By Hoem Seiha | Economics Today
Although Cambodia is rich with
natural fish—producing a hundred thou-
sand tons annually—i...
“If current trends in production, trade
and pricing are followed by the propor-
tion of fish supply from aquaculture to
th...
farming through its Integrated Commer-
cial Farm for Small Farmers in Takeo’s
Samrong district (ICM).
Aside from growing r...
Aquaculture farmers have shifted
from bad practices to more responsible
methods by using healthy feed such as
manufactured...
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Pondering Aquaculture’s Potential: Fish farming in Cambodia on the increase by Hoem Seiha

Although Cambodia is rich with natural fish—producing a hundred thousand tons annually—it doesn’t mean there are enough fish caught to feed the whole country. As the Kingdom’s ever-growing population is putting a huge strain on the increasingly limited natural fish supply that can no longer ensure the huge amount of supply needed to feed Cambodians’ mouths, aquaculture is being touted as the solution.
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
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Transcripts - Pondering Aquaculture’s Potential: Fish farming in Cambodia on the increase by Hoem Seiha

  • 1. By Hoem Seiha | Economics Today Although Cambodia is rich with natural fish—producing a hundred thou- sand tons annually—it doesn’t mean there are enough fish caught to feed the whole country. As the Kingdom’s ever-growing pop- ulation is putting a huge strain on the increasingly limited natural fish sup- ply that can no longer ensure the huge amount of supply needed to feed Cam- bodians’ mouths, aquaculture is being touted as the solution. “Wild fish catches cannot supply the needs of our restlessly increasing popu- lation,” said Dr. Nao Thuok, Director General of the Fisheries Administra- tion, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). “Fish stocks are limited—around 500,000 tons of catches annually and an ever-increasing number of human beings means aquaculture is a must to meet the increasing demand.” While the overall wild fish catches are increasing, the total catch per fish- erman is declining rapidly and the annual growth rate is also in decline. “Inland fisheries dominate the source (of fish catch) by far but the proportion of the total fish supply is predicted to decrease as the annual increase from the capture fishery slows down,” said Alan Brooks, Director of the WorldFish Center in Cambodia. Although Cambodia exports fish, it also imports hundreds of tons of fish annually, particularly from Vietnam and Thailand. “At least 5 tons of fish are imported from Vietnam via Svay Rieng alone per day,” said San Thy, the Food and Agri- culture Organization’s (FAO)’s National Aquaculture Specialist. Importing fish to supply Cambodia’s market is the nature of the free mar- ket that’s in place in the ASEAN Free Trade Area. “It’s a free market, so we cannot put an embargo on imports of fish,” said Dr. Nao Thuok. “We have natural fish, so other countries buy them from us, while we importsomefarmedfishfromthem.Butin total,weexportmorefishthanweimport.” A growing business Aquaculture, especially the farming of fish, began to take off in the 1990s, when there were a small number of active fish ponds being used for fish farming. But the current undersupply of natural fish has spurred a more recent growing interest in fish farming, resulting in an increase in fish ponds with farmed fish. Therehasbeenadramaticincreasefrom 3,445activefishpondsin1997to49,862in 2009, indicated a Cambodia MSME Proj- ect’sstrategyreviewreportaboutaUSAID- sponsored aquaculture project. According to the latest figures from the Fisheries Administration, MAFF, more than 1,000 ponds are slated to be built for fish farming in the coming years. Fish farming in the Kingdom could reach around 5-10 percent of annual growth by 2030, according to the World- Fish Center. Pondering Aquaculture’s Potential FishfarminginCambodia ontheincrease Trend in Aquaculture Production from 2000-2010 (000 metric ton) Source: MAFF Fisheries Administration provided by Alan C. Brooks; additional data by Dr. Nao Thuok, Director General of FiA. 14.4 17.5 18.3 26.3 20.8 16.0 34.2 35.3 40.0 50.0 60.0 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 FishpondsforaquacultureareontheincreaseinCambodia 8  ECONOMICS TODAY    April 1-15, 2011 Economy & Business Volume 5, Number 84
