Why Kenya's new tilapia species is bad news for China

The fish breed has a faster growth rate, reducing the harvesting time.

Photo credit: File

Commercial fish farming in Kenya is set to get a boost with the introduction of an improved tilapia strain. 

The new Nile Tilapia F-8 developed by Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Institute (Kalro) seeks to address the dwindling wild strains in the Lake and deal with the influx of cheap imports from China. 

The fish breed has a faster growth rate, reducing the period to harvesting, meaning farmers can do two cycles of fish farming annually. Its feeding is low but it matures faster and it is resistant to fungal and viral diseases. 

According to KMFRI Sagana Centre Director Domitilla Kyule, the selective breeding of improved tilapia strain started many years back. 

"The need for the new breed of tilapia has been triggered by the demand for the tilapia species in the market. So far we have developed eight strains of the tilapia," said Dr Kyule. 

KMFRI Sagana Fish genetics official Jacob Abwao said that the breed has a great resilience to drastic changes in climate. 

"It is a good candidate for intensive aquaculture system since it can be resistant to emerging diseases," he said. 

He said that selective breeding programme is costly and it requires big investment in both materials and infrastructure. 

"You need enough ponds, hatchery, laboratory equipment and other breeding inputs like tags, hapa nets, among other item and well trained technical staff, " said Mr Abwao. 

Dr Kyule said that with the improved breed, farmers can increase the farm productivity with a high turnover. 

Currently Kenya's a demand for fish stands at 450,000 tonnes while production level is less than 35,000 tonnes produced by aquaculture. 

Around 50,000 tonnes of tilapia are currently imported from China, but consumers have a preference for local fish. 

"The demand for fish is very high and it keeps on increasing every day with population growth, although the improved strain will increase farm productivity with high turnover, Kenya will still continue importing fish to bridge the gap as the country puts more effort to produce more fish," said Dr Kyule. 

Currently, there are close to 6,000 active cages in Lake Victoria producing an estimated 10,000 tonnes of fish annually. 

The F-8 generation through the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture project and Climate Smart Agricultural Productivity project has been validated at the on-farm level and also distributed to farmers in over 20 counties.

A 2021 KMFRI report indicates that one of the problems facing the aquaculture industry is the lack of quality and certified fingerlings. 

"We are encouraging farmers to get certified fingerlings for fast fish growth and get value for their money. At the same time, we are working with fish breeders to produce quality fingerlings," said Dr Kyule. 
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