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In this article, we continue publishing materials regarding the fish industry of Kazakhstan. We talked about general problems of the industry in our previous publications  (interview with Sungat Batyrbekov, the chairman of the council for the strategic development of the company "Rybprom", December 2017). And today we will discuss the development of aquaculture and production of feed. SerikTimirkhanov, deputy director of the "Aqua Alliance" company, which is the only producer of extruded feed for fish, will be answering our questions today. Our expert is a professional ichthyologist and deputy chairman of the board of the National Association of fisheries of Kazakhstan "Kazakhrybkhoz".

Serik, can you tell us please, why the development of aquaculture is thought to be the most promising direction of the fish industry?

Over the past twenty years, the world has been experiencing an explosive growth of aquaculture, which is industrial cultivation of commercial fish in artificial reservoirs, such as ponds, cages, pools, closed water supply installations, etc. It is attributed to the fact that resources of the world ocean are limited, therefore, the fishing volumes have not increased the last decades. Meanwhile, the population of the planet is increasing from year to year, and people's needs invaluable protein contained in fish should be somehow met. Thanks to the development of aquaculture this task has been achieved.

In 80-s of the last century, only one-third of the total amount of consumed fish in the world was artificially cultivated fish, but today this figure is about 50%. According to the FAO, it is expected that by 2020 two thirds of the fish sold will be artificially cultivated. In some countries, the amount of artificial production has already exceeded the figures for fisheries. And this trend has affected not only the fishing industry - livestock and poultry products sold on the roofs of markets are supplied by farms specialized in industrial production

- And what about the development of aquaculture in Kazakhstan?

- I would say that aquaculture in our country is in its infancy. Very few amounts of fish are cultivated today. This is because there are a lot of natural reservoirs in Kazakhstan, where fisheries operate. The second reason is weak fish consumption in our country, where red meat is traditionally given a priority.

However, our country has been experiencing a catastrophic decline in natural fishing in the past few decades. For instance, in 1991 the fishing industry produced 100 000 tons of fish per year, and 10 000 in an artificial way. In 2015 only 35 000 tons of fish were caught, which is almost three times lower. Only 700 tons of fish are artificially cultivated. In other words, the situation has considerably deteriorated. Although fishery and aquaculture are two interdependent elements if the production of fisheries declines, the amount of artificially cultivated fish should grow. But we have not seen that correlation.

Meanwhile, aquaculture is actively developing in neighbor countries, such as Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan. For instance, last Uzbek fishing enterprises produced 75 000 tons of fish. But we have just begun to realize the importance of this sphere.

- But "Aqua Alliance" specializes in the production of feed for artificial cultivation of fish. How did you decide to that step under poor market conditions in Kazakhstan?

- The feed is a basis in the development of aquaculture as in many spheres of animal production. The amount and quality of feed are extremely important in artificial cultivation of fish, as huge numbers of fish should be fed. For instance, 1 kg of feed is needed to cultivate 1 kg of trout.

"Aqua Alliance" in its newly built factory (2015)  produces extruded feed for various sorts of fish. Farmers cultivate rainbow trout, sturgeon, carp, shrimp, tilapia, African catfish using our feed. We have easily occupied a free niche and nowadays we export our products to Russia (more than 40% of our consumers are Russian fishing companies), Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Belarus, and Armenia. I hope, that fisheries, the number of which is increasing steadily, will be actively developing, given the fact that there is a plant in Kazakhstan. which produces high-quality feed for affordable prices. Good prices and quality are achieved thanks to the fact, that our production predominantly uses local raw materials - fish meal, vegetable oil, minerals, yeast, waste products from wheat, corn, soy.

- How did you end up creating such a facility?

- The thing is, our parent company, Rybprom processes waste from its fish production into fish meal, which is a key ingredient of fish feed. And we decided to create a cycle, some sort of waste-free production. Waste goes for producing fishing meal, which goes, in turn, to feed, feed is used for cultivation of fish, which goes to the production of fish products, and waste again goes fishing meal. It is a global trend, when wastes of fish production and small fish, which is not used for consumption, are used for the production of fish meal.

We analyzed the state of aquaculture and feed production in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We also visited several large feed production factories in Turkey, Russia, Finland. We took part in training in the company "Wenger" (USA) which is considered one of the leading enterprises in the production of extruders. In the summer of 2013, we established Aqua Alliance in a bare steppe, formed a team of high professionals, created an assortment of products. We began with feed for trout, sturgeon, and carp, as at that time these kinds of fish were very popular among Kazakhstani farmers.

We are constantly expanding a range of products. Last year we started to produce medical feed (with probiotics and antibiotics), feed for clavium (African), catfish, tilapia, canal catfish. Also, we started to produce special feed. For instance, feed for coloring fish meat - salmon, salmon, trout. The color of their meat becomes red through using special natural feed, which contains natural coloring elements. We support the project on the creation of locally produced probiotic.

- How do you control the quality of products?

- The company complies with international production standards. The factory is equipped with the latest technologies. Undoubtedly it is of great importance, but the quality of feed depends on raw materials. We are convinced of the quality of the fish meal offered by the company "Rybprom". We always keep in touch with other suppliers of raw materials, 95% of which produced locally.  We purchase corn gluten from local enterprises - two starch-syrup plants. Soy and sunflower meal, vegetable oil also comes from Kazakhstani companies.  Our feed contains a lot of  Kazakhstani grain components - wheat, bran, flour. This year we are going to launch our fat-burning workshop. Only fish oil, blood meal and vitamins are imported from Russia. Samples of raw materials are analyzed in our laboratories. Additionally, all new samples are sent to the international laboratory of Evonik company for analysis. Each set of ready products is also analyzed, and we order the analysis in two independent laboratories at the same time.

