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Using tech for good: A former fish farmer on his odyssey to reshape the fishery industry

Written by Sara Mandagie Published on     4 mins read

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Gibran Huzaifah, the CEO of eFishery, shares how he turned trouble-making middlemen into business partners.

Gibran Huzaifah discovered his entrepreneurial spirit when he was in college. By the time he graduated with a bachelor of science from the Bandung Institute of Technology in 2012, he was already managing his own catfish farm with 76 ponds.

That gave him the chance to discover the pain points of the traditional fishery industry in Indonesia. “When the number of fishponds is still small, I can still pay attention to each one. However, as my fishery grew, I needed employees to help me,” Huzaifah said.

When Huzaifah hired staff, he noticed that they performed the same task in slightly different ways. Some even stole fish feed from him to resell for their own profit, cutting his feed with filler. That experience and the motivation to modernize the fishery industry motivated him to develop an automatic feeding mechanism that could be controlled via smartphones. This is all part of Huzaifah’s vision to standardize fishery operations—getting the right amount and concentration of feed into ponds is critical because it accounts for 80–90% of a farm’s overhead. This idea became the foundation of eFishery, which Huzaifah established in 2013.

Now, the “fishtech” startup operates across 120 cities in Indonesia as it seeks avenues of expansion to other countries with rich aquaculture sectors. Its automatic feeding system is said to save up to 21% of the feeding cost, boost productivity, and make it more convenient for farmers to control some aspects of their business remotely using their smartphones.

Huzaifah spoke with Oasis about his process to persuade local farmers to adopt eFishery’s technology, as well as other challenges he faced while digitalizing the traditional industry, which is a pillar of Indonesia’s economy.

Gibran Huzaifah, founder of efishery. Photo courtesy of efishery.
Gibran Huzaifah, founder of eFishery. Photo courtesy of eFishery.

The following interview has been edited and consolidated for brevity and clarity.

Oasis (OS): When you introduced eFishery’s automatic feeder to fish farmers in 2013, what were their reactions?

Gibran Huzaifah (GH): It was a very difficult process. No one accepted our smart feeder in the beginning. Explaining IoT and mobile-based solutions to fish farmers who were not used to smartphones was challenging. I know this because I was the salesperson of our feeder.

Luckily, I was also a fish farmer back then, so I could translate what our feeder can do into their language. For example, I explained to them that they could harvest sooner and the cost for feed could be reduced. Even so, they refused our feeder because they felt comfortable with the way they had done it for decades.

We offered the smart feeder for free so they could try it out and see how it works, but they still rejected it. We didn’t give up easily. Our team of ten kept on visiting fish farms. I remember closing the sale for one feeder took me around 93 days, with a lot of visits to that farmer.

Early development stage, including research and trials to develop various prototypes of automatic fish feeders, with only 3 engineers. Courtesy of eFishery.
Early development stage, including research and trials to develop various prototypes of automatic fish feeders, with only 3 engineers. Courtesy of eFishery.

OS: How did you finally convince the fish farmers to buy your feeder?

GH: We eventually “hacked” the way we approach the fish farmers by hiring local people who already knew them. Our pitch was also never about technology. We used a personal appeal: “Sir, I’m joining a new company, please help me hit my target.” That was quite effective.

The first ten farmers who used our feeder didn’t do it because of the technology. They tried our feeders because they felt pity for us when we kept coming back.

A B2C business can play around with giving discounts, but that doesn’t work for a farming community. These communities are not always transactional, but they value relationship bonds.

After our smart feeder was implemented, that was our chance to prove that our product could really benefit them.

READ THIS: From fish feed to financing, eFishery builds services for Indonesia’s fish farmers

OS: eFishery has been around for eight years. How has it been impacting the welfare of fish farmers?

GH: First, in terms of productivity, fish farmers can harvest fish at a faster rate, which in turn increases their income. Secondly, we create job opportunities by providing access to capital for individuals who want to start or expand farms, as long as their financial track record is good.

Fish farming is normally a labor-intensive job. With our feeder technology, women’s participation increased because the work can be automated by the system. Also, we have seen how our end-to-end services can increase the welfare of the livelihood of fish farmers in rural areas in Indonesia.

OS: What challenges do aquaculture tech startups face in Indonesia? 

GH: Aquaculture in Indonesia is a highly fragmented industry. We cannot rely on digital marketing channels like Google Ads for the acquisition process, simply because it is irrelevant. Indonesia has 34 provinces with different business cultures in each region, so the nature of our business is localized. I learned the hard way that we have to respect the local players, including using the local dialect and building relationships with the middlemen.

In one case, some middlemen poisoned our ponds. After having a discussion with them, we understood that they just want to do business, that they’re also entrepreneurs. So, we found a way to turn them into our local partners because they have the local wisdom, connections, assets, and so on. It has been good partnering with them.

OS: What are the opportunities?

GH: Major challenges come with major opportunities. We have a big market because as long as people eat freshwater fish, whether they are in Indonesia or anywhere else in the world, we can supply the farms where their fish come from.

Our feeders have also been used by more than 6,000 fish farmers across Indonesia. We also have connected more than 1,500 fish farmers to financial institutions. We will continue to grow. We plan to expand to other countries, starting with neighboring countries in ASEAN.

WRITTEN BY

Sara Mandagie

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