The Fabulous Fish Farm – a project by Alan Fleming

A fish farm in a container set to transform South Africa’s aquaculture industry? Sounds crazy. But there is one in a township doing just this. And it can be run on solar energy. This is Alan Fleming’s vision and what he’s been working on for the last five years – step by step. Townships are characterized by poverty, poor education and job insecurity. But at the same time, there are people like Alan Fleming, who are fighting to combat this.

Alan, with his academic background as an agronomist, had always been interested in fish farming. Above all, he wanted to improve the living standards in his community. As a director of a business incubator in the township of Philippi in Cape Town, he had been empowering local economic development for many years and five years ago he started to think about micro-intensive fish farming. Developing the project from scratch, he bought himself a batch of fingerlings and grew them in porter pools, naming his project: micro-intensive fish farming.

At first, it might have sounded strange but actually, it turned out to be very effective. Most fish farms are big operations: cumbersome, expensive and space-intensive – but not Alan’s tanks.

Designing a Fish Farm and Social Impact

Although it all sounded simple, it has taken Alan a long time to get his project where it is today and Alan has had to master several challenges along the way. These included technical problems such as determining the most efficient shape for the tanks and finding the best food for the fish; dealing with daily power cuts and the hardest task, reducing the complexity of running a Fish Farm to a point where families can run the daily operations. Furthermore the design and implementation of the tanks had to fulfill five very important criteria: The tanks have to be modular, lockable, transportable, affordable and profitable.

Originally Alan designed his micro fish tanks to attain food security in the township. And this is where he came across his next hurdle: Learning that those living in the townships don’t eat fish. This was a shame because the micro-fish farm delivers 2-4 tons of tilapia annually. Alan even managed to find a solution to this problem: He focused on securing income by selling to restaurants and wholesalers.

The high-quality tilapia, coming from a local ecological source, is much sought-after. Due to the moderate price of the fish, it is an affordable alternative and healthy protein supply. Also, communities can play a part in the production of food for the fish (for example,by providing produce from maggot farms, snail farms, and algae farms), as well as, in the filleting and packaging services. Each Fish Farm can bring 1-5 people into economic productivity.

Future Outlook

Through perseverance, Alan found suitable partners to realize his idea. The first roll-out will be based in Pelican Park, a new quarter in Cape Town where people previously living in shacks are given houses by the government, while others buy or build their own. The Ruben Richards Foundation realized the importance of community-driven development in the quarter, and supported Alan’s idea straight away. The Foundation has included the Fish Farm in its development plan, as a project offering professional training and jobs that create regular income and a revenue stream for the community. Support provided by the empowering people. Network has helped to publicize his project further.

Although Alan has carried through his project, despite many obstacles, he has had to accept one change in his original plan: the first commercially sized Fish Farm in a township will be not be in containers, but in a fenced area on the ground, in basins with tunnels. Nevertheless, he has managed to establish a sustainable aquaculture business in poor urban and rural communities. These secure jobs and income, as well as contribute to sustainable cities. Alan’s idea of a small operation adapted to the local context made sense right away, and it’s become a great success.

This is just an extract of the *real* story of Alan Fleming. This story has been told as part of a storytelling project of the Siemens Stiftung. The art of storytelling is an innovative method for changing communications and understandings of what we see, listen or know to be true. Social entrepreneurs can use storytelling to reach out to his or her network of investors, customers, and other stakeholders and to get new insights in his or her corporate development. Read the full story on: