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Aquaculture Production, scaling from small to sustainable

To bring low impact high yield aquaculture production systems to farmers who want to farm fish, at almost any scale.

Photo of William Kelly
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Rydawi (Pty) Ltd

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Rydawi Aquaculture Services

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.fish-farm.co.za

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Johannesburg

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

South Africa

What country is your selected Place located in?

South Africa

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We were born here. We live here. And we will die here. This is home. And it needs our help.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

"South Africa, the rainbow nation, divided by colour, united in hatred of each other". It's the jaded cynical point of view that speaks to a lack of hope and is the picture painted by politicians, doomsday prophets and naysayers. They have a point. There is much to point at that is fundamentally flawed within South Africa. We have unemployment hitting 29% - and well over 55% in our youth. Our economy has tanked from good to junk in less than a decade. Our government seeks to build a command drive socialist state but without the money required to do so. It's all a bit messy to be honest. However, what are our choices? Navel gazing has never solved matters and is a past time best left to politicians anyway. The best we can do is to ignore them and get on with what needs to be done, and feeding people using efficient means is only ever going to increase in importance as it has through out human history. Aquaculture is getting a bad rap, and particularly Recirculated Systems (RAS) which are seen as tech heavy and production light with small margin for error. This happens to be true of any farming as it happens, but few have the incredible advantages that RAS affords. By controlling the fish production environment at optimum - the happy fish grow faster and use less feed to do so. Tilapia incidentally are vegetarian and we have proven a zero fish meal diet on them. But even better is the massive drop in water usage per kg of fish produced. It makes RAS fish production systems the most efficient in terms of water usage per kg of fish produced for any protein source (save perhaps that of insects). Plus, with a nett zero waste discharge (waste water is fertiliser - which can be sold), environmental impacts are reduced to tiny levels. Add to the mix a perfectly traceable product with zero anti biotics, hormones, steroids, chemicals etc (few other farmed fish can claim this - as the source water may always be open to contamination of some kind), as well as the ability to plonk the RAS system down literally anywhere close to market, coupled with the ability to scale thanks to the small foot print vs kg produced - and in our minds it is a no brainer. RAS WILL be the way fish are farmed in the future, technological issues notwithstanding. Our systems are unique in that we "dumb them down" to a level where just about anyone can learn them. The key here is learn - and to understand that farming is a full time career, not a part time hobby. Once our systems are mastered, we have a fish farmer, and when we have a fish farmer, the only limitation to scale is really up to the farmer. We can and will create an industry where currently very little of it exists.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

65000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Our global water environment is going to be increasingly constrained. High efficiency, high intensity RAS systems with a zero nett water usage (evaporative losses only) will become the norm as nutrient recovery from waste water techniques improve. As they do and aquaculture via RAS becomes more mainstream we expect to see lower costs of production to equate to a broader market appeal with tilapia coming to rival chicken as a protein source. This is the broad brush strokes economics of it, and along with availability we expect to see a culture shift towards eating more fish (noting that in the US tilapia went from nowhere to the 3rd or 4th most consumed fish species in just over 20 years) as the economic availability improves. Technology will march on relentlessly. As it does we expect to see the costs of automation to decline and the impact of AI/intelligent devices will start to play roles we haven't yet considered in our models. With any luck however, the work load on the farmer will be reduced and his efficiencies of production can be maximised. Policy remains our biggest impedance and unknown risk. Current policy is pig headed, backward and regressive and the results in aquaculture in South Africa speak for themselves. It doesn't take more than a ten year old to assess government speak and measure that against the reality to paint the picture of doom and gloom - but our attitude to it is that it's paperwork that can be processed and hence dealt with by plodding through it all. As times become more enlightened we believe that the pressure on the economy and job creation will become unbearable for policy to ignore and we expect to see more sensible approaches adopted.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Policy issues aside, which we feel will be addressed when we have several thousand farmers within this industry. As things stand, we cannot see how policy changes that make more sense can be avoided (fish farming makes more money using fewer resources). Currently policy is more of a drag through sheer volume than it is from a threat to aquaculture as a policed farming mechanism. Our semi intensive small scale (but scalable through duplication) RAS systems address the issues of environmental impact (with waste water becoming valuable nutrient fertiliser) to a higher degree that other forms of aquaculture. We further have a low base of fish as a protein source for consumption from which to grow the segment (one of our favourite stats is that for $50M, not an insignificant sum of cash, a farm of this capacity will produce sufficient numbers of fish to feed every South African one single fish each once every five years) which means a long and easily accessible runway to market. Economically the numbers stack up beyond previous expectations with higher prices for farmed fish being realised than we anticipated. With some minor effort niche markets (still far bigger than supply can possibly fill) can prove to be the early money spinners in the industry, and should be given the fantastic protein credentials farmed tilapia is capable of providing. Our systems are flexible and new technologies can easily be incorporated. We encourage our farmers to experiement, to learn, to test and to develop and give us as much feed back as they can on the systems. The nature of self contained independent production means that several systems can be used to test several different hypothesis simultaneously and this is a powerful means for farmers to leverage their unique local conditions (market) to their maximum financial advantage.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

