Finding opportunities in Africa’s aquaculture sector

3 minutes read
Malawian fish farmer Agnes Kanyema feeds crop residue (irrigated with pond waste water) to her fish.
  • UK and African research institutions collaborated to host a webinar focused on challenges and opportunities to developing Africa’s aquaculture sector 
  • Lack of fish genetic diversity, value chain gaps and barriers to information access are substantial challenges that can be overcome with research and development 

In a virtual event hosted by Innovate UK and KTN Global Alliance Africa, aquaculture researchers, investors, producers and processors came together to discuss opportunities and challenges to developing Africa’s rapidly growing aquaculture sector.  

The event was held in the wake of AFRAQ 2021 in Egypt, an aquaculture conference and trade exhibition that fostered networking opportunities between African fish farmers, researchers and the private sector. 

The webinar, African Aquaculture: Challenges and opportunities, was a work of collaboration between UK and African research institutions in hopes of strengthening their ties to support the equitable and sustainable development of the sector.  

Aquaculture is growing in importance across the continent, both to provide a sustainable and nutritious food source and to improve livelihoods through income generation. However, an increase in fish demand requires new practices in farm sustainability while also ensuring vulnerable consumers have access.  

Digital platforms and communications are also incredibly important in transforming the sector—it’s essential to ensure equal access to information to support the inclusive development of aquaculture and enable pathways out of poverty, explained Colin Shelley, WorldFish's project leader.   

“One of the tools that we’ve been using to improve information access is through the African Aquaculture magazine, which we’ve been working with to enable communications across industry on a large scale,” said Shelley.  

The panel session was chaired by Etienne Hinrichsen of Aquaculture Africa Magazine, with which WorldFish collaborates to host webinars and virtual training series for aquaculture farmers and producers.  

Networking and collaborating with a diverse repertoire of supply chain actors also paves the way for novel research and development to resourcefully overcome challenges in the sector.  

Amongst the solutions to development, panelists from a variety of backgrounds discussed the need for cost-effective and sustainable fish feeds, new hatcheries to produce genetically improved fish stock and ways to attract investment in small-scale operations and supply chains.   

Alleviating challenges with research and development 

Aquaculture in Africa is often posited as a way to sustainably increase food and nutrition security across the continent by producing an accessible and affordable nutrient-rich food source; fish were found to be the most readily available animal-source food in rural villages in Zambia and Malawi, with aquaculture and small-scale inland fisheries offering a critical lifeline to a nutrient powerhouse.  

Aquaculture is also a primary livelihood activity, creating a source of income along supply chains—whether fish production, processing, transport or retail. 

In his remarks, Shelley cited a research publication that examined employment opportunities in the aquaculture sector under business-as-usual and high growth scenarios. Under business as usual, over twenty million jobs were projected to be created in the sector by 2050. With adequate investment, under a high-growth scenario, employment in African aquatic food systems was projected to land at 58 million jobs. 

While sustainability and lack of access to financial services remain persistent challenges to a high-growth scenario, they also create a new breadth of opportunities. Investments can come in the form of solar powered aeration in farms to support renewable energy, or new financing models to develop microcredit schemes to fund small-scale activities.  

Genetic improvement of both tilapia and African catfish will also be one of the most important tools to support aquaculture growth in Africa. WorldFish is already engaged in the development of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) and Genetically Improved Abbassa Nile Tilapia (GIANT) and planning to invest in African catfish within the upcoming years. 

“We need to support the growth of a sustainable, climate-resilient and equitable agriculture center in Africa as an integral part of food systems moving forward. We can engage with and build the capacities of small-scale actors in order to improve local food security while boosting employment and income generation,” said Shelley.  

Focusing on capacity-building and training initiatives for fish workers in low- and middle-income countries, ensuring social and environmental sustainability, ultimately offers the best opportunities for the sector’s growth. 

Kate McMahon

Junior Consultant, Digital Journalism