The delegation - headed by DTI Calabarzon Regional Director Marilou Quinco-Toledo - representing seven of the regions all over the country and composed of players in the local pangasius industry, executives of local governments and the academe visited farm and processing facilities for pangasius in Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh cities to observe, interact and learn from the Vietnamese aquaculture and processing companies.
The benchmarking mission is in line with the thrust to develop the pangasius industry in the Philippines. It aims to increase knowledge on the pangasius industry and its value-chain by observing and learning from the best practices of companies and researches of universities and replicate the learnings gained by the team to the local pangasius industry.
Pangasius, a genus of catfishes of the order Siluriformes and of the family Pangasiidae, has become the new darling of the aquaculture industry.
Due to its quality comparable to the higher-priced salmon, pangasius meat is now a common entrée in fine restaurants and fast food chains. Raising and processing pangasius can be a very profitable project since it grows fast and easier to raise than tilapia, and has a vast potential market domestically and in the export market.
Vietnam is the prime producer and exporter of pangasius to the global market.
Companies and research facilities visited
Among the companies visited were Can Tho University, Caseamex, Binh An Seafoods Joint Stock Company, Bien Dong Seafood Co., Ltd., Phuong Dong Seafoods Co., Ltd., The Hiep Thanh Group, The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development - Research Institute for Aquaculture - one primarily tasked to develop the country's aquaculture sector. They also visited Binh Than Market in Ho Chi Mihn City where fresh pangasius are sold.
The benchmarking mainly consisted of visits to companies, universities and other organizations engaged in the raising, processing and providing research activities for pangasius where host companies gave briefings, video presentations and lectures. The delegation also visited each company's hatchery and grow-out facilities usually located along the Mekong River.
The local pangasius industry
The DTI in Central Mindanao started promoting the pangasius since the later part of 2008 and is now promoted all over the country though the regional operations group of the DTI. Pangasius culture in the Philippines is concentrated in Central Mindanao, mostly in North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat; General Santos City; and in Sarangani.
Due to the increasing production of local pangasius, a major processing company RDEX Food Corp. Inc. based in General Santos City has ceased importing from Vietnam and instead buys the locally cultured fish. Earlier, RDEX imported pangasius fillet valued at P2.73 million annually.
In Luzon, pangasius farms are found in Nueva Vizcaya, Pampanga, Rizal, Laguna and Batangas.
Learnings from Vietnam
In Vietnam, production capacities are high, ranging about 35,000 to 40,000 metric tons per year each company. Some smaller companies outsource contract growing to small-scale farmers and buys back harvest. Farm sizes are in the hundreds of hectares that employs as high as 4,000 workers per company.
Aside from processing fillets for export, one company alone processes fish oil for biodiesel at a rate of 25 metric tons per day.
Process machineries and equipment are relatively simple; they are either imported or locally-fabricated. Most of the raisers formulated their own feeds consisting of rice bran, soya beans, cassava, fish meal, among others.
Diseases of pangasius are not a common problem; occurs only during occurrences of drastic temperature changes, i.e., during sudden rains after long sunny days.
The bigger companies subscribe and adhere to international standards for food, quality management. Most successful companies submit to certification or accreditation to EU Codes DL69 & DL432; HACCP; ISO 9001-2000; the British Retail Consortium Standards; International Foundation for Science (IFS); and Halal. Average farmgate prices of fresh pangasius is at USD0.83, about Php38.
The Vietnam advantage
The Vietnamese aquaculture industry has a lot to be happy about.
The country has a comparatively lower cost of labour and power and energy thus enjoying lower operational costs.
Wage rates of employees ranges from USD100 - USD120 per month (P4,517.10 - P5,420.52 at Php 45.171: USD 1.0 exchange rate).
Vietnam's fisheries industry is organized and united. Seafood companies and enterprises bind themselves as the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) to represent, advance and protect the collective business interests of more than 250 members. Besides providing consulting service and training courses among players of the industry, VASEP also engages in international relations and trade promotions. It organises the Vietfish, the country's biggest fisheries international exhibition held every year. The Philippines' Mega Sardines participated as exhibitor in last month's Vietfish.
Pangasius producers in Vietnam are fortunate to be assisted by their government. Most notable one is the financial assistance provided by the government to the aquaculture entrepreneurs as coursed through the VASEP.
Also, government has provided research facilities dedicated for pangasius - the Vietnam Pangasius Research Institute. There are three other government research institutes for aquaculture in Viet Nam strategically located at the northern, central and southern parts of Vietnam. Above all, government granted tax exemptions (0% tax) on aquaculture exports although companies still have to pay income taxes.
Pangasius culture is currently among the flagship programs of the DTI - Regional Operations Group headed by Undersecretary Merly Cruz.
DTI, in collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture, will extensively promote the pangasius on the national scale.
Local experts in breeding, hatchery and processing will be tapped as resource persons during investment promotions activities.
Director Toledo said that the team has already lined up activities for the local pangasius industry, among them the holding of the Hito Festival and Congress in General Santos City.
Most significantly, the industry will be extensively promoted at the local government level.
"But the main thrust would be to make pangasius the new alternative, if not the main, source of protein among Filipinos", Director Toledo said in a post-trip report.
"Also, the pangasius industry must be localised. This means that local governments hosting pangasius industries shall use local assets and resources to support the industry", Toledo added.
The delegation is composed of DTI Regional Director Marilou Quinco-Toledo, head; Mayor Manuel M. Rabara of Midsayap, Cotabato; Dr. Marylynn S. Abiera, Vice-Chancellor, and Tersa Castillo, College Dean, of the Mindanao State University in Tambler, General Santos City; and Teresita Subibi of DTI CARAGA Regional Office in Surigao City.