When it comes to aquaculture species, Indian farmers prefer to go with what they know

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    CGIAR Initiative on Aquatic Foods
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Fish farmers in India’s Odisha State are yet to appreciate the multiple benefits of improved tilapia strains, having overwhelmingly given the thumbs up to local carp species as their fish of choice – according to new research published in the journal Aquaculture.

Local carps make up the vast majority of production from India’s inland fisheries, and with a government target to almost quadruple aquatic foods exports by 2032, much of the additional production is expected to come from inland aquaculture. To achieve this, experts suggest that the diversification of production to include both of local carp and improved fish species such as genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT), will be necessary.

On the face of it, it’s a good proposition: GIFT is a faster-growing strain of Nile tilapia that is more nutritious, productive, profitable, and adaptable to a wide range of environments than non-GIFT strains. Recent studies from neighbouring Bangladesh suggest it can grow up to 37% faster than non-GIFT tilapia – meaning farmers get to produce more and earn more.

The Indian government now hopes to take tilapia production in the country from 70,000 metric tonnes in 2022 to over 2 million metric tonnes by 2032, with GIFT likely to play an important role in this. But buy-in is needed from the country’s small-scale fish farmers who dominate the inland aquaculture sector.

To assess their appetite for adopting GIFT, researchers from the CGIAR Initiative on Aquatic Foods designed a discrete choice experiment. They asked over 1,900 small-scale fish farmers in the country’s Odisha state to rate combinations of fish attributes to get a clearer picture of their preferences and their willingness to pay for them. They looked at the growth rate, survival rate, and fingerling price of GIFT, carp and non-specific species. The experiment was designed to ensure farmers’ decisions were not influenced by any preconceived notions they might have have tied to the identities of the species.

The farmers preferred fish species with faster growth rates – most likely because they reach harvest size more rapidly, increasing the frequency with which ponds are restocked and allowing farmers to harvest and sell more fish overall. Perhaps unsurprisingly, farmers also preferred fish species with high survival rates. However, on fingerling price the researchers noted some regional differences: households in Central and Northern districts were more likely to choose more expensive fingerlings, while the reverse was true for households in Southern districts. They put this down to differences in education levels between the different groups.

Overall, local fish species such as Indian major carp and other non-specific species came out on top – meaning farmers chose these over the all-singing, all-dancing GIFT species, despite the latter having high growth and survival rates. In other words, the farmers preferred to go with what they know. The researchers put this down to factors outside the range of the study, such as the lack of a well-developed local market for GIFT.

“This study offers profound insights into the preferences of small-scale aquaculture producers in India,” said postdoctoral fellow Timothy Manyise of WorldFish. “While genetically improved farmed tilapia can offer significant benefits for fish producers, achieving widespread adoption is no easy task and it won’t happen overnight. Instead, to achieve the government’s aspirations for expanding the aquaculture sector, a series of policies are likely to be needed, to support both GIFT and other farmed fish species.”

These include the government and aquaculture stakeholders finding ways to incentivise and promote a diverse supply of fingerlings. These should include fast-growing and high-surviving strains of major carp species, as well as GIFT. This would enable farmers to choose fingerlings that align with their preferences and market demand. Secondly, policies to support the adoption of exotic farmed fish species like GIFT should include efforts to raise awareness of their benefits among farmers and consumers alike. Thirdly, they suggest that fish seed (eggs) for exotic species could be subsidised to promote adoption. Alternatively, the government of Odisha could invest in improving local fish species, given that they already have widespread market acceptance.

The researchers also suggest the need for follow-up studies to include other performance measures such as profitability, feed conversion ratio, and market acceptance.


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