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Attract and Train Talent to Drive the Growth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Aquaculture Sector

Benjamin el Barakat
Dec 2021

In this last Aqua Insights blog of 2021, and the last blog that focuses on tilapia in sub-Saharan Africa, we’ll share insights from Angus Collett. Partner at recruiting firm Millar Cameron, Angus is involved in scouting and hiring talent for the many positions that aquaculture companies in sub-Saharan Africa have to fill.

After all, we cannot develop sub-Saharan Africa’s aquaculture sector without investing in attracting and training talent at all levels of the industry; ranging from high-level management positions at big vertically integrated producers to skilled entrepreneurs who run their family-owned farms and vocational positions at farms, hatcheries and feed mills.

We also bring you two articles originally published in last September’s report, An Introduction to Tilapia in Sub-Saharan Africa. First we look at the ambitious work of Larive International’s Aquaculture Academy in Kenya. Then we move to Catherine Twesigye, Marketing Manager at Yalelo Uganda and previously brand manager for Guinness at Diageo Uganda. She’s one of those talented people that will shape the future of sub-Saharan Africa.

Early 2022, we’ll announce and dive into the topic of the next Aqua Insights report – to be published in April 2022. Make sure you subscribe to Aqua Insights as you don’t want to miss out!

Attract and Train Talent to Drive the Growth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Aquaculture Sector

Photo 1: Lake Harvest staff attending a company meeting. Photo credit: Lake Harvest

"While Expats May Need to Lay the Foundations, Companies Need to Build Local Teams to Grow Sustainably"

Having worked for around 8 years producing tilapia and marketing wild-caught fish to Zambian hotels and supermarkets, Angus Collett has seen the Zambian and sub-Saharan African aquaculture industry grow. While he joined Millar Cameron in 2018 to help expand the company’s recruitment business in African agriculture, he quickly got involved in assignments relating to the aquaculture industry both in Africa and other parts of the world. Angus sees it as his task to find talent that is a cultural fit and can work in certain geographies, while at the same time matches the company’s ethos. Not only does he ensure that the staff he hires are the right fit for the company, he also sees to it that it’s the right move for them.

According to Angus, at present, within the tilapia sector of sub-Saharan Africa, companies trying to grow their business still need to look for expats who have successfully built and run tilapia operations elsewhere and who are able to replicate that success in a sub-Saharan African context. Meanwhile, these experts have to fit the culture of the location they’re sent to. While it might be relatively easy to hire local talent from other industries for higher management positions, finding local people with the necessary experience for the technical positions is more of a challenge.

Angus adds that when he speaks about expats, he refers not only to people from other continents but also from other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Cultural differences within the continent can be as big as those between continents. In terms of soft skills, such as leadership style, there are major differences between Eastern and Western Africa. In Eastern Africa, for example, people don’t tend to respond well to commands and an authoritative, top-down approach. They need someone who’s in the works with them and listens to them, who in a subtle way steers them in the right direction. So whether you recruit someone from within or outside sub-Saharan Africa, it’s important to understand their leadership style and whether there’s a cultural fit.

"To make talented people want to work in remote tilapia farms, tilapia companies need to make their job positions as attractive as possible."

While acknowledging the need for foreign talent to grow the aquaculture industry and lay the foundations, Angus also tries to motivate larger companies to develop their internal training and capacity development programs to build strong teams of local staff. This is also significant when looking at costs: the expenses of stationing expats in the remote locations where most sub-Saharan African tilapia farms are located are considerable, if expats are even interested in living there at all.

He acknowledges a real risk for companies investing in training programs: the staff they invest in can be poached by other companies also looking for talent and offering better opportunities and terms of employment. These can be companies in the aquaculture sector or other industries. With so much development happening in the region, there’s simply a lot of competition for finding and hiring talent. However, this can work the other way around, if larger tilapia producers can look at other, more mature sectors, such as poultry and pork, to try and motivate talent from these sectors to cross over and help elevate aquaculture in sub-Saharan Africa to the next level. However, as the talent war is ongoing and tilapia production is often located in isolated areas, companies will have to make it as attractive as possible for any talent to work there. Otherwise, the only option is recruiting and training staff from local communities.

