Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Bislig's prawn industry no longer small fry
By Chris Panganiban
Mindanao Bureau

BISLIG CITY--Nene Velasquez, a small fishpond operator and buyer of prawns at the public market here, used to deal with loan sharks whenever she ran out of cash to finance her business.

But since becoming a member of the United Hilibis Fishpond Operators Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Unihfomco), Velasquez stopped relying on "5-6," a term used for loan sharks, because she can easily get cash from her group if she needs it.

Like her, the other cooperative members involved in the prawn business are thriving--thanks to Canadian expert Brian Ives, who spent a month or two in 2005 teaching them the right methods to increase their yield.

Changing lives
Ives is part of the Canadian Executive Service Organization-Business Advisory Project (CESO-BAP) under the Canadian International Development Assistance, which helps small and medium enterprises develop through proper management and new technologies.

Aside from changing their lives, Unihfomco is also helping non-members in some other ways, according to Velasquez.

The loan sharks were forced to lower the interest they charge the other small vendors because of the cooperative.

But that's another story.

Dramatic increase
Velasquez said the technology Ives taught to cooperative members has dramatically increased prawn production. A member who used to get only 200 kilograms of prawns per hectare of fishpond now regularly harvests 800 kilos.

The Canadian expert introduced technologies such as water and soil analysis of ponds during the preparation stage, and the use of indigenous materials like sea shells instead of commercial inputs in feeding the prawns.

CESO-BAP technical advisers have earlier found that the absence of a laboratory had driven most prawn growers to resort to trial and error to identify a good fry.

Most of the time, their production failed as fries survived only for a month or two.

The presence of Ives also opened the eyes of the city government to address the other needs of the industry, and led to the establishment of soil and water analysis and testing laboratory.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) also donated laboratory equipment so the tests could be made here, unlike before when pond owners had to endure a five-hour travel to Butuan City.

When prawn production started to increase, growers were called in for a strategic planning workshop.

At the workshop, cooperative members, whose number increased to 30 from the original 11, learned more about the need for better quality of fries, improved technology on production and post harvest, strengthening their group, good financial management and better marketing linkages.

Lothgarda Dionisio, Unihfomco chairperson, said the cooperative has been cashing in on the increased production.

Dionisio said the cooperative can supply an average of 500 to 1,000 kilograms of prawns a day to the Davao City market alone.

These are sold at between P150 and P350 a kilogram depending on the size and quality.

The prospects of exporting quality tiger prawns are also bright since fishermen are fast improving their catch to an average of 240 kilos a day from 80 kilos a day, Dionisio said.

The prawns for export, mostly taken from fish pens on Bislig Bay, are sold at P700 a kilo to a processing plant in Butuan City.

Aside from helping prawn growers, the cooperative has extended a helping hand to the local fishermen who have recently joined the group.

The success of Unifohmco has encouraged Mayor Alberto Tan to allocate P4 million for the establishment of a building near the city hall to house a laboratory and diagnostics center for the fisheries industry.

Aprodecio Alba Jr., city planning officer, said the city government wanted to further develop the fish industry as an alternative source of livelihood for residents.


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