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Kenya: huge fish farming potential. (Countryfile).

An increasing demand for protein is spurring Kenyan fish farmers to experiment with hybrid, faster growing fish species. Unlike the crop, livestock and poultry industry however, genetic data on fish rearing is limited. This leaves Kenyan researchers having to pioneer with little or no information available from which to build on.

The fresh water fishing industry earns Kenya some Ksh5bn ($6.15m) annually, most from the water hyacinth choked Lake Victoria where fish catches are declining. Fish farming offers an alternative with great potential. Locally formed ponds can be established almost anywhere and by concentrating on selective breeding, Kenyan researchers are hoping to increase commercially farmed yields, and thus an increased availability of fish protein to the general population.

Tilapia most popular

"The current decline in catches from the wild, in addition to an increasing Kenyan population, has exacerbated the scarcity of fish, leading to a growing interest by African farmers in aquaculture," Permanent Secretary of Agriculture Shem Migot Adhola stated at the Sagana Fish Research station in central Kenya.

The most popular species for pond farming is Tilapia. A pleasant tasting, relatively boneless white-fish, it has found wide acceptance among the Kenyan population. Occurring naturally in inland lakes, the Tilapia holds great promise and can be genetically engineered for skin colour, body conformation, fillet yield and growth rate.

Messing with genes

Transgenic engineering - a more advanced form of genetic alteration - is also being used to accelerate Tilapia growth rates beyond those found in the wild species. Introducing the exogenous growth hormone (GH) found in the North American Chinook salmon into wild Tilapia has been found to increase their growth to three times that of the non-transgenic species.

Researchers advise caution however. The introduction of the common carp into North America for aquaculture purposes had disastrous results in water quality, loss of aquatic vegetation and a sharp decline in indigenous species all across the United States and Canada.

A more recent example of the problems associated with genetic engineering is the stocking of Nile Perch into Lake Victoria for sports fishing purposes. These predatory fish have almost totally destroyed the indigenous flocks of Haplochromiine cichlids (a species of water bug) to the detriment of local fishing activities around the lake's shoreline. The bugs used to keep the growth of water hyacinth, which is choking the lake to death, within manageable limits.

Africa contributes less then one percent of the world's aquaculture output even though 43% of its land is suitable for fish farming activities. Such land availability holds great promise. Increasing production for both domestic and export consumption is possible with improved strains of faster growing fish, researchers believe.

"Ninety percent of exported Tilapia come from Egypt and Nigeria," according to fish scientists Daniel Jamu and Randall Brummett of the Cameroon Living Aquatic Resource Management company. "The potential for Africa is enormous, and already Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa export farmed Tilapia to Europe and the United States in considerable quantities."

The Kenya government has increased funding for genetic research at its renowned Sagana Aquaculture Research station. This is piquing the interest of Kenyan farmers looking to supplement their crop incomes. Commercial fish farming takes up very little land and requires a minimum of labour if support services are available. "If stocking and re-stocking fingerlings are readily available, more farmers would consider turning a corner of their pasture into a protein producing pond," local agricultural officials contend.

Limited investment

Fresh water fish farming is not without its problems however. Drought, lack of financing and a scarcity of freezing facilities are issues holding the industry back. While not insurmountable, more capital investment and low interest lines of credit are required if it is really to catch on as a growth industry.

"Aquaculture investment in African countries is generally minimal," Kenya fisheries expert Aggrey Ambali laments. "More effort must be put into genetic blood-stock and into ways of reducing the effects of drought on the ponds. With only wild strains available for re-stocking, the investment in developing genetic species can be wasted without also developing methods to cope with the follow-on processes so vital to success."
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Title Annotation:aquaculture Africa
Author:Vesely, Milan
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:684
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