Tilapia leads Guyana’s aquaculture industry

- 120,000 kg bred in January - June this year

Figures published by the Ministry of Agriculture as part of its Second Quarter Commodity Market Update for this year indicate that tilapia farming continues to be both the most popular and the most profitable pursuit in the country’s growing aquaculture sector.

According to the ministry’s statistics, tilapia production during the first six months of 2011 accounted for almost half of overall aquaculture production for the period, yielding 120,000 kilogrammes between January and June. Among the less prominent aquaculture products, tambaqui managed a distant second yielding around 55,000 kg, while black shrimp production totalled around 20,000 kg.

By global standards this is a decidedly modest accomplishment. China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have all reported significant increases in overall aquaculture production both in 2009 and last year.  This year, production in Bangladesh is expected to grow beyond 100,000 metric tonnes.

This duckweed-covered pond provides ideal breeding grounds for tilapia

Tilapia has reportedly become the third most important fish in global aquaculture after carp and salmon, its importance being derived from its large size and rapid breeding and growth rate.

Global production of tilapia reportedly continued to increase even through the recession period with the amount farmed last year exceeding 3 million tonnes.  Apart from being the world’s major producer of tilapia China is also both the world’s top consumer and exporter of the fish.

The small size of the local industry notwithstanding, aquaculture is regarded as one of the more promising economic activities in Guyana and tilapia is by far the most important species in the sector.

On the whole, the aquaculture industry possesses high potential for rapid growth and job creation. Additionally, it is also being looked to by government as an important food security safeguard as well as a potential major foreign exchange earner. The awareness that aquaculture can be incorporated into other farming systems, including rice, also offers a significant boost to its local growth potential given the presence of a large rice industry in Guyana.

The fact that tilapia farming has quickly established itself as the unquestioned leader in local aquaculture production is not surprising. It is an accepted axiom among local fish breeders that tilapia is the potential ‘gold mine’ of the country’s aquaculture industry. Continually increasing world demand provides the industry with by far its best market opportunities owing to several critical factors including climatic suitability, high productivity, hardiness, high growth rates, disease resistance and market accessibility.

While the local aquaculture sub-sector had already established modest external markets for tilapia in the Caribbean and North America, the growing popularity of the fish in the United States offers the best possibilities for the immediate-term expansion of Guyana’s tilapia exports. Importantly for Guyana, the local aquaculture industry has already attained the required Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) for the export of fish products, an achievement which renders the large US market readily accessible. US import demand for tilapia has continually exceeded 112,000 metric tonnes over the past seven years. Per capita consumption of tilapia reportedly grew slightly in the US last year, to 0.59 kg per persons up from 0.55 kg in 2009. The US market apart, there is also potential for growth in the regional market for tilapia where demand is likely to continue to grow to meet the needs of the tourist industry.

Local tilapia breeders are also seeking to take more advantage of the potential offered by the value-added forms including frozen and breaded tilapia.

Currently, aquaculture is a fledgling sub-sector in the wider fishing industry though a number modest rural tilapia farming ventures exist beside larger investments in several acres of fish pond and other infrastructure. The potential, though, is evident. Currently, land under aquaculture is estimated at more than 2,000 hectares while the average annual growth date in the industry has hovered around 14 per cent since the mid-1990s. Pioneer investors in the sub-sector include New Line Aqua Farm, a multi-million-dollar investment that started as a small enterprise in 2006.

Estimates of local pioneer investors suggest that net revenue per acre in the sector is approximately US$3,400. Tilapia production continues to be a leader in an industry which the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says is the fastest growing food production sector in the world with output growing at the rate of around 10% per annum.

Large scale investments in the local aquaculture industry have witnessed the creation of a legislative and technical support infrastructure for the industry including the establishment in 2001 of the Mon Repos Aquaculture Station, a freshwater demonstration farm and training centre. The station’s primary functions are to conduct adaptive research, provide training to farmers and supply seed-stock. In recent years the industry has also benefited from the introduction for commercial rearing of the Jamaican Red Tilapia and the re- introduction of the Nile Tilapia following the depletion of existing stocks.   Important work has also been done with the FAO on the completion of a local project to introduce aquaculture and integrated pest management projects to rice farmers in which fish are introduced into rice fields as a replacement for pesticides, allowing rice farmers to diversify production.

Moreover, Guyana can look to the successful experiences of rapid growth of commercial aquaculture elsewhere in the hemisphere including Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia which are becoming increasingly prominent players in global aquaculture production.

Private sector interest in the local aquaculture industry is driven by the National Aquaculture Association of Guyana (NAAG), established in 2006 by a group of private farmers, feed producers, fish processors, lending agencies and state institutions. The association’s primary concerns are with technical issues including producing suitable feed and with the identification of markets and transportation logistics. The presence of NAAG has attracted the technical support of external agencies like USAID. Not surprisingly, NAAG had set its sights on taking advantage of the tilapia export market, particularly the US market.

The lobbying role of NAAG has also hastened the pace of the work done by the Ministry of Agriculture to expand hatchery capacity, upgrade technology for the cultivation of suitable fish species, boost the availability of proper fish feeds and enhance technical and business skills training for investors and potential investors in aquaculture.