  • 2. “If current trends in production, trade and pricing are followed by the propor- tion of fish supply from aquaculture to the total fish supply, it will double from today’s 8 percent to around 16 percent by 2030,” Brooks explained. “However,ifthereisadramaticincrease from aquaculture, according to scenario development research conducted by the WorldFish Center (unpublished), this could rise to one third of the total fish supply arising from aquaculture by 2030.” According to Fisheries Administration Statistics, aquaculture production grew from 14,410 tons in 2000 to 50,000 tons in 2009, representing about 10 percent of the total. Dr. Nao Thuok said the figure of farmedfishroseupto60,000tonsin2010. “It has increased so fast that the coun- try is ranked seventh in terms of annual growth of aquaculture worldwide in the last few years, though our aquaculture production is still low compared to neigh- boring countries—Vietnam produces about 2 million tons whereas Thailand around 1 million tons,” he said. The trend shows that aquaculture is going to be a major industry and has an enormous potential for a big, lucra- tive aquaculture industry in the future because of increasing interest among investors in this sector. “The potential is huge in the future for fishfarming—itcouldreachamilliontons of aquaculture production,” said Dr. Nao Thuok. “We have an abundant water sup- ply—reservoirs, lakes, etc., that haven’t been used. The problem is that we have such an abundance of natural fish stocks thatwedon’tcaremuchaboutfishculture.” Brooks agreed that Cambodia is in a region that is well suited for fish farm- ing in terms of species, conditions and marketability. “Other aquatic animals are included such as shrimp, crabs and mussels. There are also possibilities for aquatic plants: seaweed and medicinal freshwater plants.” Dr. Nao Thuok said foreign companies from Australia, Japan, Norway, South Korea, China and Taiwan have expressed an interest in investing in aquaculture in Cambodia and are currently conducting feasibility studies. Even if aquaculture accounts for a big share of the total fish production, it won’t replace natural fish stocks easily. Natural fish stocks are the only source of fish with enough abundance to satisfy the King- dom’s consumption of protein—about 70 percent of the protein intake is from fish. “It just cannot grow that fast to replace the ‘free’ resource of the Tonle Sap, flood- plains,reviversandwetlands,”Brookssaid. That said, Cambodia has been taking measures to prevent natural fish stocks from overexploitation. “Fish culture is right and must be a part of the total consumptions, but currently thenaturalfishstockisstillimportantand has such great potential that we should conserve and protect it from overexploi- tation in order to ensure rising demands,” said Yang Saing Koma, President of the CambodianCenterforStudyandDevelop- ment in Agriculture (CEDAC). Currently, FAO is working with about 1,315 families to help improve family-size fish farming operations in five provinces. According to the FAO, the average size of the ponds is 100 sq m and produces about 50-60 kg per year per pond, which amounts to 65-78 tons in total per year for all the families involved. CEDAC has also worked hand-in-hand with rural farmers to help them diversify “The potential is huge in the future for fish farm- ing—it could reach a million tons of aquaculture production. We have an abundant water supply— reservoirs, lakes, etc., that haven’t been used. The problem is that we have such an abundance of natural fish stocks that we don’t care much about fish culture.” Dr. Nao Thuok, Director General of Fisheries Administration, MAFF. Trend in Fingerling Production from 2000-2010 (heads in million ) Source: MAFF Fisheries Administration, compiled in Cambodia MSME 2/ Bee Project - Aquaculture Value Chain Development--A Strategy Review; additional data by Dr. Nao Thuok, Director General of FiA. 7.5 11.0 13.4 14.3 15.8 18.7 21.3 33.8 37.2 69.8 111.0 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 April 1-15, 2011    ECONOMICS TODAY  9 Economy & BusinessVolume 5, Number 84
