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Surf on Turf
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07 January 2011

 

Prawns are normally served as a treat to mark a special occasion. The price of prawns has made it so.

An 800gm of imported prawn from India sells anywhere between $21 and upwards of $40 – yes for the same branded item, just at different supermarkets.

Surrounded by sea, it is no small wonder why Fiji hasn’t quite made its place to meeting the domestic demand for sea food like fish and prawns – at a reasonable price of course.

The Fiji Development Bank in support of Government’s import
substitution initiative is doing its utmost to support local entrepreneurs looking at getting into agriculture and other resource based industries like fisheries, aquaculture and forestry.

In 2009, Fiji imported an estimated 600 metric tonnes values at F$15.2m from Australia and Solomon Islands according to the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Board; to cater for the tourism industry. The local industry produces an additional approximate of 300 tonnes.

While local shrimp farming industry has grown steadily in terms of production, it has had it fair share of challenges including equipment failure, bad weather, poor management of ponds, wrong feed, salinity and high larvae mortality.

These challenges however, have not deterred Shah Newaz Khan of Raviravi in Ba who in 2009 decided to make a go of mixing prawn with tilapia (fresh water fish) farming on his 10 acre property midway between Lautoka and Ba.

Raviravi is the same location where the governments of Fiji and France had a collaborative prawn farm effort going in the 1980’s. The project encountered problems and did not survive however, the lessons learnt are beneficial to those current venturing into this high-priced, high return sector

“When I bought the farm I went to the agriculture ministry and the fisheries department for advice on what the best use would be. Having taken on board their suggestions, I decided to take on the prawn and tilapia farming,” he said.

Shah, 59, was assisted in his endeavour under the Aquaculture facility provided by the Fiji Development Bank. In the year since, he has put in six ponds – four for tilapia and five for the prawns with harvesting anticipated at twice per annum.


“There is a demand for tilapia amongst locals and the price it fetches can get as high as seven or eight dollars a kilogramme because one fish alone can feed a few people,” Shah said.

Shah sold his first harvest of 1,800kg of tilapia in the middle of last year for $9,000 and he received around 30,000 fries last November.

As for the prawns, the larvae given to him earlier on were meant for fresh water breeding and did not survive because the area where the farm is located has high soil salinity, an issue that he is working out with the Department of Fisheries.


“I’ve been asked to wait until February when the new batch of larva should be ready and by then I expect to have six ponds ready,” Shah said.

“My eventual goal is to have 20 ponds in total and roll harvesting to every two weeks so that it can be run at a sustainable level. In time, I also plan to set up my own hatchery so that I can supply my own fries and larvae and anyone who may be interested in venturing into the same business can come and buy them from me.”

Local prawns currently retail for around $22 and $25 per kilogramme and Shah remains optimistic that he would have worked out the salinity issues in time for a bonus harvest in 2011.

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