The Competitiveness Company Develops Urban Fish Farming in Jamaica
This article was first published in the OFI Journal, Issue 67, October 2011 (OFI Journal is the official publication of Ornamental Fish International, the largest association of global ornamental fish exporters, farmers and retailers. Visit Their Website)
While a small number of farmers have been growing ornamental fish in Jamaica for the local market for several decades, the industry is very much in its infancy as an exporter. With the close proximity to major markets in the USA, good flight connectivity and suitable climate Jamaica is well poised to increase production and enter the export market. One of the key drivers in developing export capacity for Jamaican export is The Competitiveness Company (TCC) and its Urban Development Program which is supported by funding and technical advice from USAID and other local agencies.
The TCC is working to foster development of Jamaican farmers in the country, and to market and export Jamaican fish to high demand import centres in the United States, Canada and Europe. TCC is currently working with existing small and medium farmers to expand their production capacity and reduce costs with better technology and processes. Simultaneously, they are training and assisting new farmers to enter the industry in order to increase the country’s collective capacity to export fish. All the while, there is a great emphasis on collaboration amongst the farmers, suppliers and exporters.
The overall purpose of TCC’s ornamental fish project is to improve the livelihood, prosperity and quality of life for urban youth in Jamaica’s violence-prone inner-city communities and to help existing farmers to connect to export markets. Some of the communities TCC is working in to train farmers and set up farms are characterized by the existence of high unemployment, poorly educated and idle youth (mostly male) who have few options for sustainable income. Ornamental fish presents a choice for profitable, entrepreneurial activity for these people.
Currently the ornamental fish industry in Jamaica consists of several hundred small farmers that predominantly supply the local market and a few exporters. However, production is currently scaling up with an increasing selection of fish from various South American species and African cichlids to Angelfish, Live Bearers and many others. Aquatic plants are also being produced for the local market but it is hoped that expanded production will also allow these to be exported in the future. TCC hopes that by tackling existing issues such as farming efficiency, sufficient training and technical knowledge, coordination, marketing and industry collaboration, TCC hopes to develop an effective value chain capable of supplying markets with fresh water tropical fish of all species at the right quantities, time and price. The goal of this project is to nurture the development of a globally competitive Jamaican ornamental fish industry.
There are several advantages in Jamaica’s favour when it comes to ornamental fish exporting. For one it has a year round tropical climate suitable for breeding the majority if not all tropical freshwater species. Secondly, with its convenient proximity to the United States (only a 90 minute flight to Miami) and a robust tourism industry that provides direct flights to markets such as New York, Atlanta, Toronto and London, freight time and cost and minimized. There are also good supplies of water and very little heavy industry that can cause pollution.
Changing Farms & Changing Lives
There are several ways in which TCC is changing the landscape of the ornamental fish farming industry in Jamaica. These have included improvements and interventions in the following areas:
Technology and Technical Knowledge – one of the most important elements of TCC’s work is helping farmers to increase their production capacity and efficiency by introducing the use of Re-circulating Aquaculture Systems with energy efficient water pumps. This more efficient and environmentally friendly method replaced what was generally inefficient and poorly aerated containers with stagnant water. A significant amount of technical knowledge transfer has accompanied this transition both with farmers using Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) and traditional pond or tank farmers. The idea is to spread the knowledge and practices about maintaining fish health, a clean environment and quality fish with the colours and shapes the markets desire.
Increased Access to High Quality Training – given the dearth of training in ornamental fish farming in the country (limited training done by the local Fisheries Division), TCC has sought to improve the quality of the training available as well as the number of persons qualified to impart it. Just this month they acquired the expertise of the National Aquaculture Training Institute Pty Ltd to develop training materials and conduct training of both new farmers and training instructors. This will allow better access to training on an on-going basis for Jamaican farmers and exporters.
Marketing – TCC has taken on the role of marketing for Jamaican ornamental fish, given its close relationship and access to the farmers, as well as their ability to get into the market and represent the farmers, as a collective, to potential buyers.
The desire is for positive and market driven changes to the ornamental fish industry in Jamaica to have a significant impact on farmer productivity, fish quantity and quality, and market uptake. The project also brings hope to otherwise idle, unemployed youth in some of the poorest and most at-risk urban areas in the country’s capital of Kingston and the surrounding metropolitan area. Many of these communities have significant levels of crime and violence, due mainly to the lack of employment opportunities available to unattached youth. These young people are under-served, having very little access to social services and few prospects for income generation, given their status and lack of education or experience. This is all in the context of a generally stagnant national economy.
Ornamental fish farming gives hope to these young people. The opportunity to learn a skill, to operate their own farms, collaborate with others and earn income by selling fish to local pet shops and to export markets as part of larger consolidated consignments.
Currently the farmers with whom TCC are working are breeding and growing several varieties of fish that are export quality and ready to ship. Ornamental fish exporting is by no means new to Jamaica, as several very experienced farmers have shipped and continue to ship fish to markets in California, Miami and New York. However, exports have been reduced in recent years due to several large farms leaving the industry. This exodus from the industry was largely a result of hurricane activity in 2004 and 2005. The destruction that large scale farmers and exporters experienced in successive years resulted in severe financial losses for many operators which saw them leave the industry. However with the help of TCC Jamaican farmers will now be more productive and efficient and better able to satisfy market needs on a consistent basis. Furthermore, the quality and survivability of Jamaican ornamental fish has never been in question. A larger production base now makes Jamaica a more viable option to importers for the quantity, quality and consistency they desire.