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Fish farming keeps Guyanese women's cooperative afloat--and thriving

 

Trafalgar Union, an agricultural cooperative with 200 mostly female members, had a 25-acre plot of low-lying land in Guyana--perfect for farming fish, they thought. But discouraged by naysayers and lacking technical know-how, they floundered at first, ending up with a short-lived venture in poultry.

Union members started over, researching production of tilapia, which grow wild in Guyana’s canals and are sold by the side of the highway. They raised money to excavate ponds, set up a water system to fill them and stocked them with wild tilapia from canals. But the ponds were too shallow, and as farm manager Yunita Mona put it, “We had no idea what we were doing.”

Enter USAID’s Guyana Trade and Investment Support project, managed by CARANA, which has set up aquaculture ventures throughout the country. In the fall of 2010, the project helped engineer a water inlet and drain system, deepened the existing ponds and supervised construction of several new ones. As bartering goods and services is sometimes more effective than cash, GTIS arranged for Trafalgar to use an excavator from a neighboring fish farm (which was also receiving GTIS assistance).

Trafalgar Union members at work on their tilapia farm. Trafalgar Union members at work on their tilapia farm.

In September 2010, the project delivered 20,000 fingerling red tilapia to Trafalgar and worked intensively with members to teach best management practices. The union’s high level of organization, with well-defined roles and responsibilities, allowed it to adapt to the new methodologies, including detailed record-keeping of all finances and activities.

Today, with one hectare of ponds being fully farmed, Trafalgar is selling large, high-quality fish at high farmgate prices to the local market, helping support the cooperative as it builds export capacity.

“GTIS is teaching us the proper ways to prepare the fish ponds, to test and manage the chemistry of the water and how to fertilize and feed the fish,” Mona said. “We have been selling our red tilapia once a week since January and the people just love them.”

Plans are underway to excavate another hectare. GTIS bought the union a diesel powered water pump and is securing pipe and valves for a permanent pumping station. The farm now recycles all of its water and has zero discharge into the environment.

Trafalgar isn’t stopping there. It works with a local organization to produce mangrove tree seedlings to transplant as part of the “Sea Defense System.” They also earn revenue sending their grown sons to a neighboring fish farm five days a week to teach pond management and recordkeeping. They even requested GTIS’ help to re-use their abandoned chicken coops and are now growing green peppers in them with drip irrigation, using fish pond water to reclaim nutrients and empty fish food bags as pots to hold the plants.

“The fish have saved our cooperative,” Mona said. “We see this as a new beginning for us.”

Published February 2011