Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, International Food Policy Research Institute and Fisheries Commission organize stakeholder workshops on certification protocols for aquaculture in Ghana

A consortium of international and local researchers has begun nationwide stakeholder consultation meetings to validate a three-tier certification protocol for hatchery and grow-out aquaculture industry in Ghana.

In 2017, a one-stop certification protocol for aquaculture establishments (Hatcheries, Grow-outs and Feed mills) was introduced by the Fisheries Commission. As of 2019, no aquaculture farm (large or small scale) had been certified due to unsuccessful fulfilment of all requirements in the certification protocols, according to a diagnostic study conducted by the Tilapia Seed Project (TiSeed) project in 2020.

The 3-year TiSeed project titled Accelerating aquaculture development in Ghana through sustainable Nile Tilapia seed production and dissemination, is a 3-year project with an overall objective to improve productivity and profitability of tilapia cage and pond farming in Ghana. Implementation of the project is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), supported by the CSIR-Water Research Institute (CSIR-WRI), KIT Royal Tropical Institute in the Netherlands, and WorldFish. Other partners are Fisheries Commission and two private hatcheries (S-HOINT Ltd. and Crystal Lake Ltd. The TiSeed consortium partners reviewed and partitioned the existing one-stop certification system into a three-tier certification protocol with focus on ensuring more practical and step-wise approach to the adoption of good aquaculture practices, food safety standards, and access to international markets.

A consequence of the technical assessment resulted in the recommendation to the Fisheries Commission for the facilitation of aquaculture regulatory requirements that can result in the certification of fish farms across the country.

It is in this light that the consortium of international and local research institutes and the Fisheries Commission has organised a stakeholder consultative workshop to provide assessment mechanisms, validate proposals, and finalise protocols that must guide the certification of fish farms and hatcheries across the country.

According to Dr. Ruby Asmah, a Principal Research Scientist and the Head of the Fishery and Aquaculture Division of CSIR-WRI, the workshops aim to provide information to stakeholders on the work done so far in the area of certification protocol framework development, help with farmers compliance as well as monitor and document progress and lessons learned overtime from stakeholders in order to develop a comprehensive working document that can help the certification process. The nationwide stakeholder consultative workshops are being held in Greater Accra, Ashanti and Northern Regions, with representation of fish farmers, experts from research and academia, state regulators and associated stakeholders in the fish farming value chain from all 16 regions of the country.

Mrs. Mary Nkansa, Acting Head of Fish Health Unit, Fisheries Commission, said the general requirements for certification of farms include compliance to food safety, animal welfare, use of hormones source of broodstock, out bounded holding facilities and packaging for transport storage. The minimum requirement for certification for all tiers requires that the farm meets strict sanitary and hygienic requirements. Waste disposal and treatment must be properly treated and disposed properly, and the packaging of fish must meet strict hygienic conditions. The requirements for tier 2 and tier 3 are stricter, but the general requirements are that the fish farm must be clean and hygienic.

In addition to these, all farms are required to meet legal registration with the FC. As a requirement, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are not allowed for production. Only approved drugs that comply with Food and Agriculture (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) could be used in the farm.

Under animal welfare she advocated humane handling of all farmed aquatic animals as well as proper records of treatments of diseases and visits by aquatic animal health personnel.

To ensure that harvested products remained safe for consumption, farmers were entreated to subject harvested products to what she referred to as cold chain while harvest and post-harvest equipment were to be cleaned and disinfected with approved chemicals.

The benefits of certification

According to Dr Ruby Asmah, certification of fish farms is expected to standardise the production of fish across the country that complies with international standards for fish production. It is also expected to promote traceability and transparency among entities and stakeholders in the fishing industry as well as promote a credible and robust fishing industry that promotes confidence in the industry.

The certification is also expected to ensure increased farm productivity in order to produce safe and quality food, help adherence to permitted residue levels, reduce environmental pollution by fish farmers, place emphasis on biosecurity measures, regulate the use of drugs and chemicals, guarantee workers safety and welfare, result in competitive domestic and international trade.

Ghana Tilapia Seed Project

Speaking to the participants, Dr Seth Koranteng Agyakwah, Ghana coordinator for TiSeed project of the CSIR, mentioned that there has been series of sensitization workshops for stakeholders in the project study regions ( Bono, Bono East, Ahafo, Ashanti, Eastern and Volta), genetic characterization of farmed Nile Tilapia, setting up of an aquaculture multi-stakeholder WhatsApp platform and development and piloting of a mobile application (FISH FARM TRACKER APP) as an efficient approach in dissemination and adoption of technical information to enhance best practice and productivity among fish farmers. He indicated that about 360 small-scale grow out farmers and hatcheries have been trained and provided technical assistance since 2019 on good aquaculture practices.

In the initial phase of the project, a baseline survey was conducted to assess farmer’s production characteristics, challenges and ways to improve and increase profitability. Out of the numerous challenges confronting farmers, three different manuals on hatchery, pond and cage production, and over 15 extension training materials have been developed for farmers’ use, according to Dr. Emmanuel Mensah, a research scientist and a project team member.

“Assessment on project interventions are already showing positive impacts on improved adoption of good aquaculture practices and increased productivity,” according to Dr. Catherine Ragasa, Project Leader and Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI. “The project will continue to support farmers with technical assistance, including supporting the establishment of nurseries and more broodstock multiplication centers to ensure farmers’ access to quality fingerlings.” Mr. Sena Amewu, Research Analyst with IFPRI, highlighted the benefits of fish nurseries within the aquaculture value chain and the need for farmers to embrace and take advantage of numerous benefits from the fish nursery business model, as it is very profitable.

Mr Matthew Oyih, Director of Aquaculture, Fisheries Commission informed participants of the commitment of Ghana Government to aquaculture development and steps being taken to support distressed farmers to help them bounce back through the government initiative on aquaculture for food and jobs. Among the support being provided is the supply of quality fish seed and feed.

Participants provided very useful suggestions to improve the certification protocol and its potential enforcement. In the coming months, the certification protocol will be finalized, validated, and gazetted by Ghana Standards Authority. A series of trainings and sensitization about the certification protocol will then follow. This workshop is a crucial first step to validating and implementing the hatchery and fish farm certification system in the country to accelerate its aquaculture development.