letter-from-americaI have been on the road for a while now – although in the air would be more accurate. It is an odd thing to spend so much time away from home. Though you are on a wonderful continent, Africa, you still miss the comforts of home. Rachel, my wife, and I have tacked on a holiday to a business trip I needed to make to South Africa and Mozambique. We added a short trip to Botswana, which was lovely, comfortable and very exciting, including a close encounter with a bull elephant in a bad mood! It all takes your mind away from work and makes you realise how different the world is.

In fish farming we always worry about logistics. How do we get the feed or equipment from here to there and how do we keep it in good condition in transit and when it gets there? Imagine a camp, 40 miles from the nearest tarred road, mostly supplied by air and you will start to see the same sort of problems we face but much worse. Food goes off in a day. Milk left out has to be on a bed of ice or it will go off so fast you cannot use it when your tea is ready to pour. So many issues and so much prediction required. I was asking a young manager at one of the camps what his main problems were. He replied that the unpredictability of guests made his job extremely difficult. {I wondered if he was looking at me when he said it.} But some of the problems he was talking about were so simple but so insoluble. He said the most frequent problem is that groups of guests seem to order the same drink or the same food in batches, so he suddenly finds that he can’t match supply to meet demand. This makes his ordering a nightmare. Oh I know that this is not the same as our ordering issues but there are parallels. Imagine how difficult it must be for him to get what he has just run out of when the guests are sitting around the campfire getting impatient. Seeing all the complication he faces made me glad that we are fish farmers.

Then, just before we left, our vehicle broke down while we were driving in the wildlife park. We were driving across country looking for leopard when the engine made a rather expensive noise and died. Rachel and I and the driver exchanged glances and then he got onto the radio. The description of where we were was so convoluted that I couldn’t recognise it – and I was there. We waited and watched and then noticed that a rather grumpy looking group of elephants was coming our way. Luckily they did not seem to be grumpy with us and another vehicle came and picked us up. It reminded me so much of our own engineering team and how they always get where they are needed, fixing things out in the open, keeping us running and giving us the confidence to push on. The next morning not only was the vehicle back at the shelter but it was repaired and ready to go.

Now I am in Mozambique at Aquapemba, the company we got involved with as investors and advisers over two years ago. We are finalising the plans for processing and harvesting. Like most fish farmers, I can remember the first harvest I was involved in and how complicated and difficult it seemed.  In Pemba, Mozambique, logistics are a nightmare. Getting things by truck takes days and days and there is very limited availability of anything locally, except sea, sand, mud and trees. That may be an exaggeration but it is fundamentally true. Rather like the young manager at the safari camp – unless someone has predicted that it will be needed, you are unlikely to be able to get it.

Our challenge is to finalise how to process, chill and deliver fresh fish in temperatures of 30 degrees or more – and we have to make it happen in a remote part of Africa. It is a testing time.

pemba_bayNevertheless, I should point out that the farm is growing absolutely beautiful Dusky Kob at a good feed conversion rate and we will soon be ready to harvest. The first Pemba Bay Kob should be in the market during the next couple of months. When they arrive and the chefs find them fantastic, as I know they will, no one will realise the incredibly hard work and determination that has gone into the seemingly simple acts of harvesting, gutting and transporting.

Africa adds a new dimension to fish farming. Sure the fish grow faster and there is plenty of keen, enthusiastic labour – but the logistics will drive you potty!!

Too late for you, some will say – and I can do nothing but agree!

Nick Joy