African aquaculture

Small, but growing rapidly

Over the past few years, interest in aquaculture in
Africa has increased. While there has been local interest in aquaculture for a long time, foreign investors are now showing their interest in several countries. The potential for developing aquaculture is there, but the continent still faces a number of challenges.

The total aquaculture production of
Africa only amounts to 570,000 tonnes annually (2004), or a little less than 1.0 per cent of the global production. Until the mid-1990s production was relatively stable at around 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes, but developments since then have shown that there is both room and possibilities for growth. Growth in particularly Egypt’s production has contributed to a five-fold increase in less than 10 years.

Fish farming spreads through

Egypt has been the largest producer in African aquaculture since as far back as 1950. In 2004, Egypt accounted for almost 83 per cent of the total African production. Nile tilapia is the dominating species in Egypt. In 2004 Egyptian farmed tilapia production amounted to some 200,000 tonnes, accounting for over 42 per cent of the total aquaculture production of the country. But in recent years aquaculture has been developed in other countries like Congo DR, Nigeria, Madagascar, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In Nigeria it is particularly catfish farming that has contributed to this development. In 2004, production of catfishes accounted for about 63 per cent of the total Nigerian aquaculture production.

By far the major part of African aquaculture is done in inland waters, - lakes, water reservoirs and rivers. In 2004, this accounted for 89 per cent of all African aquaculture. There is some marine aquaculture, mainly in the
Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, while activities on the Atlantic coast have been very limited until now. The largest species in African aquaculture in terms of volume include tilapias, gray mullet, carps and catfishes. There is also some production of shrimp, mainly black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon), and in 2004 African farmed production of this species amounted to 7,600 tonnes.


Interest and investments in African aquaculture can broadly be divided into two: community based aquaculture which is promoted by international organizations, aid agencies and governments as part of their efforts to alleviate poverty and create livelihoods and improve the food supply situation; and commercial aquaculture, which is mainly privately financed and export oriented. A number of community based aquaculture projects have been started in countries such as
Cote d”Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria and Zambia. These projects are of a small scale nature and have been financed by aid agencies and national governments. Commercial investments in aquaculture have been registered in countries such as Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Generally, these projects are developed on a larger scale and their production is mainly export oriented. Often, there is foreign capital involved, in some cases in joint venture with local investors.


As mentioned, most of the commercial aquaculture operations in
Africa are targeting the international export markets. That often puts the continent at a disadvantage because of inadequate transport options. However, even so, some projects have been successful in exporting to world markets, such as tilapia farming in Zimbabwe, shrimp farming in Mozambique and Madagascar, and oyster farming in Namibia.

The local markets, which until now have been mainly served by small scale, community based fish farming, are probably grossly under-estimated. There is a growing demand in the region for fish and seafood, and many markets are able and willing to pay good prices. In fact, for many operations the local, African markets represent a better option in terms of profitability. What is needed, though, is the development of distribution systems, and to some extent cold chains.


African aquaculture is still facing a number of challenges that must be dealt with. Corruption and lack of infrastructure in some areas are major obstacles, but there are also other challenges, such as the lack of seed, lack of feed, lack of knowledge, and above all lack of financing. The lack of access to financing is caused mainly by the lack of knowledge and experience on the part of financial institutions in the region with regard to aquaculture. Both development banks and commercial banks in the region are reluctant to finance aquaculture projects because they do not know the sector, they do not understand it, and they do not see sufficient collateral available. Consequently, they tend to turn down applications for loans. However, the investors must also take part of the blame for this, as many do not know how to present their projects to financial institutions. Furthermore, many investors/initiators lack equity and ask for too large external financing shares for their projects.

Foreign, non-African banks with understanding of and experience in aquaculture financing could find new business opportunities in
Africa, particularly if they are willing to work with local commercial banks.

What needs to be done

A recent assessment of the situation for African aquaculture by the FAO points to a number of initiatives that are important in order to further the development of the sector:

  • Increasing the involvement of the private sector. The private sector should be responsible for all production inputs such as seed, feed, technology etc., and it should focus on market-driven, profitable operations. Furthermore, the private sector should be active in the management of the aquaculture sector in each country and contribute to functions such as research, extension, information etc.
  • Focusing effort on high potential areas. Such areas are those that have the greatest possibilities for providing the best results both in terms of successful production and profitable operations. Authorities should provide an environment conducive to development of these areas.
  • Redefining the role of the governments. In many countries, the government has been managing and even investing in the sector. This is not considered the best way to achieve results. Governments should instead focus on their role as a facilitator and monitor of activities. They should support research, provide information and provide proper quality control.
  • Divesting public infrastructure. Public sector involvement in providing such infrastructure as seed production, demonstration projects etc should discontinued and left to the private sector. Government installations in such activities should be sold to the private sector or converted to other uses.
  • Increasing the responsibilities and organization of producers. The private sector needs to be more involved in the management of the sector through producer associations and increased participating in supplying reliable and correct information.
  • Developing methods for monitoring and evaluation. These functions are the responsibility of all the stakeholders in the sector. Correct, reliable record-keeping provides a basis for future planning, but also requires responsive institutions. Getting the correct information about the sector is a necessity for successful planning in harmony with national development strategies.
  • Elaborating flexible national aquaculture strategies. Such strategies have been neglected in some countries, but must be developed and in harmony with the overall national development plans. There may be a need in some countries for a focused, national aquaculture task force in order to secure sustain development.

There is little doubt that the African continent offers ample opportunities for aquaculture development. With the general movement towards democratic societies and the continuous fight against corruption in many African countries today, development prospects for the sector appear brighter that in many decades. Africa may still have a long way to go, but the process has started.

Erik Hempel, INFOSA Team Leader
Article from EUROFISH Magazine, Issue 6/2006