Aquaculture is one of Bangladesh’s biggest success stories and companies like Quality Feeds are cashing in on this achievement by investing heavily in the sector, writes ZAHRAH IMTIAZ.
Quality Feeds is one of Bangladesh’s largest manufacturers of feed, but its biggest success has been in the aquaculture sector.
Their growth parallels Bangladesh’s own success story with aquaculture. Between 2000 and 2017, fish production in the country grew by 57% as the industry blossomed to make the country the fifth largest global aquaculture producer in the world in 2018.
More lucrative than poultry
Quality Feeds’ Managing Director Ihtesham Shahjahan told Asian Agribiz that given the high volatility in the poultry sector, aquafeed offered more stability and growth.
However, they soon figured out that fish feed alone was not yielding necessary results. “We wanted to offer value for money to farmers but noticed that the margins for farmers were not great, despite continuous improvement in feed quality,” he said.
A national survey into the fish species grown showed that productivity was hampered by lack of new broodstock. “In countries where they have successful aquaculture sectors, we see that the brood is often restocked. So we decided to invest in our own hatcheries to complement our feed operations,” Mr Shahjahan said.
The company started its own hatchery in 2014. Collaborating with experts in Thailand and Vietnam, the company started off with two popular fish species — tilapia and pangasius, replenishing the brood every few years. The tilapia brood is changed every two years while pangasius has a brood change every three years.
It started selling its first stock of fries in 2016 and together with their feed formula, was able to bring down the FCR from 1.8 to 1.4. “We were right, the genetics was the problem,” said Mr Shahjahan.
These results helped the company market its fish feed and fries as a premium product. Despite higher prices, demand for the products have grown. This year, Mr Shahjahan hopes to expand the hatchery capacity to 200 million fries from 180 million — with 90% composed of tilapia.
Cooking up the right feed
Quality Feeds has also invested in r&d, hiring a multinational team of nutritionists to maximize FCR at each stage of the growth cycle. At the hatchery and nursery phases, it was critical to have the right type of ingredients for starter and grower feeds.
At each stage, the feed also has to be of the right size, and this is determined by the fish size. Feed is also designed to optimize the fish’s physiology and maximize its genetic potential.
The company also offers an ‘economy’ range of its feed products for farmers who want to grow their fish at a slower rate and prepare the fish for market when the price is right.
“Once you identify the genetics, then comes the nutrition. And we can prepare the optimal feed according to a given price,” explained Mr Shahjahan.
This model, he added, ensures that farmers get value for money for whichever brand they choose.
Despite advances in compound feed manufacturing for aquaculture, many farmers still opt for home mixing. Mr Shahjahan said this has a detrimental impact on the fish market.
“Bangladesh mostly lost the market for pangasius because the fish were fed poultry litter, causing it to smell and taste bad,” he revealed.
The company has thus been promoting the use of compound feed to overcome this issue. It boasts they get USD 0.06-0.07 more for each kilo of fish fed with compound feed. “And the fish tastes better,” claims Mr Shahjahan.
Given the success of its aquaculture industry, Bangladesh has been encouraging local producers to export their produce, and Mr Shahjahan feels this would encourage more to adopt better standards.
The company itself has invested in a fish processing unit and the next phase of expansion would be in exports.
Always a step ahead
“Our strategy is if the farmers survive, we survive,” said Mr Shahjahan. To do this, the company runs two diagnostic labs in two of the main fish districts in the country to ensure high standards for their own operations and those of farmers.
“We offer this service free to our farmers, so that they can identify diseases early. We also help them in farm management as this is the biggest cause for disease on farms,” he explained.
The goal is to teach farmers that they need to feed the fish 4% of biomass every day and maintain water quality at the optimal level. “At times we find that they either overfeed or underfeed,” he said.
The company also sends veterinarians to farms and offers other value-added services to ensure that the crop grows smoothly.
As the pandemic wears on, Mr Shahjahan is looking at introducing more automation. Labor costs have been going up and greater mechanization would improve efficiency while reducing costs. He is also looking to modernize further downstream to the market depots where feed is stored and distributed.
“This sector is highly competitive, with 350 plus feedmills in the country, thus one mistake can wipe me out,” said Mr Shahjahan, so he plans to always be a step ahead of his competitors.