A GIFT for the world

© Shutterstock

Innovation in aquaculture is not just about serving wealthy, developed nations. An initiative from not-for-profit organisation WorldFish aims to help tilapia farmers in Africa, by supplying a strain of fish that is more resilient and faster growing.

The Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) project is currently being rolled out to farmers in Nigeria. As Dr Essam Mohammed, Director General of WorldFish, explains, “genetically improved” does not mean genetically modified (GM). The GIFT fish are the result of a selective breeding programme, based on research by CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Talking to Fish Farmer at the Blue Food Innovation Summit in London earlier this summer, Dr Mohammed said: “This tilapia has an enhanced growth rate, and it’s resilient to climate change and disease. It can also make use of agricultural waste products.”

GIFT has been selectively bred to grow up to 85 per cent faster and without the need for commercial feed, improving livelihoods and nutrition for small-scale producers around the world.

Having already benefited Asian aquaculture, GIFT is now being introduced to African countries, with the most recent import of GIFT to Nigeria having taken place in May. At present, around 47% of Nigeria’s protein intake comes from fish but the country is currently importing about 45% of its net domestic fish supply, costing the government more than US $1bn a year in foreign exchange.

The GIFT strain’s omnivorous diet and high growth rate make it a fit for low-cost aquaculture, with a break-even price of up to 36% lower than other farmed tilapia. The Nigerian programme is being facilitated through a partnership with a local market leader, Premium Aquaculture Ltd (PAL), which will breed and rear GIFT fingerlings prior to supplying them to local farmers. The aim is for the first GIFT fish to be on sale in Nigerian markets during 2023.

Mohammed added: “It’s also about best management practice. It’s important to prevent the spread of disease and also not allow the growth of microbial resistance.”

WorldFish is an international, non-profit research and innovation organization reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty across Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The organisation is also working on a project to improve the stock of farmed carp in Bangladesh, with the fish now in their third generation.

Fish farming at village level is well established in countries like Bangladesh, but still has a way to go in Africa, Dr Mohammed says, adding: “We are looking at how to transfer the knowledge gained from Asia to Africa. Africa as a region has a young population and it needs jobs and food.”

Dr Essam Mohammed, Director General, WorldFish