Samples of all batches of feed are stored in our storage just in case if the quality of products will be questioned. Now we have organized a small aquarium laboratory for testing new feed recipes.

In this way, we support our local produces. On the other hand, Kazakh products are cheaper than European, excluding logistics expenses. And much more environmentally friendly. For instance, our feed is still based on fish meal, while in the West such fisheries opt to for soy protein. Representatives of one of the leading feed producers officially stated that they created a feed for salmon, which contains no fish meal - the only ingredient is soy. Kazakhstani feed, in this respect, is of better quality.

- Could you claim that the Aqua Alliance factory on its own meets needs of the region's fisheries?

- Indeed, there is no factory in Kazakhstan like ours, only a little workshop. When we started our activity only one factory complying with the international standards had been working in Russia. Now there are 2 factories in that country. We successfully compete with them. Kyrgyzstan has only one workshop, created jointly with Russians, but it meets only a small part of domestic needs. Uzbeks are planning to build a big factory on production of feed for the fishing industry with the participation of European investors, but so far they do not have their own feed. That's why we do not have many competitors.

It should be noted that in the past 25 years foreign seed producers were dominating in the regional market. Definitely, feed prices were high, which discouraged the development of aquaculture in the region. But we turned the tide, we are very proud that we could start local production. Our efforts pay off. Sales figure and geography of our market have been growing annually. Due to the fact that our key customers are fisheries of the South Siberia region, located next to Kazakhstan, we opened the representative office of our company in Moscow. Aqua Alliance appreciates the trust of its Russian clients.

We are continuously working on enhancing the capacity of the company, as the number of customers goes up. We are very busy, and we have many orders, farmers are lining up. And I would not say that our products are cheap. It is impossible to make it cheap in our conditions. As in many countries feed production for the fishing industry is subsidized by a government, which is weird. The Republican Association of Fisheries of the Republic of Kazakhstan "Kazakhrybkhoz" has been making efforts to change such an unfair situation in the market, but unsuccessfully. We should note that fisheries were incorporated into agriculture producers only in 2010. Before that time, the sector had been developing as a common business, enterprises had been paying taxes, and had not had the opportunity to get the state's support.

Today we produce feed, which is very attractive in terms of quality and price for local farmers, compared to the feed of European producers. There are still foreign companies in our market because we do not yet produce some sorts of feed such as feed the larvae of fish,  so-called starter feed, the production of which is associated with great responsibility and risk. Aqua Alliance strictly follows the principle of quality in production, that's why we do not make hasty decisions. But we are working on that, and in the nearest future, when we get to experience, the company plans to begin production of starter feed.

- Which difficulties do you face and what are your plans?

- The biggest one is personal. Kazakhstani institutions simply do not train the specialists needed for our production. Russia also lacks such employees. Initially, we recruited Turkish technologists, but gradually we ourselves trained graduates of the Almaty Technological University. In this way, the team of the company has been formed.

In a short-term, we are going to increase feed production - to develop a new direction for the company's activity.  I'm talking about establishing our own aquaculture enterprise, where we will be cultivating trout. We already have land with water resources. The expected capacity is 200 ton of fish every year.

Another sphere of our activity is consulting, specifically technical, technological and fish-breeding services to businesses of the fishing industry. We give advice, consult, share our knowledge and practices, help in establishing new enterprises. We frequently accept Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Russian farmers in our factory. Our company offers  fishing equipment - aerators and feeders for pond and commercial fisheries, as well as cage lines. "Aqua Alliance" is the official representative of the leading companies, producing equipment for fisheries, such as Turkish "AkvaKare" and Russian "".

We support the non-university educational program entitled "Fish feeding and feed" of the National Business Chamber "Atameken". Participants include representatives of existing fisheries, and those, who want to start a business in fish production.  In 2017 students and instructors of the Kazakh National Agriculture University and Al - Farabi Kazakh National University took part in training workshops. These seminars are a great opportunity for farmers to meet professionals and become better acquainted with feed and proper ways of feeding fish. As for students, it is an opportunity to get to know modern feed production processes.

- Which "product project" does Aqua Alliance offer to its clients?

- We invite regional fisheries for cooperation. The idea is next. Fisheries wanting to purchase feed should pay with fish. What I mean is that we are ready to buy commercial fish (trout, sturgeon, tilapia, catfish) from our clients at fixed prices. Why this project is beneficial for fishing companies? They are guaranteed to get feed to sell their products at agreed prices, moreover, farmers should worry about where to buy feed and how to sell their fish. Such products are quite popular in many countries in Europe and South-East Asia. They can work in our country too! Thanks to the participation in such projects enterprises get a chance to increase production and profits as a result.

- "Rybprom" and "Aqua Alliance" companies are actively promoting aquaculture. Why?

- We intend to create an enabling business environment in the fishing industry of Kazakhstan. We consult potential farmers on creating new enterprises for free. Our group of companies hosted the third International Fishing Forum "KazAqua 2017". The Forum was aimed at creating a platform to facilitate cooperation among fish producers, farmers, representatives of catering businesses and trade networks. By taking part in this event producers could establish links with suppliers of raw materials, while for fishing farms the Forum could provide new opportunities for sales of their products. In this Autumn we are going to organize the IV International Forum "KazAqua 2018" in order to attract investments to this field.

We are concerned about the fact that aquaculture is not developed yet. According to official statistics, only 2 000 tons of fish are cultivated in the country. We believe that the size of the market is at least 40 000 tons of fish per year. The market is willing to accept such amounts. And the government has started to support this direction. We know and believe that aquaculture is the future of the fishing industry, and we are doing our best to contribute to its development in Kazakhstan and the region.

We have made a great success and we believe that new accomplishments lie ahead.