Belize gearing up for Tilapia bonanza, thanks to generous help from Taiwan.

Minister Rene Montero and Ambassador David Wu sign agreement.; Tilapia is a remarkable fresh-water fish, which grows to full maturity in six months. They thrive in the tropical waters of Belize and have become a favoured fish, even in restaurants and hotels. Tilapia has become the seventh most important fish in aquaculture, with production reaching 1.5 million tons in 2010.

In the future, Belizeans living in rural areas should have an ample supply of fish protein from tilapia in their diet, thanks to a five-year aquaculture development project being undertaken by the government of Belize with technical support from the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Hon. René Montero signed an agreement to implement the project with the Republic of China’s Ambassador in Belize, H.E. David Wu, at the Taiwanese Embassy in Belize City on Monday, February 13.

The project will make small-scale tilapia farming a recognized and permanent feature of the agriculture sector in Belize.

The agreement calls for a tilapia hatchery center to be built at Central Farm, to be completed this year.

This initial phase of the project will increase production of tilapia fingerlings from 110,000 to 1 million units by the end of the five-year project period.

It will produce 200,000 fingerlings in 2012; 300,000 fingerlings in 2013; 500,000 fingerlings in 2014; 700,000 fingerlings in 2015 and finally achieve 1 million fingerlings by 2016.

This should also reduce the price farmers pay for the fingerlings by at least 20%–from US$0.75 to US$ 0.60 a pound by the end of the five years.

The second phase of the project will focus on increasing tilapia production throughout the country. The third phase will improve the marketing of tilapia.

An aquaculture specialist from Taiwan will also help the Ministry of Agriculture to develop alternative feeds for tilapia culture, replacing commercial feeds by as much as 30-35%. The specialist and the ministry will organize a tilapia farmers’ marketing cooperative and build a processing center to help sell tilapia on the local market, creating a demand as farmers increase their production.

The agreement is a follow-up to a request made by Ministers Montero, Mark Pech and Hon. Edmund Castro in April 2010, for Taiwan help to develop small to medium-scale aquaculture ventures in Belize.

The International Cooperation and Development Fund of the Republic of China (Taiwan ICDF) had sent its project manager to Belize to prepare the agreement and project plan in April 2011 after assessments made by successive Taiwanese delegation of investors in June 2009, and aquaculture specialists in July 2010, to assess the potential of the industry and environment in Belize.

These delegations concluded that Belize had suitable land and water resources readily available, which offered great opportunities for the development of freshwater aquaculture.

Monday’s agreement fulfills a promise made by Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou during his state visit to Belize in May 2009, when he promised Prime Minister Dean Barrow that Taiwan would help Belize develop tilapia farming.

The Reporter