African Aquaculture: Challenges and Opportunities

Posted on: 01/03/2022
Fish farm in Africa

Developing aquaculture in Africa could help feed growing populations with nutritious food and improve economic security, two priorities for the African continent. If planned with sustainability and net zero in mind, aquaculture projects can also help mitigate climate change, making it an attractive solution to several key challenges.

On the 5th April, we’ll bring together global experts on the topic to share innovations and knowledge during our African Aquaculture: Challenges and Opportunities event. We’ll also connect innovators in the UK and Africa so they can learn from each other and collaborate to fast track technology and innovations around sustainable aquaculture.

Sign up for African Aquaculture: Challenges and Opportunities now (5th April, 9.30am-12.45pm GMT).

Until then, let’s take a look at the aquaculture landscape in Africa and in the UK and how both industries can collaborate.


Current status of aquaculture in Africa

Aquaculture was first introduced to Africa over 50 years ago but it hasn’t reached its full potential yet when it comes to food security and economic growth.  At the moment, Africa contributes around 2.5% to the world’s aquaculture production, although there has been an increase in investments in recent years, especially in Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana. The majority of production is from inland freshwater systems and is mostly dominated by tilapia and African catfish, although seaweed and shellfish are emerging sectors.


Innovation opportunities in Africa

New innovations and investment are key for the industry to tackle its challenges, make the most of its opportunities and grow sustainably. Here are a few of the challenges and opportunities that the aquaculture sector faces today:

  • Scaling up: Many farmers in Africa operate on a small scale, either farming for their own family or to sell locally. For them to scale up, there needs to be a huge improvement in infrastructure and access to markets. To grow, the industry requires investments which enables producers to scale up production. This would give access to sustainable, affordable inputs which will support the delivery of high quality fish, shellfish and seaweed to the whole of Africa and enable an increase in export. This needs to be in combination with a policy framework that enables commercial aquaculture production, trade and investment. The Nacarda project is an example of a successful collaboration between the UK and Africa. Their evidence-based report was created through a partnership between the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling (UK), Machakos University (Kenya), Water research Institute (Ghana) and Imani Development (Malawi). It paves the way for aquaculture development in sub-Saharan Africa by uncovering skills gaps in training and education. This work was funded by the AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards.
  • Genetics: Producing fish that grow rapidly, are hardier and more disease resistant can help small scale farmers get a greater return on their investment and can reduce prices for resource-poor consumers. Improved strains can offer a more sustainable approach to providing healthy and nutritious food. In the 1980’s, WorldFish and partners produced the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia strain (GIFT) which has benefitted millions  in Africa and  across the world. This successful project is an example of how selective breeding can transform aquaculture in Africa and change lives for the better. There have been some successful collaborations between the UK and Africa: for example, Xelect (a specialist genetics company based in Scotland) is working alongside First Wave Group in Zambia, to develop local high-performance tilapia breeds which will improve production efficiency. Genetics in African aquaculture is underdeveloped and there is huge potential for growth, not just in fish species but in shellfish and seaweed.
  • Health and welfare: Aquaculture systems are complex and prone to issues with disease, which in turn affects health and welfare. With increasing regional and international trade comes an increased risk of disease spreading and a growing need for surveillance, diagnosis and testing. Transfer of knowledge and expertise is particularly important in health and welfare as the African Aquaculture industry grows and is at risk of introducing new diseases.
  • Policy: At a meeting in Nairobi in March, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (CEFAS) and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will discuss the potential and the challenges for African Aquaculture at a policy level with a group of government stakeholders. CEFAS will report on the outcomes of this meeting during our African Aquaculture event.

As part of the One Health Approach to Aquaculture, Stentiford et al (2020) define a set of metrics (supported by evidence, policy and legislation) that should be embedded into aquaculture sustainability to inform national and international policy strategies to support improved aquatic food systems.


Aquaculture innovation in the UK

The UK is one of the largest Aquaculture producers in Europe and is worth an estimated £1.4 billion/year to the UK economy (Department for International Trade). Scottish salmon makes up the majority of production with the three other main species being Rainbow Trout, Blue Mussel and Pacific Oyster. The Scottish Government plans to double the value of aquaculture by 2030, although this needs to be achieved in a sustainable way, addressing environmental issues and nutrition alongside health and welfare. There is currently interest in Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), which  would include moving more of the salmon life cycle on land to alleviate environmental problems and health issues such as gill disease and sea lice, which are a major health problem for the industry.

Mussels are an important industry in Scotland and are grown on ropes off the west coast and in Shetland. They are a great source of protein and are sustainable. In recent years there has been an issue with sourcing spat (larval mussels) and this is a focus for future research. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is slowly being introduced into the UK, with systems including salmon, kelp, scallops and sea cucumbers all being trialled.


Collaboration opportunities between the UK and Africa

Aquaculture in the UK is well established: however, there are new and developing sectors including seaweed and IMTA which would benefit from experience and expertise found in Africa. Lessons learned from the UK aquaculture industry can be shared with the developing African industry and transfer of expertise and innovations can be encouraged alongside new collaborations between UK and African academics, businesses and SMEs.


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