By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor
A five-year long investment by the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Belize’s aquaculture industry is now expected to bear fruit for well over 100 Tilapia farmers and 100 more unemployed people across Belize.
The $5 million investment started in 2012 and involved the setting up of a Tilapia hatchery and construction of its hatchery centre on government land in the Baking Pot area near Central Farm, Cayo. It also involved training workshops for local investors to sustainably produce and market the best quality farm-raised Tilapia, which are far more palatable than the ones purchased from the side of the highways during flooding.
Taiwan’s investment in the project will be completed this month, with its experts having produced 150 tons of fingerlings to local suppliers. Earlier this month, officials from the Taiwanese embassy marked those accomplishments when it officially handed over the project to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The project came to fruition through an agreement signed between our two countries after Belize made a request for the assistance and former Taiwanese President Ma Ying jeou pledged his commitment to provide the support.
Over the past five years, Taiwanese Tilapia technicians lived and worked in Belize, sharing their expertise with personnel from the Ministry of Agriculture. Over the period, close monitoring was kept to ensure that the locals now entrusted with the task of taking the industry to another level, were keeping the proper water/air pressure and were feeding the fish sufficiently.
It is a project that Taiwan’s Ambassador to Belize Charles Liu says Belizeans can excel at in producing Tilapia saying, “What we in Taiwan can do, Belize can do and can even do better! I absolutely believe that.”
The hatchery includes a number of earthen ponds, a reservoir, a sedimentation pond, and concrete tanks, where the fish are raised over several months until they are about a pound in weight. It will be the source of modern Tilapia production technology to increase Belize’s Tilapia export potential.
Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse, encourages the new local producers to seek viable markets that will make the industry flourish. He shared his idea of private-private sector partnership, which involves a network of investors supporting each other at different stages of the production.
“It doesn’t mean that the next investor needs to grow Tilapia. …The feed producer is dependent on the farmer to buy his feed; the farmer is dependent on the processor to buy his fish; the government is dependent on all of you to bring the foreign exchange. …Those are the linkages we look for – not that the man becomes the whole chain, but a link in the chain,” Hulse said.
Hulse says while the local population is too small to successfully market Tilapia, it is a good testing ground to learn from in order to explore suitable markets, with the government assisting local producers with the necessary research material, and financing through the Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
Tilapia is a white, low-fat fish, excellent for broiling and baking.