The Secretariat of the Pacific Community is working through the European Union-funded Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) Project to support aquaculture farmer networks in the region. The latest one is the Sirinumu cluster in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

This cluster currently has five active farmers who specialise in the cage culture method of farming tilapia in the Sirinumu Dam.

Between 18 and 24 May,the IACT aquaculture team was with the Sirinumu tilapia farmers to assess their production and marketing systems.
‘We are working with Sirinumu tilapia farmers to identify what their strengths and weaknesses are and where they need assistance. This approach helps us to work directly with farmers, who are a key part of the supply chain,’ said Avinash Singh, IACT Aquaculture Officer.

The Sirinumucluster’s lead farmer, Jonah Bobogi, acts as the nucleus of the group, supplying tilapia fingerlings, cage materials and poultry feed to smaller farmers, like Wahia Tom and Chalie Kore, who find that being part of the cluster is very beneficial.

Both farmers said that they do not have to be concerned about the cost of getting the feed to the farm or finding good markets for their harvested tilapia, as these tasks are taken care of by the cluster lead farmer.

‘In order to assist smaller farmers have a larger impact, groups of farmers are assisted by IACT to establish ways in which they can pool resources and work collaboratively to meet the market demand,’ said Singh.

During the visit, the IACT team found that the difficulties faced by theSirinumu tilapia farmers were the inconsistent supply and poor quality of fish feed being used, andthe cage material being of poor quality and so not lasting long.

From their initial assessments, Singh says that IACT will be looking to assist the Sirinumu clusterin the following ways:

· evaluate and facilitate options to overcome feed supply constraints;
· provide proper record keeping booklets and training manuals;
· assist farmers to identify better quality sources of feed and cage materials, that are ultra-violet protected and have a longer lifespan;
· assist farmers to identify sources of solar-powered water pumps to improve hatchery ponds; and
· build capacity on improved tilapia farming techniques.

While demand for tilapia in PNG and many other Pacific countries is currently high, Singh says that demand varies, based on peoples’ preferences, price and availability of other fish species for consumption.

He explained that using cages to farm tilapia has low infrastructure requirements, which can lead to good production in large water bodies such as lakes and dams.

‘If this business model is operated well, then it can be profitable as an income generating opportunity,’ added Singh.

The Sirinumu farmers group is the third cluster that IACT is assisting. The two other clusters are in Fiji.