According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO), aquaculture in Tanzania has a vast but as yet untapped potential. The industry is dominated by freshwater fish farming in which small-scale farmers practice both extensive and semi-intensive fish farming. It is largely a subsistence activity in Tanzania, practiced by lower-income households in the coastal and inland areas. Small fish ponds of an average size of 10 m x 15 m are integrated with other agricultural activities such as gardening and animal and bird production on small pieces of land. Tanzania is currently estimated to have a total of 14,100 freshwater fishponds scattered across the mainland. The aquaculture sector is seen as a sector capable of addressing two key development priorities of the Tanzanian government; food insecurity and employment.
Taking us through her entrepreneurship journey is Diana Orembe, CEO and Founder at NovFeed, took us back to 2018 when it all began. “My entrepreneurship journey started in 2018 after I learnt about how the aquaculture industry has the capacity to feed the growing global population. The only issue is that the industry still has a lot of problems that need to be solved. When I was doing my research before stepping into the business, I visited the farmers to learn about the issues they are facing, as in the challenges as well as the good things. My focus was mainly on the challenges because that was what I wanted to understand more deeply in order to come up with solutions. Most of the farmers in the Dar-es-Salaam region had similar problems; access to fingerlings, control of water quality in their ponds and the high cost of feed,” Diana noted.
Farmers invest in their ponds hoping to make good returns but they end up generating little or no income at all. I was very keen on the feed problem which I learnt from my uncle who was a fish farmer when I was young. I wanted to understand why fish feed is still a problem more than 10 years later. From my research, I realized that the current feeds available in Tanzania, East and South Africa in general are mostly imported from other countries such as the Netherlands, Vietnam and China. The bigger percentage is imported but both the imported and local fish feeds are made from soybeans and fish meal as the main protein ingredient.
These two ingredients are very expensive and account for over 70% of the total feed production costs which in turn makes the feeds costly. Sometimes the feed is not available; some farmers have to travel thousands of kilometers to access feed, for instance Mwanza, which is 1000 kilometers away from Dar-es-Salaam. On completion of my university studies, I decided to apply my knowledge as a tool to tackle these problems and that is how my entrepreneurship journey began.
The research begins
I went into the lab in search for an alternative source of fish meal in the fish feed so that I can support this fast developing industry because even if fish meal is used as the main protein ingredient in fish feed, it doesn’t make economical sense because we are destroying our oceans by overfishing and also putting the growing global population in danger of food insecurity in the near future. This has been the reason why I am so passionate about coming up with an alternative source of protein for use in fish feed.
My colleagues and I tested a number of sources that might be the best substitute for fish meal. Currently, the main available substitute is soybeans which are not environmentally friendly. Therefore, we came up with a bacteria based protein as the best substitute.
NovFeed is a biotech company that uses natural microbes and industrial biotech that turns organic waste into a highly concentrated protein product with a focus on making nutritious, customizable inputs for the food system, thus enabling meat and aquaculture sectors to get alternative sources of protein ingredients for fish feed. Our key product is Novfeed protein fish feed from which we obtain Novliquid, which is a byproduct of the process. We are currently researching to see if this liquid has the potential to become a bio fertilizer. NovFeed has employed 8 people in Tanzania along with several international and local advisors. We are working with 2 volunteers with whom we aim to work in future.
What I learnt from GAFP
I was one of the GoGettaz impact award winners where we got funding support which helped in the development of NovFeed. We later joined the Generation Africa Fellowship Program(GAFP) where we were also equipped with skills on how to better run our companies and how to manage the funding. How to build a sustainable business for the future which can attract more funding or increase revenues through sales and profits. And this is where the mentorship came in. I have benefited a lot from being supported by my mentor, Mr. John Njane, from Strathmore Research and Consultancy Centre in different areas: from reviewing our business plan and streamlining our financial structures to attract more investments.
Through the Generation Africa Fellowship Program(GAFP), I have been mentored to finetune my pitching and presentation skills. Today, my business is investor ready. With guidance from my GAFP mentor, I recently pitched for the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) $10,000 grant which I was successfully fully awarded.
What Next After GAFP?
We plan to keep on working on continued product development to ensure our business grows, our sales revenues grow and our employees grow. This will help us reach more farmers so that we can create more impact along our production value chain. This means that farmers will get relief in terms of the cost of feed; if farmers can get better quality, affordable and sustainable fish feed, they will be able to better sustain their business ventures.
Interviewed by Odhiambo Obonyo.