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Digital Aquaculture

Gibran Huzaifah taps into the cloud to optimise fish feeding and farming practices.

It was a course on aquaculture at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) that inspired Gibran Huzaifah to develop his interest in the field at a professional level. As a student, he tells us, he had a few micro businesses in fish hatcheries and saw, upon graduation in 2012 with a degree in Biological Sciences, the potential in combining his interest in fish farming with technology. Encouraged by the many tech-centered startups emerging around the country at the time, Gibran developed an app with the intention of helping fish farmers increase their productivity sustainably by reducing the amount of feed they needed to use. With other tech-focused start ups emerging around him— and bolstered by solid financial backing from such venture capitalists as Ideosource and Aquaspark—eFishery was born. This IoT (internet of things) startup is unique on many fronts not least because it is also one of the first in Indonesia to receive venture funding.

At its core, eFishery aims to solve the issue of fish feeding. "Currently it's 70-90 per cent of the total cost," Gibran says. "It's mostly done by manual labour and fish farmers don't measure the feed efficiently. Ultimately it hurts profitabilty of the business and the environment as the water quality  is degraded," he notes. eFishery addresses this issue with a machine that dispenses fish feed when necessary and in the right amount so as to yield optimal results. The machine is connected—via the cloud—to the mobile app that transmits a range of data that farmers can use to better control the growth of the fish and the harvest which ultimately will help increase productivity.  "It senses when fish are aggressive which indicates they're hungry," Gibran says. After they're fed, fish tend to be more relaxed. “The information picked up by the machine such as the amount of feed used, the feeding time, are sent back for analytics," he adds about the app that launched in mid 2015.

There are currently more than 1,500 farms— mostly across West Java and Lampung—that currently use the package. 90 per cent of the clients are small holder farmers in rural areas Gibran tells us. It took a while to convince farmers, though but their marketing strategies—and the product—have worked  "We're at the stage where they're demanding it. At first it was hard to convince them as they were using traditional methods. For most of the farmers this was the first time they were using smart phones so we had to train them in smart technology as well, " he notes adding that with the package, farmers now see higher yields in shorter periods of time.

Lone Fish in the Sea

In every way, one could argue that Gibran is a 'disruptor' in the field. eFishery doesn't have any direct competition as such, although there is a timer-based device available from Australia with a significantly prohibitive cost, Gibran says. This means eFishery is most affordable at the moment and best serves Indonesian fish farmers with its app being completely in Indonesian.

For their part, startups are disrupting industry across the board. Gibran notes that what is particularly interesting about them is that they can see problems and provide solutions that are viable and which can be adopted. And, he notes, the process is streamlined via technology which is the main driver of growth across all sectors. “It is important we offer solutions to those at the bottom of the pyramid but also have innovative business models and solutions not available before. Also, ours is not just a machine it's a data solution too” , he says. “It can help farmers sell fish and help them to maintain and refine the operation and connect to the feed manufacturers and buyers to have a better practice and operation. It can't be done without data and tech and that's what we're doing by adding value to the platform”. Being the second largest country for aquaculture (after China), there are several challenges here such as illegal fishing, environmental abuse and more. There is a shift, Gibran notes, in recent years toward more farmed fishing as opposed to fishing in open waters. “2016 was the first time in the world where we produced more fish from farmed sources rather wild caught,” he says.

eFishery extends its assistance to farmers beyond just helping them increase yield. It is currently involved in a pilot project with a major bank in Indonesia whereby the team helps develop credit scores so the banks can better assess the portfolio of farmers looking to borrow money toward business development. The 51-strong Bandung-based company is divided into various departments, each of which works toward the ultimate goal of supporting sustainable aquaculture.

With ocean conservation increasingly become a hot topic on the global environmental stage, eFishery is on board with its research on sustainability and its effects on business as well. Part of the training farmers receive includes education on the environment and the use of mre sustainable practices. “We don't just have a product. We provide ideas and education for the users. If they're educated on the use of technology, it can help them build better models. We want to put the values to the feed manufcaturers as well. We can give this data to the value chain,” Gibran says.

Although the business is focused in Java, South Sumatra, Bali and Lombok at the moment there are plans to eventually expand nationwide and overseas, in particular the Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese markets. Thanks to a grant from USAID, eFishery has begun to test markets in Thailand and Bangladesh. Along with education and research programmes, the app can be used by clients in these markets thanks to translation services, all of which have been aided by the use of local partners.

As global patterns shift, more companies are doing their part to contribute to more sustainable fish farming. Gibran speculates that global fish consumption is likely to rise in the future given the economical benefits of raising fish as opposed to land sources of protein. Feeding then becomes a major issue and he notes a U.S.-based company that has been experimenting with producing fish feed made entirely from bacteria sourced from converted animal waste in its feed. He speculates that if it becomes a global trend, fish meal substitute could be far more sustainable.

Gibran advises those looking to found their own start ups to look beyond the 'cool' factor and look instead at how organisations can improve lives and find solutions that larger cooperations may not be able to achieve. “Ultimately it's about giving value to society.”

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