A fishful of dollars.

Every last tilapia is precious.

Valentin Abe

What you don’t know about tilapia could fill a hatchery. Trust me on this.

When I went to Valentin Abe’s new, solar-powered, mega-cool Caribbean Harvest hatchery in the Central Plateau of Haiti, I was taking notes as fast as my fat little digits could write, and I still only got half of everything this awesome guy from the Ivory Coast (and Fulbright scholar at Auburn University… and one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in the world) told us about how farm fishing can transform the lives of the poor.

Brooders brooding.

Tilapia farming starts with a bunch of brooders (doesn’t everything??) – whose genetic lineage can be traced back to the Nile. With oxygen pumped through the water that is sourced from the nearby river (filtered and cleansed), the brooders can breed at 4 months and will reproduce every six weeks (as long as you remove the baby fish so the mommies aren’t distracted).  The female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them, then mom incubates the eggs in her mouth (up to 2000 of them) for 4 days, then releases them, although they are still transparent and can’t be seen.

Little ones (tens of thousands of 'em)

Tilapia like togetherness: 600/cubic meter.

At 7 days of age, however, the babies become visible and instinctively head for the sides of the tank – where they can be removed with a fine mesh net in the cool of the early morning or late afternoon. The babies will then be transferred to separate tanks that hold 20,000 fish each, where they are fed, oxygenated and grown to 1/2″ long in about a month. At this point, the “fingerlings” are transferred in oxygenated plastic bags to nearby Lake Peligre where they are kept in cages owned by individual fishermen who will feed them three times a day for about 4 months.

When these babies get to be a pound apiece, each fishermen can sell his crop of 2000 tilapia for $2.40/pound (with $1.10 of that going to  expenses) — for a profit of about $2500 per harvest. And that, my friend, is the beautiful rainbow at the end of this long tilapia road.  It’s why Clinton Global Initiative has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hatchery, Partners in Health is ordering all the tilapia for its brand-new hospital in Mirebalais from Caribbean Harvest farmers, Solar Electric Light Fund has installed the beautifully reliable, sophisticated solar system, and Heifer International is donating the $450 cages to Peligre fishermen.

Beautiful Lake Peligre

Because once this operation gets up and running (it just came on line last month), it has the potential to produce 40,000 fingerlings a month —  which would be a game-changer for the poor communities around Lake Peligre and the surrounding Central Plateau.Despite the fact that this is an island, Haitians eat only 4.4 pounds of fish a year (contrasted to the global average of 35 pounds) and the country imports $26 million of cod annually from Taiwan. The beauty of farming tilapia locally is that while it improves the protein-starved diet of Haitians, it also provides an income to farmers and fisherman living around the lake — and supports the schools in villages like Sylguerre that we were lucky enough to visit with Valentin Abe to see the school and witness tilapia farming in action.

The schoolchildren were all waiting for us to dock ..over there.

Quick ... over here!

We can beat that stupid boat...

And we're all over here now .. Welcome!

Around the lake, 8 destitute schools with no government support are struggling to survive –with the help of Partners in Health and two teachers leading the Community Action for Education and Development around Lake Peligre(ACEDLP). Tilapia farming is an idea that can be scaled up quickly, produce sustainable profits, and enable the people to support their schools and get their children a good education.

"Now I don't have to choose which of my children I send to school."

The plan is for each fisherman to receive one free gift of 2000 tilapia fingerlings from Caribbean Harvest (and its sponsors) and a cage from Heifer International. After harvest, he will reinvest part of his proceeds in another crop of fingerlings, and then on the third harvest, put aside money to pass along the gift of a new cage to another farmer (Valentin estimates each farmer can harvest 3 crops of tilapia a year.)

There are still some kinks to be worked out: Abe found that 1/2″ tilapia babies survive better than the 2″ older ones during transfer, and the farmers have to perfect their feeding and distribution to prevent the fingerlings from perishing and get them to market while they’re fresh. But the potential is totally there for a sea change in the fishing industry of Haiti … with the beautiful Lake Peligre children on the line.

I’m in!

Categories: Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

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37 thoughts on “A fishful of dollars.

  1. Ginger O'Neill

    Hi Betty,

    What a bold and magnificent plan. The idea that the Haitian farmers can breed fish, eat them and make a profit to sustain their livelihoods is heavenly.

    The questions is what are they feeding the fish? Will this create a future health issue? I know that any food is better than none, but will there be residual loss of nourishment in the fish as has happened to so many of our current fish hatcheries in the states?

    Regardless, it is a step forward for the beautiful people of Haiti. Bravo Heifer!


    • Ginger, great question! They are currently feeding the fish a mixture of soybean protein, fishmeal and corn I believe … but they’re also looking to find new sources of the food, since it’s quite expensive for the farmers. So, I’m hoping they can source it locally and hence create more agricultural jobs and beef up the protein and nourishment for the fish. I do love this project and have HIGH hopes for Heifer’s involvement in it!!

