The tilapia extra challenge!
Basilio “Jiji” Rodriguez, Jr., president of the three-year- old Philippine Tilapia, Inc. (PTI) says that just like any other maturing agricultural enterprise, the whole tilapia industry is at crossroads. “If we don’t get our act together, the industry can continue to be the way it is but it will not grow or it may go the chicken industry route which seems to be going nowhere.”
Since its inception, PTI, together with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), has aimed to launch a tilapia master plan or a road map for the continuous development of the industry. By 2010, the industry is targeting an annual production of 250,000 MT (as compared to 2004’s 145,000 MT) and annual exports of 50,000 MT. Experts and observers say those are ambitious but realizable targets and could only be achieved if the challenges facing the tilapia industry are properly addressed.
After enjoying years of heady growth, there is a current glut of tilapia in the market. And with only Manila absorbing a majority of the supply of tilapia coming from Central and Southern Luzon, tilapia farmers have started to complain about the unstable prices of their produce, the escalating cost of feeds and other farm inputs and the limited availability of credit.
“Tilapia has now dethroned galunggong in the market,” says James Aso, marketing manager of HOC P0 feeds, a Filipino-owned company with Taiwanese stockholders. “This happens because of the enormous supply of tilapia and there’s basically just the Manila market to cater to, so prices remain low.”
In the year 2000, records show the Philippines ranked number four in terms of tilapia production. China tops the list producing six or more times the total tilapia Philippine production. This was followed by Egypt and Mexico. “We have to bear in mind that tilapia has been an increasingly popular product,” explains Rodriguez, “many countries have expanded their production very aggressively so I wouldn’t really know if we’re still number four. But we’re probably still on the top list.”
According to Rodriguez and Aso, the island of Luzon comprise 90% of tilapia growers in the country, majority of whom are in Central Luzon, particularly in Pampanga and Southern Luzon like Laguna and Taal, Batangas. There are also some growing number of tilapia raisers in Visayas and Mindanao but because of the abundance of other marine fishes in those island groups, people have not yet adapted the freshwater tilapia into their diets. On the other hand, Isabela in Northern Luzon is an emerging area for tilapia growing. The presence of the Magat dam has made the place ideal for tilapia cage culture. Fish farmers in Isabela are also expanding their operations into land-based production since most of them have realized the potential of selling tilapia in nearby provinces where the mountainous terrain and the absence of marine life in the area have deprived people of eating fishes.
There have attempts to export to other countries been tilapia but so far, this have remained on a very minimal level not only because of the high freight costs but also due to low international prices. “Our domestic price is higher than the international price so farmers would sell then produce here,” says Rodriguez. Over the years, the tilapia industry has been grappling with a number of problems that have hindered its continuous development. These are environmental problems like water management, and quality water variable seed stock quality. There are also problems related to technology and economics: rising prices of feeds and feed ingredients; inadequate technology packages; limited reach of extension services; underdeveloped market and lack of timely and relevant market information.
Says Rodriguez: “What you’ll find out in tilapia production particularly in ponds is you have a hassle-free production for the first two years. But when your pond reaches the five- year-old mark, things start to decline for whatever reason. And that’s where the finger pointing starts to happen. The farmers say it’s the quality of the fingerlings, other people say it’s the capability of the farmers. Others blame it on the feeds so it becomes a complicated issue.
In Aso’s opinion, marketing still remains to be the number one problem that’s facing the tilapia farmers today. This, he says, is further compounded by a lack of organization among the groups and associations of fishpond growers. “These groups are all active members but when it comes to selling of their produce, kanya kanya na silang diskarte. A lot of times they don’t agree with one another.”
Both tilapia experts agree that the government has been responsive to the plight of the tilapia raisers and have even initiated projects like fingerlings dispersal, technology transfer, etc. But for the industry to fully develop, both Rodriguez and Aso say there should be a shift in direction and focus. “I think what the government should do is to shift its attention towards product and market development,” explains Rodriguez. “It should go hand in hand with production. Once the market slows down and the farmers keep on producing, the government continues to encourage production, so the farmer finds himself in a losing situation. Maybe they can start developing infrastructure for post- harvest or freezing facilities.”
On the other hand, Rodriguez says the private sector should be the one who will make the investments. “One of the issues in terms of investments is the limited or lack of timely and relevant market information. We’re talking here about statistics, prices, how the global market is performing, better access to technology, etc. Those are the types of information that are critical to business decisions. Well, some members of the private sector are doing that already but more needs to be done.”
In a recent aqua- culture congress, PTI emphasized the programs that are critical to the survival of the whole tilapia industry. These include product and market development, updated production technology packages, improved delivery of extension services, information provision of improved access to credit and implementing policies.
Likewise, PTI has identified at least three sections of the Fisheries Code (FC) that also needs immediate implementation: These are Sec. 54 which is the provision of insurance in fish ponds, fish cages and fish pens; Section 57 requiring the registration of all fish-
ponds, fish pens and fish cages and the reporting of the farmer’s annual production; and Section S which is the establishment and implementation of a comprehensive post- harvest and ancillary industries plan.
In terms of policy, PTI has also underscored the full implementation of the Fisheries Code, with special emphasis on BEAR as a REAL line agency, financial support provisions and the development and implementation of a Comprehensive National Fisheries Industry Development Plan. Moreover, Rodriguez says there should be clearer guidelines on what constitutes government competition with the private sector, stronger policy framework for public-private sector partnerships and an efficient seed certification system.
With so many things to do, the question remains: can the whole industry rise up to the challenge? Experts say there is really no other choice but to tackle each issue one by one. As Rodriguez succinctly puts it: “We have to view it on a wider perspective. Tilapia contributes to our country’s food security, it’s a means of livelihood and has a strong potential to generate export earnings. If we want a vibrant industry, there are so many things that need to be done in the next two years.”
Source: MARID 2006, Ronald Mangubat