By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
When engaging in business, it pays to have a competitive edge or unique selling point to be able to rise above competitors in the market. These advantages can come in different forms such as products, services, and technology.
E-Primate, an aquaculture company that engages in tilapia grow-out culture, has such a technological advantage. With their very own aquaculture system, they were able to modify their operations to be more efficient and produce results in meeting local demands.
According to Elisa Claire Sy, the CEO of E-Primate, the company was born out of her personal goal to create a community that will foster children and help them become the best version of themselves.
In pursuit of this goal, Sy started looking for a business that is both sustainable and lucrative to provide her with the financial resources to help her realize her dream. Fortunately, her business partner and now COO of E-Primate, Marvis Mirasol, had a business idea for her.
“[He] suggested why not go into fish farming. He has been doing traditional earthen pond fish farming so he’d experienced all the problems that came with it. He has a background in biology and also enjoys fabricating his equipment so we then decided to use a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) like what other countries have done instead of doing the traditional method of fish farming,” Sy said.
Earthen pond fish farming is the process of raising fish in ponds that are made entirely out of soil materials. This traditional fish farming method is quite extensive since it requires a significant amount of land to work on, consumes a lot of water, and has a low productivity rate of about two kilograms of fish per cubic meter of water.
On the other hand, in a RAS setup, the fish are raised in indoor tanks whose water is purified and reused continuously, hence its name. By recirculating the water, the requirements for energy and water are kept at an absolute minimum. Because elements like climate and water current can be controlled, the system has a high productivity rate, with more fish being raised per cubic meter without them feeling overcrowded.
RAS, unlike earthen pond fish farming, allows for a continuous income throughout the year, which is what Sy needed to sustain the community that she wanted to set up.
Presently, E-Primate has two departments: one is a specialized department that caters to high-end aquascaping setups, and the other is the pioneer in commercial-scale recirculating aquaculture in the Philippines.
Unlike traditional fish farming methods, E-Primate conducts their operations indoors, specifically inside warehouses and using concrete tanks which is popular among countries in North America, Latin America, Middle East, and Asia.
To better fulfill its role in commercial-scale recirculating aquaculture, E-Primate came up with a system which they call PINAS (Pinoy Innovating New technologies in Aquaculture System), which improves the already beneficial RAS approach by adding innovations into the mix.
With PINAS and its indoor facilities, E-Primate enjoys a year-round harvest of tilapia without having to worry about weather and other external factors.
By combining the PINAS with RAS methods, E-Primate is able to control factors such as temperature and water quality, both of which are some of the main concerns in traditional fish farming.
“With PINAS, we are assured of the quality of our produce; the taste is consistently fresh. Also with our technology, we can project how much earnings we can expect per batch of fingerlings because we were able to control external factors that are impossible to control if we were to practice the traditional way of farming,” Sy said.
One factor that the PINAS eliminates is the taste of tilapias that are caused by the season and environment they were grown in.
To make sure that their culture water and tanks are still suitable for their tilapia grow-out scheme but without using machines, E-Primate uses modified algae to turn them into an “scrubber” which filters water by moving water rapidly over a rough, highly illuminated surface that causes algae to start growing in large amounts.
As the algae grow, these consume nutrients such as nitrate, phosphate, nitrite, ammonia, ammonium, and even metals such as copper from the water.
But the utmost advantage of using their technology is how it can compute stocking density, the number of animals that are kept on a given unit of area, so that the workers know how to efficiently manage their tilapia fingerlings.
“A ratio of 1:10 for conventional earthen ponds compared to 1:200 minimum will give you a hint of its profitability factor. A shortened grow-out period is another benefit of using our technology,” E-Primate’s CEO said.
E-Primate concluded its legal transcriptions and acquired an operational permit last 2018. Its main office is located in Centro De Buenviaje in Marikina where the initial prototypes and designs of their systems are situated.
“Our second facility in Indang, Cavite is a fully operational medium-scale PINAS production facility where continuous research and development is being done. It is also our procedural assessment and training facility for our indoor fisheries caretakers and technicians.
The company’s third commercial-scale PINAS demo facility is located in Marilao, Bulacan, and is currently supplying livestock harvest intended to provide quality analysis and data gathering which is focused on retail selling as well as bulk selling for consignment.
Engaging in tilapia grow-out culture
“We are currently raising tilapia because it’s one of the staple food resources of the Filipinos and with what we have experienced from the ongoing pandemic, supply is not enough to meet the demands. In addition to this, raising Tilapia is very low risk, this reason alone is our key factor to meet our requirements with regards to meeting our return on investment,” said the CEO of E-Primate.
Sy added that the decision to grow tilapia is to prepare for the long-term effects of food shortage and diminishing supplies.
“That is why as much as we wanted to relate ourselves to the ongoing crisis where we are all dealing right now, we are trying our best to look at the brighter side of it all. And for sure you will agree with me if I say, the food business is the way to go in the next coming years,” she said.
Right now, E-Primate is focused on livestock grow-out, which means they raise the fish from fingerlings (juvenile fish) to adulthood. For their fingerlings, E-Primate managed to collaborate with different hatcheries for their bulk requirement.
“We decided to venture on this business for two reasons: because food is a necessity and we are confident that we covered all stages of the business, from feasibility to prototyping and continuous research and development, and the actual implementation of our commercial-scale system,” Sy added.
Potential business opportunities
According to Sy, the main function of E-Primate’s tilapia grow-out project includes designing and constructing a whole fish farming system that can be hired on contract.
“The project will be operated by E-Primate for the whole duration of the contract. From the last cycle before the contract’s maturity, the contractor will have an option to take over the facility or may request for the continuous operation by E-Primate under a new contract,” she said.
She added that the project contract covers all necessary procedures for the facility to fully operate. E-Primate will provide manpower, supplies, monitoring, and reporting, manual and operational system, and standards.
“It should be clear that the project cost also includes all operational expenses for the whole duration of the contract and will cover end-to-end procedures including harvesting and selling of produce to the wholesale market,” Sy explained.
Clients who have no prior experience in aquaculture need not worry as the company caters to all interested parties who want to make a profit or establish a business that promotes sustainability and food security.
On raising tilapia
“Raising tilapia is very basic. Provide them with quality feeds, optimal water parameters, and regular strategic sizing and sortation. But making it profitable in a relatively smaller footprint and area for grow-out is the secret that the PINAS can only provide,” Sy shared.
E-Primate implements its strategic procedures to raise tilapia in a very secure environment. Their PINAS technology will provide them with all the basics as well as advanced parameters for tilapia to grow to their best potential in a Philippine setting.
“Fish should undergo proper quality assurance before it reaches our plate to be enjoyed. This, however, should start with the proper way of raising it. Our system will surely provide all the benefits of securing the process to its best form,” Sy said.
The CEO also noted the importance of monitoring and how it can be the key to a properly managed farm.
Apart from raising tilapia, E-Primate was also designed for a continuous upgrade as well as the incorporation of aquaculture with agriculture, like indoor vegetables produced on the facility, and also higher value livestock such as prawns, crabs, and groupers.
In her dreams of creating a community that will look out for the youth, Sy has created an enterprise that pioneered the commercial-scale recirculating aquaculture in the Philippines and fosters sustainability as well as food security.
For more information, email Elisa Claire Sy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Elisa Claire Sy.
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s March to April 2021 issue.