To be honest we cannot. Over the years the notion that aquaculture will be a panacea for rural small scale unemployment mass poverty alleviation has been touted as the poster child for where aquaculture can step in and ta daaa, save the day. The reality is that in such models that DO exist around the world indentured servitude is the result. This is about as far removed from what we want to achieve as it is possible to get. Our ambition is to create farmers who can grow their businesses the same way all farming has, from the dawn of time, to become bigger in order to achieve a scale of economy with which the farmer is satisfied (and yes, this may well be a small scale subsistence farmer - but that would be their choice). In our mind this is a farmer who is capable of adding more capacity which our systems allow with a tiny fraction of the water and land requirements that other more conventional aquaculture operations would require. This will allow the farmer to scale the business to a point where the farmer can employ people, send his kids to great schools and save enough to have a damned good retirement. We see the aquaculture industry going the same way the chicken industry did in South Africa a few short decades ago. We never used to eat chicken because no-one grew them with any great enthusiasm. Then a few smaller farms started, intensive chicken farming came of age thanks to electricity, technology and so forth - and the smaller farms started becoming consolidated into larger ones. Yes, we have fewer chicken farmers these days thanks to the massive scale operations, but the chicken INDUSTRY as a whole employs many more thousands of people in the chicken value chain with employment that simply didn't exist before chickens came onto the scene. What this will look like in aquaculture we don't presume to know. But we think there is enough history for it to repeat, and a fish value chain to rival that of chickens is what we would consider success.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

RAS (Recirculated Aquaculture Systems) thinking is going to be the way that future aquaculture is conducted for several simple and cogent reasons. 1. Space constraints. For example, cage culture options are limited and the "tyranny of location" will always be a factor in site selection. 2. Scaling. This is constrained by location, source water, land availability, infrastructure. Often scaling an operation beyond a point becomes impossible. 3. Water usage. Aquaculture outside of RAS is not necessarily a more efficient use of water. It transplants water usage to the aquaculture operation, diverting it from where it would otherwise be sustaining aquatic life. We accept this is a generalist view and there are exceptions, but generally this is true. 4. Environmental impact. Frankly it annoys us. Too many aquaculture operations merely 'pump and dump' their waste - fish waste, directly back into the environment. This makes them no better than methane dumping cow herds. What waste they generate requires processing by natural means that no matter which way you slice or dice it, has localised impacts. The degree to which these impacts affect the surrounding body of water is not yet fully quantified, despite protestations by the industry to the contrary. Aquaculture simply has not been around long enough to fully measure these over a meaningful period of time. 5. Risk. When using water from a source that you have no control over, i.e. lake, river, fjord etc. you have a quantum of risk that cannot be measured, but which can impact on your operation. For instance, parasite issues stem from exposure to the natural environment. Red tides can cause major disasters for abalone farmers. Who knows what mercury decides to flow through the salmon pens in Scandinavia, or when? These days, the unknown can kill you - micro plastics for instance may well pose an unknown un-quantifiable (at this stage anyway) risk to any open water culture system. There many be lower risk in some operations than in others but the quantum of this risk should things go wrong can be operation killing. It only has to happen once. RAS addresses all these. RAS has had a bad rap because in our view where it has failed almost always it is not the RAS concept that has failed, but any of a number of different reasons can be sourced. We have verified a number of them - failure of a market for instance is not a RAS failure, it is a business failure. Poor engineering is not a RAS failure, it is a design failure. Cash flow management is not a RAS failure, it is a financial planning failure. Etc. There are some cases where RAS has failed, owing to a lack of appreciation of the process and a failure to understand or anticipate water chemistry. Technical failures such as these have been learning experiences for the rest of us, gratefully received. Behind any RAS future however lies the farmer who will require specific skill sets in order to master and ensure success of their operation. Farming is not something that can be learned entirely in a class room and nor can it be learned entirely outside of a class room either. It requires, above everything else, experience and dedication. As RAS systems gain traction in the manner and for the reasons we believe that they will, a new class of farmer to drive these systems will start to emerge. These farmers will be both simultaneously in tune with fish husbandry, as well as technically sophisticated in understanding the processes RAS uses. This is a potent and rare combination, but as mastery of RAS becomes more mainstream more such people will be found. It is our absolute conviction that the process of developing the future farmers that can make use of RAS and to build their own businesses centred around it is one that our systems address, up front and personal. We have created the tool that aspirant farmers can use, trial, test, learn with and produce fish with in ways that quite possibly we have not yet even considered. It is a production tool that is in constant evolution - which is true of all farming, with the importance of it being the learning of basic RAS concepts. Mastery of these will allow farmers to scale, rapidly (and now successfully) knowing as they do what is required to make successful sustainable super healthy fish protein as the basis for an established and viable business. What we have done is to eliminate some of the chief causes of failure of RAS. We have allowed farmers to try before they buy, to be afforded a learning university of fish farming in a box, to be able to trial, experiment, tune and adjust their own farming system to one that becomes a well honed and oiled tool to be used to build upon. It is a foundational product in other words, with nothing but the brightest future ahead for those that can realise mastery thereof. In summary. We produce a tool that is based on low intensity RAS. It makes use of RAS techniques that are integral to the future usage of the technology for low impact premium quality 100% traceable fish protein. It is a self contained 10kl fish production system that can be scaled and made commercial to almost any level of production. It is designed to be flexible, to be used to learn with, but once mastered to be used in a commercial sense. It is intended to make money by producing fish for the farmer using it. It is intended to grow an industry where as yet, none exists, by creating as many farmers as possible as rapidly as possible.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of Mat Jones
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Hi
I'm liking that idea of scaling up and across with aquaculture. There's lots of potential for the future. Matthew.jones@uwe.ac.uk

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