Another challenge facing this recruitment sector is the lack of local talent training in aquaculture at universities. Whereas universities in other parts of the world offer a wide range of specialized aquaculture courses, these studies are scarce in sub-Saharan Africa, both at university and vocational education level. One of the few specialized classes is taught at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. While some African students that graduate in Europe or the US return with their expertise to contribute to the growth of the aquaculture industry, it’s imperative to support African universities in developing specialized courses. And if sub-Saharan African governments really see aquaculture as a sector that can contribute to local economies and food security, they should significantly invest in their educational systems as well.

"With such a shortage of talent to fill all positions at companies that want to grow their production, it’s crucial to plan ahead."

Angus concludes by saying that he would encourage companies in sub-Saharan Africa to align hiring and growth strategies, as they go hand in hand. It’s unfortunate if companies are so focused on their growth strategy that they forget to look for the talent to achieve their goals. Instead of only acting when there’s an urgent need for a new hire, proactively developing hiring strategies 1 or 2 years ahead can help in finding talented staff and have them in place when they’re really needed. Internal training programs can be aligned with this strategy to ensure that local teams can be built and put their training to use as quickly as possible.

"Training Sub-Saharan Africa’s Next Generation of Aquapreneurs"

Attract and Train Talent to Drive the Growth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Aquaculture Sector

Video 1: Aquaculture Academy Campus at Kamuthanga Fish Farm, Kenya. Watch here.

Just like Angus Collet, investors and CEOs of sub-Saharan Africa’s vertically integrated tilapia producers highlight the lack of talent and practical skills as two of the main bottlenecks that prevent the sector from growing. Although expats fill some of the gaps, there’s strong competition among companies to recruit those with managerial and practical knowledge. With staff hopping from one job to the other, companies find it difficult to build strong teams. To increase the available talent pool at all levels of seniority and across the supply chain, people need to be trained to catalyze the next phase of growth of the tilapia sector in sub-Saharan Africa. Some initiatives are already in place, such as the recently launched Aquaculture Academy in Kenya.

To contribute to developing the Eastern African talent pool of “aquapreneurs,” Larive International and Lattice Consulting recently launched the Aquaculture Academy: the first vocational training center for aquaculture. It consists of two campuses: one in Machakos at Kamuthanga Farm, Eastern Africa’s largest recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) farm, and one in Homa Bay, at the premises of local hatchery and cage farmer Jewlet Enterprises. The Aquaculture Academy offers the next generation of aquapreneurs a vocational training across all farming systems, including hatcheries, ponds, cages, and RAS. The goal is to inspire talented individuals to become fish farmers, develop practical skills applicable across the value chain, and eventually operate sustainable and profitable businesses.

Watch the video above for more insight into what the Aquaculture Academy aims for.

"Catherine Twesigye Wants to Make Farmed Tilapia Part of Uganda’s Daily Dish"

Attract and Train Talent to Drive the Growth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Aquaculture Sector

“If we want farmed tilapia to deliver on its promise of being a healthy, sustainable, and affordable protein, it’s not enough to only reduce production costs. Consumers should also be tempted to buy and eat it!” says Catherine Twesigye. “Having tilapia available everywhere year-round is a good start, but we should also convince consumers that locally farmed tilapia is a healthy and tasty fish to put on their plates.” Catherine Twesigye, previously brand manager for Guinness at Diageo Uganda, joined Yalelo Uganda as the Marketing Manager in October 2020 with exactly this mission. We talked to Catherine Twesigye who is one of those talents recruited from another sector and now helps to shape the future of tilapia in sub-Saharan Africa.

