Dr. Malcolm Dickson, Egypt and Nigeria Country Program Manager - WorldFish & Mona El Azzazy, Communications Officer - WorldFish
Egypt is the ninth largest global aquaculture producer and accounts for 66% of African farmed fish but there are still significant opportunities for expansion. This is important as farmed fish is the cheapest source of animal-produced protein in a country facing serious nutritional deficiencies including child stunting (31%), maternal anemia (44.1%) and maternal obesity (25%).
The Egyptian government has been paying increasing attention to the role of farmed fish in improving food security and enhancing nutrition, as well as increasing job opportunities and family incomes.
During the IFPRI seminar, that was held in partnership with WorldFish, under the title “The Role of Aquaculture in Improving Food Security, Income & Employment in Egypt”, three WorldFish researchers along with Dr. Magdy Salah El-Deen from the National Water Research Centre discussed the rise of aquaculture in Egypt. The seminar presented key issues around farmed fish value chain development, food safety, food security, and water policy in Egypt.
Dr. Ahmed Nasr-Allah, WorldFish research scientist, explained that aquaculture in Egypt started in the 1970s when the government developed state-owned hatcheries and farms and sent off local experts and scientists to learn about aquaculture from other countries. Subsequently, model farms were established and space was allocated for aquaculture development, allowing for private investment and businesses to take place.
Aquaculture in Egypt is managed by the General Authority of Fish Resources Development (GAFRD) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MoALR). GAFRD was given the right to lease all land within 200 m2 of lake shorelines for aquaculture and fisheries. Law 124 of 1983 defines the areas designated for aquaculture, where no other agriculture activities are possible, and how aquaculture should take place.
Dr. Malcolm Dickson, Country Director of WorldFish in Egypt, explained that fish farming activities are concentrated in the north of the Nile Delta using water from drainage canals or lakes where, unfortunately, the water quality gets poorer especially after multiple use in irrigation schemes before reaching the lakes and the Mediterranean Sea.
There is considerable potential for expansion of small-scale and integrated aquaculture in areas such as Upper Egypt where fish is scarce and more expensive than in the delta; this would add value to smallholder farms and the national economy. However, such expansion requires policymakers to revisit existing policies outlining where and how aquaculture can be practiced.
Dickson explained, “Nile Tilapia – Egypt’s main farmed fish- is safe to eat. According to our research there is no evidence of heavy metal or pesticide contamination in farmed fish”. He added, “Although the water supplied to the ponds is not fresh, the fish eat clean food.” This means that the farmed fish quality meets the EU import standards. However, there are concerns that need to be addressed about poor post-harvest fish handling during transport and in markets.
Aquaculture in Egypt is led by medium-scale business. As the sector continues to expand, more small-scale businesses should be involved. This means that policy makers, donors and businesses ought to focus on encouraging market development, including processing.
While the Delta’s supply continues to rise, markets and value chains serving large parts of the country remain under-developed. Aquaculture production in 2015 was estimated at 1,174,831 tonnes which is almost 10 times what Egypt produced 20 years ago.
Issues of profitability, production efficiency, fish handling and market development call for speedy responses from policy actors and businesses in order to develop the different value chain nodes.
Dr. Seamus Murphy, social scientist at WorldFish, said that women fish retailers are the most vulnerable group among the value chain nodes. WorldFish in Egypt has worked with women fish retailer groups in Kafr El-Sheikh, Fayoum, Beheira, Sharkia and Mineya since 2012. Beneficiaries were able to increase their profits to 10 US dollars per day whereas the non-beneficiaries only generated profits of 1 US dollar per day.
On the other hand, fish purchases are still lower in urban households than rural areas. Many studies, Murphy highlighted, are needed to understand fish preferences, size, value, cooking and retailing methods. Studies that generate GIS data can illustrate where farmed fish is rarely available (fish deserts), while analyses of market prices, and household income and expenditures can provide information on price elasticities.
Policy makers are facing a major water challenge in view of the decrease of water availability and increased agricultural area, in addition to water pollution and issues of overlapping institutional roles. Dr. Magdy Salah El-Deen, advisor to the Ministry of Water Resources, explained that fish ponds lose water through evaporation at a time when the country is suffering from increased water scarcity – particularly with the development of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia. This calls for policy makers’ attention to weigh alternative options, such as using ground water and brackish water, that is not suitable for drinking but could be used for fish farming. This approach can be part of a national strategy that changes the State’s perception towards aquaculture where fish can be seen and treated as an agricultural crop, thus allowing the implementation of new solutions like intensification and integration of fish farming systems.
Following an interactive discussion, the speakers agreed that change should engage all stakeholders including Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MOALR), General Authority for Fisheries Resources Development (GAFRD), Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI), Central Laboratory for Aquaculture Research (CLAR), National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries (NIOF) and various universities under the Ministry of Higher Education and WorldFish.