  • 3. farming through its Integrated Commer- cial Farm for Small Farmers in Takeo’s Samrong district (ICM). Aside from growing rice and vegeta- bles and raising livestock such as pigs and chickens, some farmers also raise fish in natural and concrete ponds. Kep Chorn, a farmer in Takeo’s Sam- rongdistrictwho’sinvolvedwithCEDAC’s ICM project, farms fish in two concrete tanks. He’s able to produce enough fish to feed his family and sell the surplus at the local market. In Siem Reap province, the Associa- tion of Cambodia Aquaculture currently has about 50 members with around 60 fish ponds, especially family-size fish farms, which raise a variety of fish to supply the market demands in Siem Reap. “Wild fish catches are decreasing now,” saidTouchKannitha,theassociation’spres- ident. “Our farmed fish from all our mem- bers are used to supply the local market.” Commercial Fish Farming Som Hak, owner of a commercial aqua- culture farm in Takeo’s Tramkork district, is one of thousands of aquaculture farm- ers in Cambodia. He has about 23 fish ponds, which are each up to 1,000 sq m in size, and seven concrete fish tanks. He raises a variety of aquatic species such as carps, barbs, catfish, frogs and prawns. Som Hak also produces fingerlings to supply the local market and also for mar- kets in other provinces. “I focus mainly on producing fingerlings,” he said. “The production of fingerlings is more prof- itable than raising larger fish due to a higher demand for fingerlings.” That does not mean that the larger fish for consumption is not in high demand, but the production capacity is limited on aquaculture farms. “I could produce only 3 tons of fish per year,” he said. The market for fingerlings, which are supplied for farming, is high, but Cambo- dian aquaculture farmers face trouble pro- ducing sufficient amounts to supply the demandingmarketduetolimitednumber of fingerling producers. And fingerling producers tend to run small operations rather than larger commercial hatcheries. Som Hak said that he produces about 1.3 million fingerlings per year and tries to produce as many fingerlings as pos- sible to meet the needs of the market in a timely manner. While there is a huge need for a larger number of fingerlings, there aren’t any large-scale hatcheries to respond to the need. Frogs are also in big demand by the market, but the existing hatcheries can’t produce enough frogs to meet the demand, he said. Frogs are generally bought by restau- rants and also collected to be sold in the market,whilesomesmallvendorsbuyand process frogs (into fillets or stuffed frogs) to sell in the local market, said Som Hak. “No one in our country yet produces enough frogs to supply the market, so frogs are imported from outside the countryinlargequantities,”saidSomHak. Though fish farming is lucrative and farmed fish are in relatively high demand, especially when the levels of natural fish caught are low from January-April, prob- lems arise when farmers try to produce large amounts to supply the market. “Water shortages are the big limitation for me to do my best to produce a larger quantity of fish as well as fingerlings,” said Som Hak. An additional water supply would allow him to conduct three production rounds per year, but currently he can handle only two rounds, producing three tons annually. The current price of both farmed and natural fish on market is around US$3 per kg, but Som Hak sells his farmed fish to traders at US$1.50. The trading of farmed fish improves the value chain for aquaculture. Years ago most Cambodians were reluctant to eat farmed fish because they witnessed how species such as basa cat- fish, or pangasius bocourti (locally known as “trey pra”), were raised through unsan- itary practices. Basa catfish were raised by being fed on animal and human manure as well as leftovers, which made the water dirty. People felt that the farmed fish would cause diseases, Som Hak said. But now Cambodians tend to have a better perception and more readily accept farmed fish because there have been improvements in the ways of fish farming, he pointed out. “Global prices of fish based ingredients have been increasing rapidly in recent years largely due to the demand from China’s livestock industry. This will have an impact on the profitability of aquaculture dependent on complete feed diets or even fortified supplemen- tary diets.” said Brooks. Alan C. Brooks, Director of the WorldFish Center, CambodiaSom Hak, owner of a commercial aquaculture farm in Takeo’s Tramkork district, works at his fish pond 10  ECONOMICS TODAY    April 1-15, 2011 Economy & Business Volume 5, Number 84
