Photo by Samuel Stacey, 2012
Partnering for Poverty Relief and Profit
Addressing the problems of poverty and malnutrition in low-income communities is usually the preserve of government agencies and development organizations. However, with demand for fish products soaring worldwide, the small-scale fisheries sector in developing nations represents a potentially lucrative – as well as ethical – opportunity for private sector investors. WorldFish has formed partnerships with a number of private sector partners to create a win–win scenario for business and local communities alike.
When Mohammed Gouda, an engineer and businessman, started a fish farming business in 1984, he was the first in the Fayoum Province south of Cairo, Egypt. By 1993, there were enough fish farmers in the region for Gouda to establish a fish farming collective, and since 1998, Gouda has developed a partnership with WorldFish on a number of endeavors, beginning with WorldFish training for his collective.
“Training is very important,” explains Gouda, “we did training, and then together we made a trial farm here on how to increase production and to improve species of Tilapia.” The genetic improvement program is now in its 10th breeding generation, and Gouda expects the program to continue with WorldFish’s input. The focus will be on developing fast-growing and disease-resistant varieties for improved yield, and cold-tolerant varieties to withstand the winter months.
As a non-profit research organization, WorldFish is perhaps not the usual partner for a commercial operator like Gouda. However, Gouda does not see this as a problem. “WorldFish doesn’t at all care of making money,” he explains, “but WorldFish cares about sustainability of their business, which is all about the private farmers keep on making money.”
“We still face many problems that needs research, needs solution,” adds Gouda. “One of the problems faced is the water quality.” As in many fish farms, low oxygen levels and high ammonia from fish waste can threaten farm productivity. Algae are also a problem for Gouda and his fellow fish farmers. “We need to make more research on how to control these algae,” he says. “Perhaps WorldFish could assist us on these.”
Thanks to Gouda’s constant striving to bring fisheries knowledge and innovation to his community, there are now more than 100 aquaculture businesses in the region, and the farming collective that Gouda chairs has grown from 26 to over 400 members.
A more recent private sector partnership that has developed is between WorldFish and A-Spark Good Ventures, an ethical venture capital company based in the Netherlands. The entrepreneur behind A-Spark Good Ventures is Mike Velings, who has been committed to social and ethical investment since 1989. A-Spark Good Ventures and WorldFish became partners in 2011 after Velings heard WorldFish Director General Steve Hall speak about the role that aquaculture can play in developing communities.“My idea was that if we already have companies that want to invest in a good cause, why not in the sort of aquaculture development that WorldFish was working with?” Velings explains. “Private investment into sustainable aquaculture enterprises in developing countries is a business opportunity with potential to contribute significantly to reducing hunger and poverty.”
Together, the partnership has established Aqua-Spark – Fish for Good, an ethical investment fund that identifies promising small-scale aquaculture producers for financial support to develop their business. “So far it has been a real joy working together,” says Velings, who sees the partnership as very complementary. “A-Spark Good Ventures has business and financing expertise,” he explains, “however aquaculture is not an easy business and you need a lot of knowledge. WorldFish has that knowledge. So while A-Spark will look after the business and finance, WorldFish brings knowledge and opportunities.”
For Velings, sustainability and longevity are cornerstones of successful development programs. “For us, our passion is building something that can stand on its own two feet. And the only way of doing that is to have money, which means you have to make a profit. It’s not so much about making the profit but the principle of having a profit. Otherwise you have to shut down as soon as funding stops. We want something that goes on even if WorldFish and A-Spark wouldn’t be there.”
“To keep it going for a long time, we’ll need to make successful investments – that are successful socially, environmentally and financially.”