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Business Day Newspaper

Ghana – Center Spread Article Published
Monday July 06 – Sunday July 13
th
, 2014
If Fish Could Only Talk,
they would shout at the top of their gills . . .
By Angelina Lazar
Canadian National
Economist
REBUTTAL on: “Fish Farmers appeal to government for cheaper feed” (Regional Section, Daily Graphic, p 23,
May 15, 2014)
I was struck by the article, concerning subsidizing fish feeds to ‘help’ farmers in the aquaculture sector, which the
Ministry of Fisheries and Fish Farmers Association were in perfect accord with (written by Kwadwo Baffoe Donkor
Thursday, May 15
th
in the Regional Section of the Daily Graphic).
The Chairman of the Ashanti Regional Fish Farmers Association, Nana Kwaku Siaw actually stated (and this is a quote)
that “as a result of the high cost of the feed, some of them had resorted to producing their own feed, which he said, do
not contain the right nutrients to get the fish to grow to the right size”. Actually, Nana Siaw was correct, but perhaps we
can shed some more light on aquaculture issues, and show a way to achieve much better results.
So let us have a quick look at what that “home-grown” fish feed actually consists of in order to better ascertain its
nutritional value. The colloquial version of cheap feed consists of food scraps (i.e. loaves of bread and kitchen leftovers),
farm scraps (maize, wheat bran, groundnut husks, and other local grains). The problem with unregulated crop
processing, though, is that they are treated with pesticides (i.e. chemicals), which are later utilized for fish feed. In
addition, if harvested after the rain, these crops have already begun the process of oxidation, releasing detrimental
toxins, directly affecting the fish immunity, increasing the mortality rate of the fish in the cage. Last but not least, sacks
of poultry droppings (to create more phytoplankton which the fish can feed upon) are utilized as feed or just plain
human feces!
So yes, a fish may, indeed, not grow to its proper size with such inadequate, questionable feed, but I would think it
might be more relevant to ask: “How can we ensure that fish are healthy and safe for Ghanaians to eat?”, and “How can
fish farmers maximize their return on investment?
Thus, allow me, if I may, to enlighten those of you who are avid tilapia eaters or budding new fish farmers. Suffice it to
say, the problem of unsustainability and the difficulty in maintaining healthy fish and a healthy environment stem from a
lack of knowledge, concerning proper fish farming methods and the environment. Thus, fishery-related government
agencies need to, first and foremost, help the situation, by advocating and assisting the move towards proper education
in aquaculture so that mistakes are not made that would adversely affect you, them, the fish or their aqua-habitat. One
would, therefore, expect that the officials would be enlightened enough on these matters, themselves, in order to
properly guide industry players to ensure the health of Ghanaian (and other) citizens are not at risk; to perpetuate the
sustainability of fish to the nation and the world; to help procure funding for especially small-scale farmers, but only for
that which is beneficial (not detrimental) to both the aqua-habitat, the people and the fish farmers; and to develop the
growing fish farming business (in extremely high demand today), none of which seems to be the case, apparently.
The Ministry of Fisheries should also implement regulation in water quality control, parasite and disease prevention and
waste management in order to diminish contamination of the water on which bacteria and fungi thrive. Undigested or
excess feed turn into waste, and therefore a culture base for bacteria and fungi. Fish waste, itself, turns into nitrate,
nitrite and ammonia, which are all PH-aggressive (i.e. acidic); and should, therefore be carefully monitored, controlled
and minimized. To explain this in layman’s terms: just imagine a loaf of bread left in the water unduly long in the hot
sun. The green colored fungi eventually turns to black (i.e. poison), and this is offered up to fish as feed, which is far
from safe, hygienic and nutritious!
These all have high negative impacts on both the fish and their aqua-environments. Besides ensuring that aquaculture
students and future fish farmers learn the theory behind healthy fish farming, they should also learn about
environmental sustainability (i.e. aquatic pollution and environmental degradation), upon which their livelihood
depends.
It would also be preferable and advisable for another government agency; namely, the Environmental Protection Agency
to not issue certificates to companies, disposing their industrial waste, like cyanide, into a river, for instance - for when
businesses and government agencies do not care one ioata about maintaining the natural resources a nation of living,
breathing, consuming people rely upon, it becomes disastrous for future economic stability, and a serious environmental
health hazard, breeding potential botulism on its people, adding to the cholera (which should have been resolved eons
ago) and an already too high mortality rate!
It is true, I concur: aquaculture is not well integrated enough into African governments as of yet; but here, Ghana must
take the lead, without holding back, as the great Kwame Nkrumah once did! The government should put forth serious
(not haphazard) efforts into aquaculture education, funding and regulation as development in this sector is being
brutally curbed, due to less than optimal proprieties and priorities, which need to be corrected as soon as possible! This
less than ideal funding, development and education in aquaculture is, thus, not advantageous to the health and well-
being of this nation, as let us not forget: fish is the most important part of the African diet, tilapia is a favourite national
dish, and Ghanaians eat more tilapia than any other African nation - so it well behooves the government to get serious
and concentrate on what is vitally important to the health and wealth of its citizens! It is rightfully said : “We are what
we eat!” Well, this holds true for fish, as well; hence, why would we lobby to force-feed cheap feed on our valuable
tilapia, and why, pretell, would we subsidize such a detrimental practice? . . .
