Tilapia Farming in Southern Africa

BY Leslie Ter Morshuizen

We have more requests for information on tilapia farming than any other species and indeed tilapia farming has become big business globally with almost 4 million tons being produced in 2011. There are some tilapia farming success stories in Africa, most especially in Egypt, Ghana and Uganda. Lake Harvest in Zimbabwe is the closest example to South Africa, yet their reported production for 2012 was a mere 7 000 tons, which is modest when compared to the global production.


Unfortunately, I am not aware of a single example of a medium or large scale commercial tilapia farm in South Africa, Botswana or Namibia. Zambia is flying, Zimbabwe has Lake Harvest, Mozambique has several medium to large operations in the roll out phase. Climate plays a role as it is expensive to heat water, but in reality this is a small percentage of the OPEX on a commercial tilapia farm in SA. The market demand for tilapia is also a potential factor, but the reality is that we currently import tilapia to supply the local market, so this too is not the primary reason.


Bearing in mind that `tilapia’ is a group name which includes a huge number of species, let’s look for a moment at which of these species are being produced. Below is a pie chart for the main species of tilapia that were farmed globally in 2011 by mass. It is clear from this chart that around 70% of the production is Nile tilapia, 20% tilapia species, 8% nile-blue hybrids and the remaining 2% or so represents all the other species.


This begs the question why the Nile tilapia is so dominant in global tilapia farming? Well it is the fastest growing species, it is also the largest of the commonly farmed species, and these two attributes mean that when farmers originally started looking to produce tilapia, this was the logical choice. Furthermore, the species is so well suited to aquaculture (high densities, high fecundity, good FCR, poor water quality, elevated salinity and so forth) that researchers and commercial entities quickly appreciated the value of refining this species to be even more suited for farming. The result is a highly refined fish that is a superb aquaculture candidate, and this is borne out by the total domination of the aquaculture industry by this species. Furthermore, if we reconsider the pie chart above it is probably fair to assume that the bulk of the fish reported as tilapia spp. Are likely to be niloticus as well and if we include all nile tilapia hybrids along with nile tilapia, the chart now looks as follows: 98.8% nile tilapia or hybrids as opposed to 1.2% all other tilapia species. From this it is surely clear, if we want to farm tilapia commercially we need to be using the stud animals, and that means nile tilapia.


Going back to our question regarding the lack of commercial tilapia farms in SA, Namibia and Botswana, perhaps it is no coincidence that these three countries are of the few in the world that do not permit nile tilapia to be farmed?


Refined strains of nile tilapia can achieve 1.1kg in 12 months of growth, our indigenous mossambique tilapia at best achieves 450g in the same period.


Our government in SA has been putting much effort into promoting the growth of the aquaculture industry in the past year or three. The majority of this energy has focussed on the marine sector but it is recognised that most people live away from the sea and freshwater aquaculture is a better way to employ and `feed the masses’ (that is a terrible term!). For many years those interested in promoting the farming of tilapia in SA have been lobbying for the use of nile tilapia in SA, given its vast advantages over the indigenous alternative. In 2008 we even had a national meeting of state and industry to discuss this point, the outcome of which was a commitment by the state representatives to push forward the responsible and appropriate use of nile tilapia in SA, far from the areas where the indigenous species may be at risk of hybridisation. Unfortunately, to date, the man in the street sees no sign of any developments in this regard.


I put it to you, that if we wish to develop tilapia farming in SA it has to be through the use of nile tilapia. Why would you erect infrastructure to farm a fish to 450g if the competitor grows to 1100g in the same time? Come on state representatives, take ownership of this situation, push to have nile tilapia legalised and let’s see tilapia farming grow in SA.



 April 01, 2013
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Leslie Ter Morshuize...

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