First visit to Brazil: part 3: farm visits

In the past two days, our team has been visiting fish farms in Santa Catarina to see how they operate. I am writing from the report our team sent when they got home. On the 8th of March, Professors Ram and Yanqing, accompanied by professors Joaquin and Silma, first went to Acqua Vita Peixes do Brasil, owned by Mr. Elano Rodrigo Spessatto, has aquaculture ponds producing Lambari fish. This fish used to be a delicacy in southern Brazil and country to most fish, this fish is not produced to its full weight, but rather is harvested while it is relatively small. Elano had experience with the failed technology implementation discussed during the workshop and showed interest in trying out a new system. As in many artisanal farms, many processes such as feeding happen manually and energy costs for the aeration machines are high. In general, 70% of the expenditure is towards energy costs, and 25 towards feed. By implementing oxygen monitoring, we would be able to automate the aeration machines and reduce energy consumption. The waste water from aquaculture ponds is organically recycled in a separate pond using special plants. As Elano want to double production from 30 to 60 tons, the exiting water recycling will not be sufficient to handle the increased water volume. 

However, the farm also has a processing plant on-site and the waste from fish processing is not disposed of properly, with most of the waste drain down the mountain reaching the river at the bottom of the valley. We also visited a nearby farm from which Elano purchased Lambari fish for further processing.

Afternoon visit

In the afternoon, we visited Mr. Marcelo Luchetta’s farm. His family has been engaging in aquaculture, started by his father. After taking over, he increased fish production to 60,000 kg per year. He is using a digital controller to program feed control but it requires programming if weather condition changes. New technology can help here. He checks the biomass in the pond and also measure temperature, pH etc. every 15 days and programmes his feed control accordingly. He felt a more frequent (continuous monitoring) would be helpful as there could be problems within the 15 day window which may be costly by the time it is detected in the next inspection after 15 days. Continuous monitoring can also help in mitigating problems: During one of his production runs, he had been growing fish for one more month but a sudden power-cut overnight and the subsequent loss of feeding and aeration resulted in killing all the fish causing huge losses to the company. Besides production challenges, there are challenges in selling the fish: He cited a problem when he could not sell his fish to a customer as another supplier supplied the same fish for 10 cents cheaper. Though he did not foresee sustainability issues, there is a question of sustainable waste disposal practices.

9th of March: third visit

After a fruitful first day of visits, the next day our team visited a farm a bit more in the interior of the state, in Gaspar. This last farm was property of Mss. Ofélia and Mr Paulo Marangoni. Ofélia is also the president of fisher’s association and Paulo is an tinkerer, specialising in the development of low cost technology for aquafarming. Paulo demonstrated the technologies he developed for automated feed control (with preprogrammed details using programmable keys), oxygen pumps and a fish sorter machine. He sells his technology including a large feeder with capability to move in the pond while delivering feed as well as an oxygen pump. He is not including a user manual with the kit, which could explain lack of management skills and inability to expand the business. He is interested in using technology for further automation. In particular, sensors that capture oxygen, pH, temperature, etc. at multiple places in ponds (e.g., using a single set of probes used at multiple points or multiple sensors fixed in various locations) to capture data would be useful. 

Though he also did not foresee a problem with the sustainability, it appeared that the used water from aquafarms is simply sent, without any treatment, to tributaries of the Itajai river, a basin of vital economic and water supply importance to the vast region of Santa Catarina. They tend to think that water supply is abundant and there is no need to re-cycle the used water and it would be no problem in disposing the waste water from aqua farms, we felt that it could be a potential sustainability issue. 

He felt the need for supply chain financing for business growth. He mentioned that the market requires huge demand and no individual farmer is able to meet the demand unless all local fish farmers form a co-operative group. However the fish farmers have not yet formed a cooperative. Lack of trust is cited as a major problem. Delay of payment from industry buyers is also cited as a problem for him because he needs the cash for investment for the next round of fish production.

Findings from the whole visit

Having met with local stakeholders during the workshop and through the farm visits, we came to the following findings:

  • Brazil has vast resources for continued expansion of aquaculture by working with AFs. There is scope for expanding the current production several folds. But careful planning and management is necessary.
  • All AFs that we met (either during the workshop or during field visits) expressed interest in expanding their business and also felt that technology can help them do this.
  • The level of technology use in aquafarms in Brazil is primitive. There were one or two instances of old mechanical technology but there is no integration with the latest electronic, IoT technologies.
  • There is general lack of awareness of sustainability issues among most AFs. Since water supply is abundant, they tend to think pollution is not an issue. It is true that, at current levels of production, the waste from ponds reaching local rivers do not appear to be a significant problem, but without adequate efforts in treating the waste water before they leave aquafarms, pollution issues could be the most significant limiting factor for future expansion of AFs.
  • There is a lack of awareness of the fish supply chains as most AFs do not directly deal with supermarkets or final consumers.
  • Lack of financing and access to banks is also a serious bottleneck for future expansion.
  • The AFs tend to work with traditional models of fishing. More training on new business models (e.g., (i) linking directly to market, (ii) using cooperative structures to ensure large supplying power and consequently winning bargaining power, and (iii) developing future contracts for supply of fish to the market to ensure all fish produced are sold on time) will help the entire AF industry.
  • New technologies should be developed with local culture in mind. It can be automatic resulting in fewer labour requirements but should be supplemented with proper user manuals. Working with local knowledge centres such as EPAGRI is crucial for continued diffusion of these technologies to all eligible AFs and for regular advice on maintenance.
  • Lack of supporting infrastructure for aquaculture development, e.g. regulations, government support, legal frameworks, etc.
  • Three areas can be recommended for future IoT and Big Data applications: (i) improving the monitoring and control of water quality, such as oxygen and temperature, by using sensors and remote control digital technologies; (ii) optimising and managing the fish feed to improve resource efficiency; (iii) – enabling fish farmers to have better access to information (e.g. suppliers information, weather, market demand and prices, etc), knowledge and technical support and expert advice via mobile Apps.

We have a lot to analyse now and although we will not be able to give a solution to all issues mentioned in the past few days, we will look how we can help artisanal farmers by implementing water monitoring technology.

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