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Making fish protein available, accessible and affordable in the Philippines

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FAO enhances tilapia producers’ resilience to climate change to ensure productivity

Key Facts

Filipinos rely heavily on aquaculture, and tilapia in particular, to fulfill their protein needs. About 12 percent of their animal-based protein consumption comes from farmed tilapia. Meanwhile, up to 30 percent of the fishery and seafood products they consume are locally farmed.

The Philippines is among the most vulnerable countries to extreme weather events and climate-related disasters. For almost a decade now, climate and environmental stress in the Philippines have been causing a significant annual decrease in tilapia production. Its key tilapia-producing provinces are regularly exposed to inclement weather systems and associated hazards like flooding or prolonged dry periods. Freshwater fish ponds in the Philippines generate 50 to 55 percent of the total tilapia aquaculture production. Yet, this type of farming is particularly at risk to climate-related threats and is generally prone to slower recovery because of repeated severe weather events. 

Losing access to tilapia would make a huge impact on the nutrition and food security of the local population, in particular those with lower incomes, who consume 4.7 kg of tilapia annually per capita. To ensure that tilapia remains available, accessible and affordable for a growing population, FAO supported the Government of the Philippines in enhancing the climate-resilience of tilapia farmers, primarily those engaged in freshwater pond operations. 

Tilapia plays an important role in food security and nutrition in the Philippines. At less than USD 2.50 per kilogram, it is a more affordable source of animal protein than pork, chicken and other fishery products. Tilapia is the most consumed farmed fish in the country and accounts for at least 12 percent of the animal protein intake of Filipinos across all socio-economic brackets. But over the last decade, the average rate of tilapia production has decreased by 0.7 percent annually.

Effects of climate and environmental stress are the main causes of this decrease. Extreme temperatures and heavy rains that cause sudden changes in important water parameters, such as water temperature, pH and oxygen levels, affect tilapia’s growth, breeding success and can even lead to mass fish mortalities.

“While we cannot control the climate and weather, we can, however, increase farmers’ adaptation to the negative effects of external events to ensure that pond-based tilapia farming remains profitable and subsequently, the supply of tilapia for our growing population is secured,” explains Roy Ortega of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR). 

Increasing climate-resilience in aquaculture

FAO, together with DA-BFAR, is working with tilapia farmers engaged in freshwater pond operations. Tilapia production in freshwater ponds is among the farming systems the most vulnerable to climate change.

The project demonstrated the efficient use of critical agricultural inputs, such as portable water quality testers, for the on-farm pilots. It also worked with the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) to install Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) and with Caraga State University to launch a web-based platform that would send SMS alerts to tilapia farmers. The AWS is a monitoring station equipped with different sensors that measure, in real time, weather parameters. These stations, which can be deployed even in remote areas, can provide early warning advisories for thunderstorms, heavy rains and extreme temperatures, which are relevant to aquaculture operations.

Through a project-sponsored training, tilapia farmers, producer groups and local government technicians practiced sending early warning messages on weather and climate events using the web-based platform.

Training and knowledge sharing

The training provided by the project helped DA-BFAR and the local government technicians in evaluating pond production systems and adaptive capacities. They also learned to properly utilize the AWS and to observe the weather in a specialized “community aqua-meteorology” training.

This has resulted in increased capacities of the government to monitor and predict local weather conditions in and around the pilot tests areas and to facilitate technical support for tilapia producers. The early-warning messages provide guidance to tilapia farmers in making optimal use of inputs and give advice on weather events, such as postponing feeding times because of an impending thunderstorm or ensuring the safety of farm workers and equipment in the event of a tropical cyclone.

A series of farmer-expert workshops were also implemented in order to merge scientific knowledge with the actual field experience of farmers. In brief, the workshop developed a knowledge sharing and documentation process that allowed farmers and experts to link key concepts in agro-meteorology (e.g. weather systems) to aquaculture management. This resulted in the development of nine knowledge products to guide practitioners and fish farmers on managing the impacts of weather systems. These exercises started out with tilapia production but have expanded to other commercially important aquaculture commodities.

During the 2015 to 2016 El Niño, the project also supported tilapia farmers with farming advisory services, presenting simple explanations of the El Niño phenomenon and its impacts on freshwater fish farming systems, including indicators, mitigation strategies and adaptation measures.

Moving forward

From the national to the farm level, government agencies and aquaculture producers are accelerating their adoption of the evidence-based, climate-resilient approaches introduced by the project. The increase in knowledge, access to information and communication technology and high-quality information has enabled these groups to integrate adaptation and mitigation strategies from planning into actual production.

“The most significant accomplishment under this project is the convergence of aquaculture, atmospheric and meteorological sciences. This is now supporting tilapia farmers in winning the race against climate change, while also contributing to poverty alleviation and food security. The learning, technology applications, policies and knowledge products generated from this cooperation have great potential to be extended to other aquaculture enterprises in the country as well as the Asia-Pacific region,” said Miao Weimin, Aquaculture Officer of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. 

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