TradeInvest Africa (Cape Town)

Africa: Why This Method of Fish Farming is Cheap And Profitable

Efforts to stimulate growth in the aquaculture sector are beginning to pay off as more African countries embrace technology to boost yields. To attain maximum productivity often means the establishment of capital-intensive large-scale ventures in an environment where sources of financing are few. TradeInvestAfrica and aquaculture consultant Edward Lally report on how to start a profitable fish farming business without breaking the bank.

Unlike elsewhere in the world where booming business out of aquaculture is happening, the sector in Africa is still lagging behind despite the increasing demand for fish. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) issued a declaration stating that fish farming in Africa will have to expand by 250% in the next decade just to maintain the present per capita consumption on the continent.

While most countries have good natural resources that can support aquaculture, its development has mainly been in inland countries where fish is a staple for the population and the fish in rivers and lakes have been over-exploited.

Africa presents an untapped investment frontier for aquaculture and most countries are doing a lot to stimulate the industry. The adoption of technology and other innovations is set to revolutionise fish farming, which experts say can spur economic growth if properly managed.

Getting innovative

In Kenya, an innovation currently under experiment could steer fish farming ventures to maximum productivity and profitability. The country's potential to produce fish amounts to 1.4 billion hectares of farming area, with the capacity to produce 11 million tonnes per year, worth some 50-billion shillings. Last year the government laid the foundation to fast-track the exploitation of this potential by investing 8-million shillings in each of the country's 140 constituencies for the digging of 100 fish ponds per constituency.

To secure maximum yields, non-governmental organisation Voices of Africa has installed computers linked to GPRS satellite images that monitor fishponds at a pilot centre in western Kenya, with the aim of identifying threats to the fish stocks and capturing early any shortfalls in pond management. Farmers in the pilot are already reaping benefits from the GPRS technology, which will connect them with outside markets to enhance opportunities.

Profitable opportunities

The challenges that have stifled the growth of aquaculture in the continent include inadequate transport networks, lack of a cold chain infrastructure and knowledge on aquaculture. The lack of feed production companies that are capable of producing knowledge-based, sustainable feeds and feed ingredients is also another issue. Ghana in West Africa is keen on promoting the establishment of fish feed plants to supply fish farmers in the region, while Nigeria, like most countries, has turned to aquaculture because it has sold off fishing rights to foreigners and needs to meet the huge domestic demand for fish. Uganda, which imports fish feeds, has found this practice untenable due to the fact that feeds have a use-by date. The development of a local feed production industry will phenomenally boost aquaculture in the country and the East Africa region.

Expert opinion

Establishing large-scale fish farming ventures that are needed to cater for the existing demand is capital-intensive and challenging for investors who lack the necessary financing and technology.

Aquaculture consultant Edward Lally gives valuable tips on how to set up and manage a profitable fish farming business with the minimum input.

The demand for fish by the growing population is a well documented fact, not just for the African continent but globally. Development of the aquaculture industry in Africa has been hampered by either badly designed farms or the exorbitant cost of inputs such as feed and electricity. Consequently, farmed fish is expensive and loses out in markets where wild caught fish is readily available.

Due to over fishing of the wild stock, fishermen now have to travel further and further away from urban populations to catch fish. This means that the product will not be fresh by the time it finally reaches the consumer. The supply of wild caught fish is also erratic as changes in weather means catches are low during certain times of the year.

Integrated fish farming

With fish farming, one can produce fresh fish constantly and profitably, especially in export markets where Tilapia is popular.

There are many methods to produce fish, but this article focuses on utilising by-products from livestock and crop farming to produce fish. Integrated fish farming has been practised for centuries in Asia but ironically rarely in Africa where most economies are agriculture-based. It is widely regarded as a cost-effective model farming system for full utilisation of local farm products as fish feeds.

A piggery farm in Zambia has successfully practised integrated fish farming for over 25 years and currently produces over 5000kgs of fish a week. All waste food and manure from the farm is fed into the ponds feed directly to the fish or to promote phyto and zooplanton growth, which feeds the fish organically.

This type of farming has a number of benefits including low start up costs, reduced input costs and high profit margins.

Although large scale fish farms are the preferred method to feed the population and the ever developing export market, small projects can make more economic sense and of course can be further developed.

With the explosion of large scale agriculture projects currently underway in countries such as Nigeria, Sudan and the Congo, integrated fish farming could work well there.

Farmers in Sudan are taking the cue from Asia. A dairy and poultry outfit plans to start exporting fish produced from farm waste to the Middle East in a year's time.

Lally studied aquaculture and has ten years experience working on fish farms in Africa. For further tips on fish farming contact him at edward_lally@hotmail.com.

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