Study points to huge opportunities for sustainable fish farming in Bangladesh

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A forthcoming study into aquaculture in Bangladesh will outline significant opportunities for the targeted roll-out of genetically improved fish strains in the country.

Bangladesh has some of the highest per capita rates of fish consumption in the world, with wild and farmed strains of carp and tilapia making a substantial contribution to diets and incomes. Aquaculture has boomed in recent years, now accounting for over half of fish production, and the sector is worth almost USD$1 billion per year. Its success has been underpinned by the dissemination of improved strains of carp and Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) by WorldFish and its partners. The fish have a range of beneficial traits, including greater disease resistance, faster growth rates, and more efficient feed conversion rates compared to indigenous strains.

But scientists have lacked robust data on fisheries and aquaculture systems to help guide the country-wide dissemination of the improved strains. Instead they have relied on official statistics, which tend to aggregate production data and lack sufficient local and regional nuance. With the rapid growth in aquaculture in the country generating strong interest from policymakers, the need for better evidence of the adoption, impact and potential of the improved strains had become paramount.

In 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers organized a series of household surveys and virtual workshops covering all key fish-producing regions of the country. These brought together farmer organizations, representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, hatchery and nursery operators, input dealers, NGOs and more. The workshops and surveys helped researchers understand the country’s existing aquaculture systems, and the different set of challenges and opportunities relating to the introduction of improved fish strains. The systems were then characterized, based on the intensity of production, use of inputs such as fish seed, fertilizer, and feed, and according to how sustainable they were. The household survey, which covered almost 5,000 farm households, also helped establish farmers’ willingness to adopt inputs such as formulated fish feed, and the traits they prefer in improved fish strains.

The results enabled researchers to develop suitability maps for the adoption of improved fish strains in Bangladesh and the economic, social and environmental trade-offs involved. These provide a better understanding of the country’s aquaculture hotspots – where fish farming based on genetically improved carp and tilapia strains could be most readily adopted. They also identify “coldspots” – areas with potential to contribute to fish production in the country, but where barriers to adoption exist. The data will be used as a baseline for measuring the adoption of improved strains, and for policymakers to target specific areas.

“Aquaculture is becoming a runaway success in Bangladesh,” said Cristiano Rossignoli of WorldFish, who led the characterization study. “But in order to ensure as many people benefit from the adoption of improved carp and tilapia, we’ve long needed robust data on the potential opportunities and bottlenecks, to help guide policy development. This study gives us the best data yet on which to base those kinds of decisions, and it’s clear there are huge opportunities for impact.”

The study will make several recommendations, including focusing on the intensification of aquaculture and on the adoption of key innovations, rather than expanding pond size; educating farmers on the benefits of commercial fish feed; and providing solutions to barriers to the adoption of commercial feed. It also identifies the need for improved extension services and the role of stakeholders and NGOs in training fish farmers in better management practices.

Stay tuned for more details.

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