Brazil has massive potential for shrimp farming with ideal tropical temperatures and a market of 208 million people who are fans all types of seafood. That’s why Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Foods (CP Foods) took a bet on investing in Camanor, one of the country’s leading producers and perhaps the strongest survivor of white spot devastation that has halved output in the past decade.
Werner Jost, a Swiss national, has led Camanor since the 1990s and has created a custom farming model to combat Brazilian white spot, using a mixture of intensive farming techniques, cross-farming with tilapia and biofloc. This model is complemented with post-larvae introduced to Brazil by CP Foods.
“We are working with five generations now, selecting with the help of CP Foods as well and they are very different from the animals we had before,” Jost told Undercurrent News. “They eat much more and they behave differently.”
CP Foods’ shrimp division has a long background of understanding the many diseases that have affected intensive farming models in Southeast Asia from white spot to early mortality syndrome (EMS). EMS in particular seriously affected the Chinese and Thai shrimp industry in the past decade.
Brazil’s shrimp output slumped to 40,991 metric tons in 2017, the lowest it has been in at least 15 years, according to Brazil’s Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica (IBGE). Output slumped from 60,000t in 2016 and 87,000t in 2015 as white spot ripped through farms in the northeastern states of Ceara and Piaui. Brazil’s best production year was back in 2003 when it harvested 90,190t, the IBGE said.
Jost said he tried every production technique when survival rates hit just 5%, from lining ponds to shading them to avoid contamination from birds. Camanor devised a program called AquaScience that uses tilapia to eat uneaten shrimp feed. The company also recycles feces that can total 2,000 kilograms per hectare, per cycle, Jost said. Probiotics are also an important feature in this system, he said.
Shrimp have grown resistant to white spot at lower densities and the key to AquaScience is making sure the animals are not stressed, he said. Controlling temperature in the hot Brazilian summer months when the conditions can soar to 40 degrees Celsius is also key, he said.
With a stabilization in the company’s production, Camanor has an immediate target to increase output to 5,000t a year, from about 3,000t now. The company plans to become a 20,000t-producer in the longer-term, Jost said.
Brazil economy splutters
The Brazilian shrimp industry also has to contend with sluggish market conditions under the new government of far-right President Jair Balsonaro. Foreign investment has been slow to arrive to Brazil since he was elected on Jan. 1 and the economy may only grow at about 1% this year, according to the economic ministry.
Brazil’s economy receded by more than 3% in both 2015 and 2016, the worst recession experienced by a major global economy in the past 50 years. This eroded the purchasing power of the middle-class and impacted seafood demand. For Brazil's shrimp producers, the current spell of slow growth has been accompanied with the arrival of Ecuadorian shrimp imports into Brazil, eroding a domestic price premium, Jost said.
“Brazil is extremely complicated,” he said. “The prices will go down a little and we will have international prices [instead of a domestic premium].” Ecuadorians can import without taxes and they will have less taxes to pay than producers in Brazil.”
Another major challenge for Brazil’s seafood industry, especially faced by producers in the northeast of the country, is the lack of cold storage facilities and poor road conditions between the wealthier center-south area around metropolitan Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) to the south.
The handling of shrimp is often poor and some output from the northeast will often arrive in Sao Paulo supermarkets in poor condition, Jost said. Some producers and distributors use glaze phosphate to make the shrimp appear in better condition, he said. This makes it difficult to compete on quality against imports that arrive directly at ports.