Africa: Fast-Growing Fish Variety Could Benefit Egypt, West Africa

Cairo — New breeds of fish that grow about 30 per cent faster than the most common commercial strains will boost food security and farmers' earnings in Egypt and West Africa, according to researchers.

Through selective breeding programmes in Egypt and Ghana, two fast-growing strains of the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), an economically important fish that is native to much of Africa, have been developed for farmers: the 'Abbassa' and 'Akosombo'.

The Abbassa strain grows 28 per cent faster than the most commonly used commercial breed, according to Mohamed Fathy Osman, chairman of the General Authority for Fish Resources Development, part of Egypt's Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation.

The research programmes that developed the new strains are run by international, non-profit research organisation WorldFish and its partners. Osman says the WorldFish centre and the Egyptian research centre Central Laboratory for Aquaculture Research started the country's selective breeding programme in 2000.

"Aquaculture represents 72 per cent of total fish production in Egypt, which is the world's second largest producer of tilapia after China, and Egypt has 70 per cent of all aquaculture production in Africa," Osman tells SciDev.Net.

"The [new breed] will be disseminated to five highly qualified hatcheries covering the different fish farming areas across Egypt this month as the last step before making it available to farmers," he says.

The breeding programmes in Egypt and Ghana use natural selection, where young fish with the desired trait of rapid growth are bred together.

This continues for many generations to produce fish that grow ever-more quickly, says Osman. "The technique is simple but it takes a long time," he says.

"The method doesn't use genetic engineering, gene transfer or growth hormones," Osman says, adding that the fish is safe for human consumption and the environment.

Gamal El-Naggar, regional director for WorldFish in Egypt, says that the new breed could improve health of local people by lowering the price of fish and so making it more affordable to poorer members of society.

"I am very pleased with the results so far and am looking forward to continuing the selection process to produce further generations of the improved strain," he says.

In Ghana, the Akosombo strain was developed by national research body the Water Research Institute (WRI) in partnership with WorldFish. The eighth generation of the strain reaches maturity more than 30 per cent faster than the unimproved strain, according to WorldFish.

"At the current pace, tilapia production in Ghana is projected to increase tenfold by 2015," said Felix Attipoe, the officer-in-charge at WRI, in a WorldFish press release.

According to Attipoe, the new strain is also helping other West African nations, with [some adult] fish exported to Côte d'Ivoire and young fish sent to Burkina Faso and Nigeria for breeding.

A project to identify Nile tilapia 'super strains' is about to enter its second year in the Philippines. With the same targets of developing the best strains for local aquaculture, the project aims to increase the living standards of poor fish farmers and consumers, create jobs and provide food security.

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