  2. Inspiring and so very beautiful. Thank you!

  3. I loved the photos of the school children racing!! And Lake Peligre doesn’t even look real…it’s very beautiful. Of course, loved the story as usual. To be able to meet Valentin Abe was so special for you, I’m sure!

    • Valentin Abe is a remarkable person — I think he’s going to have a huge impact on Haiti and I am so happy Heifer is working with him to make this project viable on a big scale! You should see the solar system that powers these huge tanks … it’s amazing!!

    • Great goods from you, man. The Global Tilapia Market and How Tilapia Farms are Gaining in Numbers | Tilapia Farming Guide I have understand your stuff priveous to and you are just too magnificent. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it sensible. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is actually a wonderful The Global Tilapia Market and How Tilapia Farms are Gaining in Numbers | Tilapia Farming Guide informations.

    • Fantastic goods from you, man. Tilapia Farming Guide I’ve understand your stuff priueovs to and you are just extremely fantastic. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it smart. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a wonderful Tilapia Farming Guide informations.

  4. Betty: Great one–one of your best–although that seems to be true every time, doesn’t it?!

    • I loved this project, loved the school and the people we met — and I felt SO positive this project will be able to really impact whole communities around the Lake … so had to share the love!!

  5. Anonymous

    fabulous report.
    Smartest thing Heifer Foundation ever did. Amy

  6. Give a man a fish … vs … teach a man to fish …

    Why on earth would they only eat 4.4 pounds of fish a year and import fish from Taiwan ?

    Love the shots of the running kids !

    • Darling Sybil — Those kids were like butterflies — it was SO great to watch!! The reason Haitians eat so little fish is that the fishing is very inefficient (the boats are just sawed out logs, and the fishermen can’t get out far enough to sea to catch the big fish) .. and in the lake, they “imported” some crazy Argentinian carp that came in and ate up all the other fish species and are now so gigantic, and scary, they can’t be caught. I am not making this up. So .. it’s another one of those Haiti stories that just make you want to weep. BUT — these tilapia are protected by the cages, and so can be farmed, harvested and sold at a profit. And any food that is not imported is a GREAT thing for Haiti.

      • Good lord Betty I never thought I’d hear of a people who live by the ocean yet still use sawed off logs as boats! sheesh!
        A hungry people who can’t catch and eat the Argentinian carp? another sheesh.

        I also love the photos of the kids running to catch the boat

      • Rosie — It’s funny but the Haitians don’t like to eat any kind of fish that are bottom-feeders, and these carp are 25 pounds and terrifying, so it’s just not gonna happen that they’ll be catching ’em. I wish I could post more photos here — I’ll send you a picture of the boats they cross the lake in. You won’t believe it! As for the ocean fishermen, they’ve been using the same primitive methods for ages, and it’s not very effective at ALL. Heifer also has a project in Savane (near Les Cayes) teaching fishermen better methods and technology, new nets, how and where to fish, and even new boats so they can increase their catch to 40-50 pounds a day, like in the rest of the Caribbean, which would be a huge increase .. and develop a cold-chain delivery system so the fish is kept cold and fresh from the minute it’s caught. The cleaning of the fish is usually done by women, so they are also a big part of the project. VERY interesting stuff!!

  7. What an incredible project, Betty! I love this. I’m hooked!

    • tee hee … i didn’t even get it at first and i LOVE puns!!!

    • Great goods from you, man. The Global Tilapia Market and How Tilapia Farms are Gaining in Numbers | Tilapia Farming Guide I have understand your stuff preuiovs to and you are just extremely wonderful. I really like what you have acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it wise. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a great The Global Tilapia Market and How Tilapia Farms are Gaining in Numbers | Tilapia Farming Guide informations.

      • So happy you liked the post, Gabriela — and I agree, it’s hard to argue with the numbers when you see the potential for tilapia farming … plus, they’re so yummy, right??! A little garlic and olive oil … yummmm! So happy you like the blog, too — lots more to come!!

  8. very informative and inspiring! I will pass along to some friends! – Chris

  9. londerjean

    Fascinating information Betty! Brilliant and resourceful system by Valentin Abe.

  10. Martha Radatz

    Saw tilapia ponds at work with Heifer in Honduras. So simple. So smart.
    Thanks for another great window into Haiti. I’m loving the ride!

    • Yes! The tilapia ponds are really a wonderful investment in the communities by Heifer — they couldn’t use backyard ponds in this part of Haiti because it requires flat land with a lot of clay – but luckily, the lake provides a perfect environment! And this is scalable on a level that is really exciting!! Thanks Martha for your always-smart insight!!

  11. Thanks for all your good stories, esp. this one on Tilapia Road! Sweet song indeed. Also the children are all smiles, do you think some of that is someone is taking their picture?

    • Kim, I think that the children are really excited to have their picture taken, for starters — because they generally have never seen a picture of themselves. And they are excited to have visitors, since they live in remote villages. And finally, I think they are just joyful — which is difficult to believe given the poverty of their living conditions — but which is infinitely inspiring to witness. I loved this project and so happy you liked it, too!!