  • 4. Aquaculture farmers have shifted from bad practices to more responsible methods by using healthy feed such as manufactured pellets or a mixture of veg- etables and rice bran. And, as a result, farmed fish have become more accepted, Som Hak said. Issues of concern As imported pellets sold in market are expensive and aquaculture farmers can- not solely use that type of fish feed, they have been trying other methods. Som Hak said he uses both pellets and a variety of locally available sources such as vegetables or rice bran mixed together. “Global prices of fish based ingredients have been increasing rapidly in recent years largely due to the demand from China’s livestock industry. This will have an impact on the profitability of aquacul- ture dependent on complete feed diets or even fortified supplementary diets,” said Brooks. Brooks favors the use of more semi- intensivepolyculturesystems,wherediffer- ent types of fish are put in a pond and sub- sistondifferenttypesoffeed.Thatprocess reliesonenhancednaturalproductivityby fertilization and some grain based supple- mentary feed. That process also enables a natural cleaning of the water. There is currently a big demand for snakehead fish (“trey ros”) than any other types of fish in the local market. However, snakeheads are banned from being farmed due to their carnivorous nature, which results in the destruction of natural fish stocks. “A large number of small wild fish such as rasbora or lesser bighead carp are caught to feed this species because it’s often free and cheap when bought from the market,” said San Thy of the FAO. However, the recent hybrid and domes- tication of the species that aren’t carnivo- rous in Vietnam could make snakehead farming possible again in Cambodia. “We have found a new appropriate feed for a new hybrid type of snakehead spe- cies from Vietnam, and we are proposing to the government to allow snakehead farming,” said Dr. Nao Thuok. “We hope to see snakehead farms soon—next year probably.” Another problem is that as there isn’t enough fingerling production to meet the demand and because wild fingerlings are more preferred, that could lead to the destruction of natural fingerlings, the Cambodia MSME’s aquaculture proj- ect report noted. While more fingerling farms are being established, the production capacity still won’t be enough to meet the demand. Dr. Nao Thuok noted that now two Japanese-funded hatcheries have been established in Kampong Som and will be ready for marine fingerling production by April. Another two hatcheries have been established as well in Kandal’s Roka Kpos commune, covering 30 ha, and Prey Veng’s Peamro district. “We also train about 300 families on fingerling hatching,” he said. “Last year we produced 111 million fingerlings, much more than 68 million in 2009, and we are targeting to produce at least 150 million in 2011—but that’s not enough because Cambodia needs 300 million fin- gerlings per year.” Brooks said that Cambodia’s current export of farmed fish is limited and the level processing has not been enough to offer incentives to aquaculture farmers to expand their businesses. “Processing may be a niche market in the future but apart from the processing into fish sauces, it is unlikely to become a substantive industry,” he said. Aquaculture could be hazardous to the environment, especially the water quality, if it is conducted on a large scale and no appropriate technical measures are taken. “If the country experiences rapid growth of smallholder aquaculture there will be very little impact on the environ- ment, although widespread coverage could result in feral species, which are likely to be exotic, dominating some eco- systems and replacing wild indigenous species,” said Brooks. Though fish farming contributes to about 10 percent of the total fisheries, the quality of fish needs further improve- ment. Smallholder fish farms lack techni- cal know-how and facilities to improve the quality of the fish, though there is no research indicating parasite or disease contamination in farmed fish. San Thy explained that if fish contain parasites or diseases, they will get lesions and skin ulcers, signs that show a disease contamination. “We don’t have research about this, but through observation, we don’t find any parasites or diseases in farmed fish,” said San Thy. “And farmers are satisfied with theresult,sellingtheirfarmedfishtolocal market at US$1.75 to US$2.5 per kg.” Fingerling production by province in 2009 Source: MAFF Fisheries Administration, compiled in Cambodia MSME 2/Bee Project - Aquaculture Value Chain Development--A Strategy Review; graphed by Economics Today 1 7 4 6 4 5 4 3 5 16 1 7 7 11 15 19 17 24 4 30 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.6 0.8 0.9 1 1.5 2 2.2 2.8 3.1 3.8 4 6.6 11 11.7 15 Mondolkiri Kratie Steung Treng Kompong Thom Rattanakiri Prey Vihear Pursat Odar Meancheay Kompong Chhany Battambang Phnom Penh Banteay… Siem Reap Kompong Cham Kompong Speu Prey Veng Svay Rieng Kampot Kandal Takeo No. of fingerlings (million heads) No. of fingerling producers April 1-15, 2011    ECONOMICS TODAY  11 Economy & BusinessVolume 5, Number 84

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