FEED Business Worldwide - June 2012
The Philippines pangasius dream 
by Gemma C. DELMO
It has been locally cultivated for a long time but the focus on pangasius in the Philippines has never been more intensive as it is now. Inspired by Vietnam's success, Filipino aquaculture farmers are motivated to achieve the same feat by launching several programs that will explore and optimize this fish specie's potential. Nevertheless, despite having enjoyed rapid production increases, the Philippines remains a net pangasius importer, with local production amounting to a little over a tenth of total domestic supplies.
Having said that, the government made clear its goal to reduce imports of this fish --totalling US$1.6 million annually--by 2016 as the growing interest for the fish is seen as a strategic area for development in terms of food security and job creation. National figures show that in 2011, the volume of imported pangasius products from Vietnam fell to 4,836 tonnes, a 28% decrease from 6,689 tonnes imported in 2010.
According to Undersecretary Merly Cruz of the department of trade and industry (DTI), declining import volumes is due to the gradual strengthening of the local pangasius industry. The government continues to pour support for the fledgling industry, last year earmarking a budget of PHP202.358 million (US$4.76 million) that created 915 jobs in the industry's hatcheries, nursery ponds, grow-out farms and processing companies.
Cruz assumes that if the country will be able to substitute its monthly importation of 600 tonnes of pangasius fillet by 2016,  two hundred seventy hectares of land will be developed which is expected to generate PHP650 million (US$15.33 million)  in investments and PHP945 million  (US$22.29 million) in sales.  Data from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources show that local production of pangasius grew by an average of 186.7% from 2008 to 2010.
Such is the promise of pangasius that the DTI, through the Regional Operations and Development Group (RODG) has put the specie among its eight flagship projects. Since June 2009, the RODG has implemented the project to stimulate the economic development in the countryside through the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Cruz says that these projects "envision a strongly-clustered pangasius industry backed by technically-sound production, processing and market development initiatives which can boast the competitiveness of the SMEs that provide employment and nutrition for Filipino consumers.” To achieve this vision, the government has partnered with private sector partners to provide comprehensive assistance to interested individuals through technology trainings. It also has engaged in collaborative research with Vietnam into optimising the growth of cultivated pangasius.
Among RODG's notable assistance given to pangasius growers was the establishment of a Techno-Demo pond. At this facility, pangasius fish farmers are introduced to technical aspects such as knowing the pond depth, water quality and proper aeration are given emphasis. 
The success of this project has been evident in Davao del Norte, as one farmer raised 6,000 fingerlings to an average weight of 1kg in six months. Through the help of the DTI as well as efforts of the private sector partners, the farmer was guaranteed a sure market and within the first half of the year, the farmer was able to earn PHP175,640 (US$4,000). On an annual basis, that income stream is about one-third higher than the Philippines GDP per capita.
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