FOR THREE YEARS, 38-year-old Alfredo Rutao of Guagua, Pampanga, worked as an air-conditioning technician in Saudi Arabia. Then he went to Guam where he worked for eight years. First as an air-conditioning technician also and then in business for himself and a partner. They did advertising signs.
Working abroad was not his cup of tea, however. Fred had always longed to come back to the Philippines to become an entrepreneur.
BACK TO PH – So in 1993 he did come back. He had a modest saving of about P280,000 but he did not really have a particular project in mind. He had earlier acquired, however, a one-hectare rice field which he bought with his savings from his stint in Saudi Arabia. That’s why he thought he would have to go into something related to farming.
Somebody told him that raising tilapia was profitable. So, even without studying the basics of growing the fish, he constructed two ponds and bought fingerlings for stocking.
STUNTED – He remembers that he started with 30,000 fingerlings which he bought for P15,000.His tilapia multiplied but they did not grow into the marketable sizes he had expected. The tilapia gave birth to fingerlings and they were stunted because they were overcrowded.
He harvested them anyway, and sold the marketable ones. He sold his tilapia for exactly P18,000 after growing them for more than three months. The extra P3,000 which he realized was probably not enough to compensate for his labor and other expenses. So he thought tilapia growing was not lucrative after all. He probably could not support his growing family with that kind of income.
HE DIDN’T GIVE UP – However, he is not one who is easily discouraged. In his own words, he does not easily lose his fighting spirit. The P280,000 he brought home from Guam was getting exhausted, thanks to the cost of developing the ponds and his family’s daily requirements. However, he did not entertain giving up his tilapia project because he knew he did not do the right things at the start.
He confessed that he went into tilapia culture without studying the business thoroughly. So he focused his attention at learning the various aspects of tilapia farming. He visited private farms and research institutions such as the Central Luzon State University in Nueva Ecija where they are doing a lot of research in inland fish culture. He enrolled in seminars and read everything about the fish.
FINGERLINGS RIGHT FOR HIM – After studying the different aspects of of the venture, he decided that he would specialize in the production of fingerlings for sale instead of growing out the fish for the market.
He had very good reasons to believe that fingerling production was more lucrative for one under his circumstances. He had only a one-hectare property so he would not be able to really produce a lot of fish for the market. If he concentrated in fingerling production, he knew he could produce even millions of fingerlings that could be sold to other tilapia raisers in just a matter of a few weeks instead of waiting for more than three months in the case of a grow-out operation. Also, fingerlings consume very little feed so he does not have to spend much on feeds. Poachers, if there are any in the barrio, would not be interested to steal the small fish.
QUALITY BREEDERS – What he did was to source sell selected breeders from the Central Luzon State University so that he would be assured of high quality fingerlings. He bought 3,000 of the Nilotica variety, 2,000 of which were females.
He was not at all mistaken in his belief that he would succeed in his venture after learning the different aspects of the tilapia business. He disclosed that after only 11 months from the time he started his fingerling production, he had already recovered the P280,000 he spent developing his farm.
He explained that the fingerlings would become sexually mature and start spawning three to four months from stocking. He remembers that during the first spawning, he harvested only 40,000 marketable fingerlings. Twenty days later, the harvest reached 80,000 fingerlings. On the third, he got 150,000. By the fourth spawning, the 2,000 females could already produce 1.5 million fingerlings.
He sells his fingerlings at 35 centavos those that are Size 17 (about three-fourths inch), for Size 14 (about 1.5 inches) which is highly suitable for cage culture, and 55 centavos each for the oversized which is more than 1.5 inches long.
In the market, the very small fingerlings (Size 20 to 22) sell for 20 centavos each. However, he doesn’t sell his fingerlings at such sizes. He points out that he has only to take care of them for two more weeks and the price would already double.
He studied meticulously the requirements of his breeders so they will perform well. After every spawning, for instance, he would condition the female breeders. He would separate them from the males and give them full feeding for two weeks to make them strong. He explains that when they are in the breeding ponds, their feeding should be controlled so that they will produce more eggs.
Fred has not only studied the production aspects of tilapia. He also carefully studied how to market the fingerlings as well as the grow-out tilapia. To make sure that he has a ready market for his fingerlings, he has been teaching inexperienced tilapia growers how to grow their fish properly, emphasizing the right water quality, proper feeding and even helps them in marketing.
He knows that if the other growers succeed, they would most likely expand their operation and would buy more fingerlings from him. Today, Fred is helping tilapia growers in Lubao, Sta. Rita, Floridablanca, Dau and of course in his hometown of Guagua. He makes additional income from selling the harvest of his cooperators.
It takes thorough knowledge of the nature of the fish to be successful, according to Fred. In the matter of feeding, for instance, he recommends the feeding of the fish in the growing ponds four to five times a day instead of just two times. You give the same amount of feed required but at more frequent intervals. He explains that when you feed the fish just two times a day, you tend to give the feed in big doses. Not all the feed would be consumed, hence a lot would be wasted.
Aside from fingerling production, he has also set aside a small portion of his property for grow-out operation. He and his cooperators follow the intensive method of production, stocking 30,000 to 40,000 per hectare. With proper feeding, the fish would be marketable in 90 days. In this growing period, the tilapia would already be 200 to 250 grams each.
Fred says that he has found the right project for himself it is something he loves to do and which gives him a good return for his time, efforts and capital. Business is so good that he has just rented an idle 8,000-sq.m. fishpond in the neighborhood for the production of more fingerlings.
His advice to people who would want to go into agribusiness is to study the chosen project thoroughly before plunging. Then keep on studying and talking to people in the industry. In fact up to this day Fred keeps on attending seminars on tilapia because there are always new developments to be learned.