  12. I loved the picture of the hatchlings and your explanation about why the babies are removed. In civilized NJ, where my husband is a fish fancier and has several tanks, one of the pairs of fish had frequent schools of baby fish. They were the most precious site you can imagine. And the parents were so watchful, it was heartwarming. Both parents would hover over the babies, keep them within a short distance from their rock formation and scoot away inquisitive and greedy larger fish. BUT after several days of tireless baby sitting, the aggressive fish in the tank always found a way to break in and eat the babies.


  13. Yeah, it’s a cold cruel world out there … but I find it so fascinating to learn all this stuff about things I’ve never even wondered about! It’s always complicated to raise animals & have them reproduce .. but knowledge is a wonderful thing, and it has SO much potential! Boo hoo – sorry for your baby fishies!!

  14. Anonymous

    Hi, Betty: This is a great story and a big lesson for the rest of the developing world. A very big thank you for your great desire to share information with the rest of mankind !!

    Charles K.Twesigye

    Kyambogo University, Uganda

  15. LaMar W. Hauck

    Hi Betty!

    Quite interesting to say the least! This aquaculture project is such an efficient workforce development tool alongside a budding sustainable sustenance agricultural-industrial infrastructure that it makes me sick to know how sustainable energy opportunities for the rural population of Haiti to grow their own fuels, raise their own feeds, process and pack their own products is denied them by their governmental leaders.

    What is being done is a fantastic start but sooner hopefully more than later some agency or foundation must address head on the missing ingredients to autonomy, energy! Not one aspect of what these people need for success in this aquaculture venture comes without dependence on outside supplies, from the overpriced $450 cages, the 2K fish seed stock, the huge fuel costs delivering fingerlings, imported feed and finished fish to market. Processing and other value added services require dependence on the outside.

    Haiti has the capacity to grow a significant complement of their fuels just for the fisheries targeted! Fish feed is also produceable on-island, cages and transport systems can all be fabricated with their resourceful craft and skill sets at great savings with the ultimate capacity to produce a broader base of truly sustainable agriculture and industry.

    Hopefully other farmers will start fry and fingerling hatcheries on their own to become self sustaining and developing their own downstream customers as the existing hatchery is only capable of supporting 80 growers per year. The impact of that effort on the water quality, natural resources or energy resources needs to be monitored as adding 480K fish annually to any body of fresh water nutrifies that medium with nitrates measurably, and with fuel waste products hopefully negligibly.

    We would be delighted to help Haiti’s economic recovery with both the fuel energy demands of this emerging aquaculture initiative and also the feed crops required to support domestically that endeavor.

    I sincerely applaud every bit of the effort, yet please take seriously and kindly the dependence we need to immediately work out of the well intended process if we are to have true sustainability.

    Thank you for your consideration.


    LaMar W. Hauck, Proj. Eng.
    BioFuels and BioBased Products
    Energy Alternatives Research Center
    Alabama A&M University
    School of Agriculture
    Normal, Alabama

    • Wow, LaMar, I am so grateful for your in-depth comment and thoughtful & challenging approach to this issue! Obviously, I am not an engineer or expert in this field, but it certainly seems that you have a great deal of knowledge on the subject and I am so glad you brought up the issues of energy, nitrates in the water, and the cost of food, cages, etc. Heifer is deeply committed to helping devise ways to bring all those processes in country and fostering truly sustainable INDEPENDENT enterprise for Haitians– and absolutely this will drive costs down. As a work very much in progress (it just opened) there is a lot of room for new, better methodologies and I am very eager to pass along your comment and suggestions (and offer of assistance, too, right?? ( : ) to the Heifer Haiti folks in the hopes that some of your great ideas can be implemented. THANKS so much for reading & commenting!

  16. THIS COMMENT IS FROM WILL LESCHEN OF THE INSTITUTE OF AQUACULTURE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF STIRLING, UK ….Just put up your piece on Abe valentin – thank you – on SARNISSA African Aquaculture Network http://www.sarnissa.org also on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sarnissa-Sustainable-Aquaculture-Research-Networks-for-Sub-Saharan-Africa/193723127373#!/pages/Sarnissa-Sustainable-Aquaculture-Research-Networks-for-Sub-Saharan-Africa/193723127373 and on our regular SARNISSA email forum – We now have over 2000 regd members from all over Africa and internationally – with francophone section also with their own email forum . SARNISSA shares information and contacts across a wide range of people across borders and languages and is involved in developing aquaculture commercially (nomatter the scale) across Africa as a business rather than the proven unsustainable charity, hand out , donor – rather than investor – approach which clearly hasnt worked . Abe’s work is a great example for other Africans – we also have close links with Auburn – I would be grateful if you could disseminate out our SARNISSA details and contacts to any interested persons or organisations – Best wishes Will Leschen wl2@stir.ac.uk Inst of Aquaculture Univ of Stirling UK

  17. Hi Betty

    Can you give more details of the solar powered pumping system including some pics, or websites that show pics?

    Nick James
    Rivendell Hatchery
    South Africa

  18. You can definitely see your skills in the work you write.

    The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe.
    Always follow your heart.

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