"From Promoting Premium Beer to Making Tilapia a Popular Food"

My name is Catherine Twesigye. I’m naturally a problem solver; I don’t settle until I find a solution to whatever I set out to do. My friends call me a go-getter. In my previous role, I was privileged to be the custodian of brands like Guinness that have a global footprint. Under my stewardship, Diageo Uganda won accolades for the best global marketing executions for 2 years running. Uganda also became the fastest growing market for Guinness. After 8 years of transforming Diageo brands, I felt the need to take on new challenges.

It’s exciting to be part of the team at Yalelo Uganda laying the foundations for a multinational to expand into Eastern Africa right from my homeland, Uganda. I’ve also found it very fulfilling to play a role in improving food security in the region, particularly in Uganda where fish plays such an important role in our diet. That feeling you get at the end of the day knowing you’re contributing to putting healthy and affordable food on thousands of tables that night is unmatched.

"I Realized that Tilapia is Much More Sustainable than Chicken"

Before I joined Yalelo Uganda, I wasn’t aware that aquaculture—if done well—is much less harmful to the environment than wild-caught fish and other animal production systems. I thought farmed tilapia was comparable to chicken and other meat in terms of environmental footprint. Guess what? I was wrong! Tilapia farming has a much lower carbon footprint, and a much lower water usage and land-use footprint than cattle or poultry.

Sustainability touches every area of the business; from the coolant we use in the fridges to the source of the maize in our feed. To give a few examples, we monitor dozens of water quality parameters on a daily basis to ensure our impact on the water is not more than the lake can handle, we have proper animal welfare protocols, and we know our feed supply chain is sustainable because all feed comes from our own group’s feed factory Aller Aqua Zambia. Our guiding principles are the Aquaculture Stewardship Council standards and IFC Performance Standards, and we work with several local and international experts to ensure those are met.

"In Uganda, Tilapia is Accessible Daily at Any Moment"

I also didn’t know that it was possible to have access to fresh fish whenever you want. Fish often used to be sold through roadside and makeshift stalls that are difficult to find, not very clean and can often have no stock. Because of the hassle of finding good fish at a fair price, most families would consume fish only at the weekend, on special occasions, or when they were at the beach. The Yalelo shops we’ve established throughout the country have completely turned that model on its head: consumers can now find really fresh fish near their homes for a fair price every day. And if going to the shop isn’t possible, we offer a paid motorbike delivery service and very soon we’ll onboard experienced e-commerce partners with a larger reach. We’ve solved the problem of fish availability! This benefits consumers but it also benefits us, because rather than competing for market share with other fish sellers, the improved quality and availability of fish means consumers now eat more fish and less chicken and beef.

"Yes, We Can!"

My team and I are now supercharged with making Yalelo a household name. We’re up for the challenge: we’ve a well-developed marketing strategy that centers on increasing awareness of the freshness, availability, and affordability of Yalelo. We’re finding that our brand message is resonating, both through digital marketing channels and the in-store touchpoints. Having achieved our first goal of making Yalelo Uganda’s #1 fish, we think it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see the “fish everyday” trend catch on like wildfire!

#Kisoboka, it is possible, like we say at Yalelo Uganda!

This blog is our last publication, for now, around the need for investment in tilapia in sub-Saharan Africa. All the growth potential can only be realized if the talent pool to sustain that growth is built. This requires the industry, governments and donors alike to invest in educating the next generation of aquaculture professionals. In terms of driving investments into the sector, we aim to walk our talk and will get back to you soon with new deals and news regarding Aqua-Spark’s Africa Fund. Stay tuned to be notified shortly of the topic of the next series of blogs and the next Aqua Insights report that will be published in April 2022.

With over 300 investors from more than 25 countries, Aqua-Spark is a global community of investors supporting the growth of a new sustainable, commercial aquaculture industry.

We are also seeking entrepreneurs working toward a more sustainable aquaculture food system.