Norwegian and Brazilian aquaculture companies establish technological co-operation
A fast-growing industry in Brazil, aquaculture is expected to create multiple business opportunities in the next few years – and Norwegian companies plan to get involved in every field of tilapia production, reports Eduardo Campos Lima.
In 2018, Innovation Norway, the government agency for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry, and the Brazilian Association of Pisciculture (Peixe BR) established a co-operation agreement and started to build partnerships based around technology and operating systems between companies from both countries.
The main focus of the Brazilian tilapia producers is to increase the efficiency of their plants with technological solutions offered by the Norwegian companies, said Francisco Medeiros, head of Peixe BR.
“We need their technological contribution in order to improve our competitiveness. If we just wait for the development of technology in Brazil, we will miss the boat,” he said.
The contact between Norwegians and Brazilians was first established in 2017, when Stein-Gunnar Bondevik from Innovation Norway sought out Peixe BR.
“We already had a very strong co-operation with Brazil in oil and gas. Having worked in this industry for several years, I knew the aquaculture sector very well and saw several possibilities there,” he recalled. A highly prominent industry sector in Norway, fish production is a highly automated industry, with numerous companies offering intelligent solutions for production, processing, and filleting, whereas in Brazil all these production phases depend on having a large workforce available.
After a few meetings and seminars, delegations from both countries visited the premises of their counterparts and learned about the particularities and specifics of each other’s industries, expressing their willingness to working together. In the end of 2018, the first agreement was signed between Brazilian Grupo Ambar Amaral, a company with operations in tilapia production, feeding, and freezing, and Norwegian seafood processing solutions company Bjørdal. Other contracts are still being negotiated.
Stein-Gunnar Bondevik explained that the innovation contract is entirely mediated by Innovation Norway.
“A Brazilian company identifies a problem that it needs to solve and a high-tech company develops a solution that it can apply. The costs are partially funded by the company and up to 50% by Innovation Norway. The condition is that it is a scalable solution,” he said. The Brazilian company is not obliged to buy the solution in the end of the agreement. The Innovation Norway funds are provided as a grant, so the Norwegian entrepreneur does not have to pay it back after the contract is concluded.
“I am working in both countries to make people aware of these possibilities,” Stein-Gunnar Bondevik said.
“We asked them that all agreements should be signed on a business-to-business basis, without the participation of the government,” said Peixe BR’s Francisco Medeiros, commenting that his concern was that red tape could become an obstacle to co-operation.
“On our side, we had to see what we could immediately bring to Brazil and what would need more studies,”Stein-Gunnar Bondevik, adding that Norway is a world leading producer of salmon, and not every technology can be directly applied to the production of other fish varieties. He pointed out that water treatment solutions and processing technologies are some of the elements that can be more easily adapted.
According to Antonio Ramon Amaral, one of the owners of Grupo Ambar Amaral, the critical process in his company is filleting.
“Nowadays, we produce about 30 tonnes of tilapia each day, employing 250 staff. In one Norwegian company I visited, a hundred employees process 600 tonnes of fish daily,” he said.
His company has recently acquired a filleting machine from a Brazilian manufacturer and intends to analyse its capabilities and problems over the 18-month collaboration with Bjørdal. By June, 2020, the new system provided by the Norwegian company will be fully operational.
“They hired two engineers that will study deeply our operations,” he said. “We plan to cut at least 20% of our costs at the conclusion of this co-operation.”
The search for efficiency is not a minor issue for Brazilian companies right now. Although their potential growth is substantial, they face competition from countries such Ecuador, where productivity is much higher.
“Our company currently does not export its production - Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica have very aggressive prices in the US market,” Antonio Ramon Amaral said.
Brazilian aquaculture grew by 8% in 2017, with a production of 700,000 tonnes of fish. According to Francisco Medeiros, companies requested government licenses and are waiting for permission to produce another 3 million tonnes per year.
“Each tonne of fish requires the investment of £740 in freezing equipment and of £950 in other equipment. So we are talking of at least £5 billion when these licenses are issued,” he stated, adding that Peixe BR also estimates that Brazilian aquaculture will have a two-digit growth each year over the next decade.
“Per capita fish consumption in South America is the lowest in the world, with 9.8kg/year. In Brazil alone, per capita chicken consumption corresponds to 40kg/year. We want to grow at least to that level,” he said.
The co-operation with Norwegian companies has attracted the attention of other countries, according to Francisco Medeiros. But the Norwegians got in with a head start.
“I think Brazil is going to be an aquaculture superpower in a few years, given that not many countries have the water resources Brazil has,” concluded Stein-Gunnar Bondevik.
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