Lastly, let us look at the real litmus test and most important formula of all, which needs to be optimized in any
aquaculture enterprise: the feed conversion ratio (FCR) - a tell-tale sign, that must never be overlooked or
underestimated. This refers to the amount of fish feed required to grow 1 kilogram of fish. So, if it requires 2 kilos of
feed to grow only 1 kilo of tilapia, the FCR would be 2, which is very high and too expensive, no matter how “cheap” the
feed is! And believe me, it is only cheap feed that begets such poor, and ultimately, costly results, when it’s all said and
done. . .
Conversely, when a feed has a low FCR, less feed is required to produce 1 kg of fish than would be the case if the FCR
were higher! Thus, a low FCR is a very good indication of a high quality feed. Knowing how much feed is required allows
a farmer to determine the profitability of his fish farming business. In other words, the FCR allows the farmer to make
wise decisions in selecting the proper feed to increase both the size of the fish (and nutritional quality), and thus, the
profitability of his venture! So, imagine that: it’s better for the fish; it’s better for the consumer; and better for the fish
farmer! Everybody wins and is a whole lot healthier and happier! But I assure you, this never occurs if fish farmers
indulge in cheap feed!
Rather, the exact opposite occurs, so why opt for a guaranteed recipe for disaster, when, in fact, the impetus should be
on regulating the opposite: that is, that only high quality feed be mandatory in commercial fish farming! That would be
a more viable suggestion and policy; but subsidizing cheap feed: never! That practice should be stamped out, once and
for all, as cholera should be, at long last!
My point here is this: there are other parameters more important than the price of fish feed. When measuring the FCR,
for instance, one would work backwards. Let us say, the farmer wants his tilapia to reach 350 grams instead of the
typical 150 – 200 g, as would, inevitably, be the case if he were utilizing cheap feeds. He would see that it would take
much less time to achieve this with higher quality feeds (which are, indeed, more expensive, at the outset), but fact of
the matter is: he could achieve his target in approximately 5 months with a quality feed, compared to the typical 6, 7 or
even8 months with a cheap feed!
Thus, with quality feed, not only does this mean that a farmer can complete approximately 2 cycles per year - so their
earning potential becomes substantially higher, but they would also save 1-3 months worth of fish feed per cycle (plus
the labour) to achieve their optimal marketing fish weight, so are, in essence, saving on fish feed expenses, instead of
splurging senselessly on cheap feed! Also, with the reduced mortality rate, and better immunity of the fish, rendered by
quality feed, the fish farmer will achieve a much better tonnage and far more lucrative profits!
Next, it is important to note that as the amount of protein increases in a feed, the FCR becomes smaller. It is true that
feed with higher levels of protein are, yes, more expensive, we have said, at the outset; but as we demonstrated, less
feed is required to grow more fish, meaning it, actually ends up being significantly cheaper and much more worthwhile
to buy more expensive feed! Not only is it cheaper, but it is also more profitable for the fish farmers, who breed happier,
healthier, larger fish in record time!
So, just for clarity sake, let us run this by one more time: with cheaper, low quality feed, the feed conversion ratio (FCR)
is much higher (any properly trained farmer can calculate this for him or herself to verify this finding; but they will need
someone responsible, who can teach them to calculate this for themselves)! This means the nutrition and digestibility of
the feed is lower. In turn, that means: not all the energy is going towards the growth of the fish, but more is being
converted into waste, increasing the concentration of ammonia in the water, which has the potential to poison the fish,
and, in turn, those who eat it (that would be you and me). . .
So, back to my final point: if the quality of fish feed is lower, it lowers the immune system of the fish, rendering a higher
mortality rate in both the hatcheries and growing tanks, so the problem is only exacerbated with cheap fish feed, so
there is no need to subsidize or perpetuate such a calamity when it is only counterproductive to the health of this nation
and the real wealth of its fish farmers.
So, although it is true that tilapia farming has not been well developed or supported enough by the government, which
the article conveyed (and I agree, this is seriously needed), the solution is not only in subsidizing feeds, as the author
advocated; but rather, if subsidies, are needed at all, they should subsidize, perhaps, not only quality feed, but top
quality training and education that will render a real difference, beget world class results, ensure the health of Ghanaian
fish lovers nationwide, while elevating the profit margins and living standards of fish farmers from coast to coast, not to
mention the GDP and macroeconomy, as a whole! Please understand: it may, sometimes, be the case that feed would,
therefore, need to be imported; but the actual finished product is being manufactured in Ghana, ready to be consumed
locally or exported abroad (which is then a very real possibility), and much more profitable for Ghanaians and Ghana!
That would, rather, benefit (and not hurt) your balance of trade, which is a positive, not a negative economic indicator
and phenomenon, so, why would one focus on such minutia of perhaps importing feed, which is more beneficial, when
this would allow farmers to effectively and widely export tilapia worldwide? I ask you: when will Ghana finally be ready
to produce quality end-products the world is in high demand of? Why does it need Scandinavians to come here to do
just that, while they remain in the stone age, worried about small, unsubstantiated things, like making sure they buy
only the cheapest fish feed possible, which keeps them in a stuck state, producing, bad fish, small fish, and oftentimes,
poisonous fish; reaping insignificant profits, while lending less real value, less real quality and less real health to their
consumers and nationals? Why? . . .
On these such and other related matters, the relevant authorities in the aquaculture sector should be focused on. But
then again, they need to be properly educated and informed so that we can turn our proverbial tweapia into quality
tilapia! My friends, I would sincerely hope Ghana’s fishery officials would not choose to ‘swim with the sharks’... but
would rather ride the benevolent wave in providing more thorough and adequate education in aquaculture-proper, so
they are not…..well….… like a fish out of water . . .

Angelina Lazar
Canadian National
Economist
Global Trade & Human Rights Expert
Certified International Project Manager