August 8, 2019


How Brazil became a leading tilapia producer


Tilapia farming in Brazil has recorded a solid growth through the years, with its share in the global tilapia aquaculture production increasing from 1.9% in 1997 to 4.9% in 2017, making it the fifth-largest farmed tilapia producer among the 127 countries and territories that have tilapia aquaculture production as of 2017, according to the latest FAO statistics.


The data indicate that, on average, tilapia aquaculture production in Brazil grew from 12,000 tonnes in 1995 to 290,000 tonnes in 2017. The Brazilian Aquaculture Association–Peixe BR–has even a higher figure for tilapia aquaculture production in the country at 330,000 tonnes as of 2016.


Tilapia has been Brazil's largest aquaculture item, contributing to nearly half of the country's aquaculture production tonnage in 2017.


Despite being one of the largest tilapia farming countries, however, Brazil has yet to become a major tilapia exporter. There are factors contributing to its being outcompeted by other countries in spite of its various advantages in tilapia production, and one of these is the trade barriers including cumbersome documentation requirements and sanitary/safety issues.


Brazil has in fact various advantages that should favor its becoming a major tilapia exporter, such as abundant supply of tilapia feed ingredients, advanced farming systems and technologies, and geographic proximity to the US, which is the largest international tilapia fillet market.


How Brazil did it


How was Brazil able to make a rapid development of tilapia aquaculture? FAO, in a report, cites at least four factors that have contributed to this, including the improvement of seed quality through the use of fast-growing genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT) strains and monosex farming technology, which has shortened the grow-out phase, increased productivity and allowed for the harvest of large-size tilapias that are favoured by local consumers over smaller wild tilapia captured in reservoirs.


Another factor is the adoption of low-volume, high-density (LVHD) cage farming technology, which has facilitated rapid expansion of tilapia cage farming in the southeastern states (São Paulo and Minas Gerais) and northeast states (Ceará, Bahia and Pernambuco).


The third is the development of the animal feed industry, which has provided a stable supply of good-quality feed for tilapia and fish farming in general, while the fourth is the large domestic market, which has absorbed most farmed tilapia production in Brazil.


Tilapias were introduced to Brazil back in the 1950s when Oreochromis mossambicus and Tilapia rendalli were imported from Africa for restocking hydroelectric reservoirs. More tilapia species, including O. angolensis, O. niloticus, O. aureus and O. urolepis hornorum were later introduced as restocking species for improving the livelihood of the fishing community, the FAO report said.


Worldwide, tilapia is the most popular aquaculture species item, farmed in over 127 countries and territories. Global tilapia aquaculture production grew 11% annually (or 13% in terms of farmgate value) over the past three decades, from 0.3 million tonnes (US$304 million) in 1987 to 5.9 million tonnes ($11 billion) in 2017.