of African domestic markets and the setting of relatively high fish prices. Lakes Harvest Aquaculture, located on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe and the largest fish farm in SSA, has virtually halted tilapia exports to Europe in order to focus on local and regional markets.

In many coastal countries, the depletion of fish stocks is also spurring a move towards aquaculture. Ten years ago in Mauritius, fishers simply cast their nets into the lagoon and harvested as much fish as they wanted, but catch volumes are steadily declining due to overfishing, industrial pollution and tourism. Now, aquaculture has been introduced in several parts of the island.

“We fishers never imagined that one day we would have to earn our livelihood by feeding fish,” says Patrick Guilloano Marie, one of the 14 members of the St Pierre Fishermen Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, which launched an aquaculture initiative at Grande Gaude in November 2012. Twenty-two sites have been identified and the initiative could benefit 2,200 traditional fishers and help fight poverty in the fishing community, says Nicolas Von-Mally, Minister of Fisheries. Daroomalingum Mauree, Director of Fisheries at the Ministry, believes that aquaculture could create 5,000 jobs and increase fish production by 10,000 t within the next 5 years.

From industrial to small-scale rural fish farms

In SSA, aquaculture mainly involves the breeding of freshwater fish, including tilapia (Oreochromis spp.) and African catfish (Clarias spp.). Their production is multi-level, ranging from industrial fish farms using high amounts of inputs to small ponds managed by farmers and fertilised with compost. The stakeholders and production systems also vary, depending on the environment, the available human, technological and financial resources, and the presence of favourable, sector-based development schemes.

Industrial fish farms have been set up in Nigeria and several other countries, including Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe, but, with a maximum of three in each country, are relatively few in number. This profit-oriented, industrial fish farming is technology-based, with the fish often nourished with imported, complete, pelleted feed. Foreign investment is commonplace. In Benin, Dutch stakeholders set up Royal Fish, a catfish farm, and research centre, Fondation Thonon, brought in a team from Thailand to create a tilapia production model. These farms create national wealth and jobs and generate foreign exchange from exports, while also contributing to the dissemination of knowledge by promoting the development of small-scale aquaculture. In Nigeria, the development of industrial fish farms has given smallholders access to fish fry and feed.

Fish produced on industrial farms are primarily sold in urban markets, either domestically or regionally. However, as pointed out by Olivier Mikolasek from the French research centre, Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement, “In addition to the demand from middle class consumers to whom farmers can sell their fish for around €2.25/kg, a poor rural market exists where fish is the main commodity sought by households. In parts of Cameroon, this represents 35 kg/capita/year of fish. Prices would have to be set at around €1.5/kg to cater to this market and compete with frozen fish.”

For 15 years, a French association devoted to fish farming and rural development - Association pisciculture et développement rural en Afrique tropicale humide - has been helping fish farmers set up profitable and sustainable fish farming systems in humid tropical West and Central Africa, to enhance and diversify family farm resources and strengthen food security. The results are quite convincing. The fish farms are managed extensively, taking advantage of lowland development, while using inexpensive inputs such as organic fertilisers and feed made from agricultural by-products. Hundreds of Ghanaian and Ivorian fish farmers produce top quality fish, partly for their own families, with the rest sold right beside their fishponds. “If every farmer produces around 300 kg of fish, then the total quantity will equal that produced by two or three industrial fish farms. But in this case hundreds of fish farmers are involved, with positive impacts in terms of water management, intensified use of lowlands, diversification of agricultural systems and improved food security. Small-scale fish farming is able to generate its own dynamics and significantly boost production,” says Mikolasek.

SMEs - the missing link

‘Semi-intensive’ small and medium enterprise (SME) fish farms represent a trade-off between industrial and small-scale fish farms, requiring less technology and fewer inputs than industrial-scale farms. So far, the few SME farms that exist are geared towards local markets, either rural or urban. However, like SMEs in other sectors, they are impeded by a lack of access to funding, inputs and trained personnel. Thus, while aquaculture plays an important role in socioeconomic development in some African countries, there is still considerable scope for development in terms of food and nutritional security, job creation and generating added value for farmers. Countries in which aquaculture development is booming (Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria) have largely achieved this by successfully encouraging SMEs.

Ghana is exemplary in this respect. From under 1,000 t produced in 2004, its production has increased to around 9,000 t. This development is based on Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), with cage farming underway on Lake Volta. The government has had a decisive role. In addition to the favourable legislative and institutional setting, companies enjoy advantages such as tax exemptions on fish inputs. A cluster of SMEs have developed alongside the large industrial fish farms (Crystal Lake Farm, West African Fish and Tropo Farms). Some of these are solely devoted to semi-intensive fish production, while others are involved in associated activities, such as the recently created Raan Feed plant, ice-making, fish marketing and transportation, and the provision of other services.

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022 forecasts a 35% increase to 85 MT in global aquaculture production. In Africa, with the proliferation of local policies promoting aquaculture and private sector development, the African Network of Fisheries and Marine Science Research Institutes believes production could increase by 70% over the next decade. And, with the 2007 launch of the Special Programme for Aquaculture Development in Africa, FAO is aiming to achieve 200% growth in aquaculture production over the next decade. As stated by Sloans Chimatiro, NEPAD Senior Adviser on Fisheries, during a CTA1 Brussels Briefing on fish farming in ACP countries, in July 2013, “Although Africa may have missed the mark in the Green Revolution, it has a chance to participate in the Blue Revolution.”