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Egypt’s massive tilapia sector primed for global expansion

Egypt’s tilapia farming sector has undergone rapid development over the past 10 years. Can it keep up the pace?

The Egyptian tilapia sector has risen exponentially to become a global production powerhouse, second only to China in volume. But the country’s fragmented sector, strong domestic demand and unique challenges are keeping the industry from potentially breaking out on the global stage.

Tilapia production in the country has reached 900,000 metric tons annually -- an 80 percent increase in about 10 years, according to Skretting, the world’s largest aquaculture feed supplier.

“Currently only China is bigger, and Indonesia is about the same,” Skretting Africa Marketing Director Arjen Roem told IntraFish.

Egypt has risen to become the sixth-largest largest aquaculture producer in the world by volume, thanks to Nile tilapia, which is growing 5 percent annually, Roem said.

Several fish feed producers are supporting this growth, both domestic and international. The three largest overseas players are currently Skretting, Aller Aqua and De Heus-owned Koudijs Kapo Feed.

Skretting just launched two new global products in the Egyptian market, Nutra and Protec, to support tilapia growth. Nutra is a specialized feed providing specific nutrients and varying particle sizes for each life stage. Protec is a diet designed to help tilapia cope during hot summer seasons. Skretting’s customers have welcomed the new products as opportunities to expand production in Egypt’s unique conditions, Roem said.

Nearly all Egyptian production is consumed locally, and local demand will continue to develop in the coming years, even as export markets grow, he added.

What’s the hold up?

One obvious potential limitation to the tilapia sector’s growth is the availability of water, an issue Egyptians face in general.

“It is completely dependent on the Nile for food production, including aquaculture,” Roed said. “The positive aspect of aquaculture is that water can be reused.”

"In order to grow even more, the sector needs several developments such as a cold chain supply, investments, refrigerated transportation vessels," said Aller Aqua Egypt CEO Hussein Mansour. He said the sector needs to be handled, managed and operated better to expand as well.

"There are expansion plans in the backstage, however we haven’t taken the final decision on them. But we have several options to expand even further," Mansour said.

The production rise is traced to an increase in small independent farmers starting new aquaculture ventures, backed by the government’s public support of fish farming and increased fish consumption to 16 kilograms per capita annually.

“Tilapia farming is not consolidated and there are still many farmers -- tens of thousands -- mostly originating from family-businesses,” Roem said. Some of the larger farms produce 5,000 metric tons of fish, highlighting the fragmentation.

The growth is expected to continue. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) anticipates that Egyptian aquaculture will increase by more than 68 percent by 2030.

According to the World Bank, global tilapia production is projected to jump from 4.3 million metric tons in 2010 to 7.3 million tons in 2030.

Other feed giants are carefully eyeing the trend and looking for opportunities. For example, BioMar, the third-largest fish feed producer, says it has prioritized other markets for now, but is “always open to enter the Egyptian market if the right opportunity arises."

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