To establish and operate four national centers of the Department of Agriculture-National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (DA-NFRDI) as Aqua Business Schools (ABS) and venues for Technology Business Incubation (TBI), a project launching and ceremonial stocking were conducted on April 13, 2023, at the NFRDI-Freshwater Fisheries Research and Development Center (FFRDC) in Taal, Batangas.

ABS-TBI is a three-year program funded by NFRDI that seeks to capacitate chosen fish farmer-beneficiaries from 10 regions of the country to become successful entrepreneurs in various commodities, including milkfish, tilapia, catfish, maliputo, ornamental fish, sea cucumber, abalone, freshwater prawn, and mangrove crab.

“A total of 16 packages of technologies (POTs) with 70 fisherfolk beneficiaries will benefit from ABS-TBI. The POTs through the village-level strategy will help ensure sustainable food supply for the community, eventually benefitting the whole country,” shared NFRDI Executive Director Dr. Lilian C. Garcia.

Yung mga mature technologies na nanggagaling sa NFRDI, BFAR, at SEAFDEC, yun po ang ating ibinababa sa mga fisherfolk para mas lalo pang ma-enhance ang kanilang techniques sa pag-aalaga ng mga commodities na ito at mas lalo pang mapalago ang industriya ng aquaculture,” said Dr. Maria Theresa Mutia, Scientist I, FFRDC chief, and ABS-TBI program leader.

From fish stocking to harvesting, the program will provide training and other capacity-building activities, as well as the provision of agricultural inputs. “For two cycles, we commit to provide for all their expenses and technical assistance hanggang sa maipagpatuloy nila sa mga susunod pang pag-ani. After two cycles, we expect they will be able to sustain their business,” added Dr. Mutia.

“In 2022, the aquaculture sector contributed 54.13% or more than half of the country’s total fisheries production. This [ABS-TBI] program is a powerful reinforcement to the government’s effort to further maximize the potential of the aquaculture industry in ensuring sustainable fish production, the livelihood of fisherfolk, and national food security. The DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) assures that whatever we will achieve in this program will be sustained,” said Atty. Demosthenes Escoto, DA-BFAR national director.

The training program covers entrepreneurship topics such as marketing, financial statements, and record keeping. “Sa aming mga previous projects, napansin namin na ang mga nag-nenegosyo na fish farmers ay hindi gaanong maalam sa record keeping. Hindi tuloy nila masigurado kung kumikita sila o nalulugi na,” said Dr. Mutia.

The program aims to facilitate smooth business conduct by linking all actors involved in the fish farming value chain, from producers to consumers. Additionally, the program aims to empower fish farmers by giving them a voice in the market price.

Aside from ABS-TBI, three research projects at FFRDC were also launched, namely: 1) Verification of CLSU’s Aquashading Technology in Different Agro-climatic Conditions, 2) Role of Type VI Secretion System during Shrimp Infection of Vibrio spp.-causing Acute Hepatopancreatic Necrosis Diseases (AHPND), and 3) Grow-out culture of Whiteleg Shrimp and Pompano.

“We are happy and proud that the aqua business school-technology business incubation program is being launched here in the heritage town of Taal,” exclaimed Mayor Fulgencio Mercado of Taal, Batangas.

“Taal fisherfolk have benefitted from the programs of NFRDI… What you give to the people is not limited to modern ways of fisheries, more importantly, you are giving them hope, and that hope will shape the future they will look forward to. The best part is that NFRDI is part of the future,” he added.

The four national centers of NFRDI are FFRDC, Marine Fisheries Research and Development Center (MFRDC) in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Brackishwater Fisheries Research and Development Center (BFRDC) in Lala, Lanao del Norte, and DA-Fisheries Biotechnology Center (DA-FBC) in Munoz, Nueva Ecija.

Dr. Casiano Choresca, Jr., Scientist I and center chief of BFRDC and DA-FBC, encouraged opening NFRDI research centers to the fish farmers. He concluded the launching activity by telling the incubatees, “Now that you’ve heard our good news, bring it to your neighborhood and spread the word.”

The ABS-TBI program is in collaboration with BFAR Central Office, BFAR Regional Offices 1, CAR, 3, 4A, 4B, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10, Provincial Fishery Offices (PFOs), local government units (LGUs), Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center/Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC/AQD), and Manila Economic and Cultural Office–Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (MECO-TECO).

Also present during the launching were BFAR 4A Regional Director Sammy Malvas, NFRDI-MFRDC Chief Nonita Cabacaba, fisherfolk beneficiaries from different parts of the country attending on-site and online, and NFRDI personnel. (Cyrenes Moncawe)