Aquaculture, Ethiopia’s next big thing?

Artisanal freshwater fisheries are one of Ethiopia’s most vital economic activities, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO). Fish sales make up one percent of the GDP at USD 49 million. The Global Fish Alliance has said that improving fisheries would contribute to alleviating poverty and environmental sustainability in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia only has had inland freshwater capture fisheries following Eritrea’s secession in 1993 and the consequent loss of its coastline, according to Assefa Mitike, who studied the fish sector in 2014. In his study entitled: ‘Fish Production, Consumption and Management in Ethiopia’ there are 180 different species of fish here and 30 of those are native to the country.

Ethiopia has 7,000 to 8,000sqm of lakes and reservoirs and 7,000sqm of major rivers stretching through its land.

Around lake towns, fish is a major part of people’s diet and many people make their livelihood off of the water. Most of these, according to experts, are small scale artisanal practices. About 50,000 individuals are engaged in the fishery business on a full time or part time basis .

Around lake areas people’s fish consumption has risen to 40 kg per year. In other areas of Ethiopia consumption depends more on the fasting seasons of Orthodox Christians. Experts say that although eating fish is still not as popular as in neighboring countries, it is increasing. “Fish consumption per person per year is half a kilogram, which is very low,” an employee at the Ministry of Livestock and Fishery Resources (MoLFR) said.

Wubshet Asnake, Fishery Expert at MoLFR, said that fish is significant for food security and nutrition, alleviation of poverty, besides economic growth for the private sector including hotels and restaurants, a source of sustainable income and improving the health status of the society by providing high quality protein.

Ethiopia doesn’t have sea water so its fish comes from lakes, dams and rivers but with fishery aquaculture production can increase dramatically since people don’t need to rely on catching them. Harvesting them in this way could produce 94,500 metric tons of fish.

In 2015/16 the country produced 50,148 metric tons of fish. The most popular species was Tilapia at over 25,000 metric tons. The harvest of African Catfish and Nile Perch follows at 7,283 and 5,425 metric tons respectively, according to the 2015/16 budget year report of the Ministry.

Lakes at the Great Rift Valley and Tana Lake are where 80 percent of the fish comes from, while dams and rivers make up 14 and 6 percent respectively.

People are starting to catch on to the benefits of eating fish. In major towns consumption is increasing dramatically and the fast growth of the hospitality industry is contributing to increasing fish sales.

More people are also learning how to cook tantalizing fish recipes and the Ministry has undertaken several campaigns to raise awareness about why fish is good for you. Wubshet says fish consumption has been consistently growing.

“In the past few years the price of fish has increased significantly, which indicates a growing demand,” he explained.

In 2001 the volume of fish production was 15,000 metric tons but that figure increased to over 50,000 metric tons in the latest report. Different studies are also indicating that the local fish demand is now four times more than the current local production.

Ethiopia both imports and exports fish. Ethiopia’s fish is getting attention from foreign markets because it is organic and uncontaminated. Regional countries like Sudan and Kenya and others from Asia and the Middle East either are or plan to import fresh water fish from Ethiopia.

However, according to Wubshet local production is only enough for local demand right now and not exports so plans are in the works to harvest more fish from natural and artificial water sources. This is in turn expected to help local communities.

Ethiopia imports fish from 40 countries. A review of 3,320 importation records over the past five years revealed imports of fish from 32 countries with most coming from China. Tanzania is second and Norway, Kenya, and UAE are other importers. Djibouti only had 9 entries, and yet it is a close neighbor country with high quality fresh seafood.

In 2003 the government amended the Fish Resource Development and Utilization Proclamation 315/2003. The goals were to conserve fish biodiversity and the environment fish depend on. Prevent over fishing and increase the supply of high quality fish and expand aquaculture development by making more fisheries. The government also introduced the National Aquaculture Development Strategy in 2009 and established a ministry to focus on the sector.

The main focal point for improving Ethiopia’s fish industry both here and abroad is aquaculture.

According to plans, by the end of GTP 2 in 2020 the country will produce 80,000 metric tons from capture fisheries and 15 000 tones from aquaculture for a total of 95,000 metric tons per year. Per person consumption will also double from the current half a kilogram to one kg.

Currently, aquaculture development produces about 100 metric tons of fish per year. However, the government hopes fish will become a huge investment area in the future.

A plan to develop the aquaculture industry focuses on two major areas and will begin this year, according to Wubshet.

Small scale irrigation will expand in farmlands so farmers will have the option of growing fish in small ponds.  Currently several farms are involved in aquaculture mainly in Amhara, SNNP and Oromia areas.

Commercial aquaculture will engage trained youth and women who can produce fish hatcheries and fish out growers. Raceway aquaculture, which will be undertaken on a large scale, is another method that will be utilized. Dams and large bodies of water can also be managed by investors.

Currently there is no industrial fishery; but some foreign and local companies are engaged in aquiculture on a limited level. So far, licenses have been issued for 37 investors to establish fish farming and related enterprises. These include major investors such as Africa Sustainable Aquaculture (ASA), Ethio-Fisheries Plc (near Lake Abaya), Vittorio Viet Carlo Talarico Plc (Lake Chamo area), MIDGE 2000 Plc (Cage Culture in Lake Tana), Ashraf Agricultural and Industrial Plc (fish farming and processing around Lake Tana), Trout Fish Farm Plc and Lobster Farm Plc. Seed and feed production are crucial to meeting the target. Seed production has commenced mainly in SNNP, Amhara, and Oromia regions. “Some of the farmers have already been supplying fish seed for out growers,” Wubshet said.  Training will be undertaken to expand production as well.

For an investor to produce 15,000 tons is not a lot compared to other countries but it is a good start for here, an expert at the ministry said.

According to two Ethiopian experts who studied aquaculture in Ethiopia, the nation’s very diverse agro-ecological zones offer favorable potential for developing fish culture both in terms of land/water and its climate.

Based on physical, socioeconomic, climatic and infrastructure suitability indicators, as well as the biology of the selected fish species, a GIS analysis was carried out by FAO in 2012. They indicated that for Tilapia, one of the best fish species, 15,158 km² (more than 1%) of the country’s total land mass is highly suitable and 871,731 km² (62%) is moderately suitable for cultivating Tilapia. Although this is only 1% of Ethiopia’s total land area, it is more than sufficient to produce a significant amount of fish.

Annually 79 million metric tons of fish, worth USD 120 billion, are produced from aquaculture globally. China leads the sector by 61 percent and Indonesia follows at 8 percent. Egypt has the largest aquaculture industry in Africa with a market value of over USD 1.3 billion followed by Uganda.