The first venture from Indonesia on our platform is Innovare. They aim to develop sustainable mariculture projects that are beneficial to the local stakeholders while providing solid returns for socially and environmentally conscious investors. We contacted Innovare CEO John McCurry (photo below) to learn more about their operations and their current search for seed funding.
“We believe that mariculture offers the potential to mitigate food security concerns, provide alternate revenue streams to coastal communities, and help preserve marine ecosystems from overexploitation. The development of this industry is a fundamental necessity for the future, both to meet the food demands of a growing population, and to protect the marine environment which is already under tremendous pressure.”
You are an Californian venture, active in Indonesia. Why Indonesia?
“As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia possesses unparalleled marine resources, which are currently being either under-utilised or mismanaged. Innovare chose to begin its pilot project in Indonesia due to the country’s tremendous potential to become a world leader in the mariculture industry. We believe that our technical expertise can assist the country in recognizing this potential and that our business model will help develop the industry in an environmentally and socially conscious manner.”
On your venture profile I read that you are focused on growing and selling sea cucumber. Why did you choose this marine animal and can you explain about the market for sea cucumber?
“After a thoroughly conducted matrix study of 27 species, Innovare selected the sea cucumber as the first species to begin culturing in Indonesia. The species we selected, Holothuria scabra, is high-value delicacy prized by the Chinese market. Demand is so high that is it is now recognised as a CITES endangered species. The fate of the species relies on the continued development of farm-raised stock, which is currently being done in only a handful of locations globally.
Although the broader aquaculture industry has been the subject of controversy for having some detrimental impacts on the environment, the sea cucumber is environmentally advantageous. As detritivores, they feed off decaying matter or phytoplankton, serving as part of the ocean floor’s cleaning service. With no feed inputs required and little risk of disease, farming sea cucumbers actually mitigates many of the environmental controversies associated with other forms of aquaculture.”
How do low-income fishermen benefit from your model?
“Fishing communities in Indonesia, like most around the world, are currently facing the reality of dwindling fish stocks. Sea cucumber fishermen in Indonesia have also reported continuing dwindling catches over the last ten years. Our business provides fishermen with a supplementary source of income. Juvenile sea cucumbers are sold to cooperatives of fishermen on credit and will then be bought back at a fair market price once they have reached maturity.
Although this process may take anywhere from six to twelve months depending on the ocean environment, the requirements of the cooperatives is relatively minimal. Ensuring the survival of the cucumbers through regular monitoring of grow out cages is their primary responsibility, which, shared as a group, still allows individual fishermen to continue to pursue their traditional income-generating activities.”
What are the main lessons learned so far to make the collaboration with these fishermen successful?
“As part of our business model, we actively seek out communities of fishermen living adjacent to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Although MPAs do exist in Indonesia, there is little enforcement of rules and great ambiguity about what an MPA actually means.
In order for MPAs to succeed, we believe it is necessary to create alternative revenue streams for the communities that depend on those coastal resources. Farming sea cucumbers can be a profitable venture for fishing communities, but the lengthy grow out period can be an obstacle for people who are looking for more immediate financial returns. Additionally, the real profitability of the enterprise is realized when it is done at scale. Thus, fishing communities who wish to engage in our sea cucumber farming program must be seriously committed to the project in order for them to receive all the benefits it can offer.”
You are currently looking for seed funding. How will you use that funding when it comes in?
“In order to expand the reach of our project, we have formed an agreement with a more sophisticated hatchery facility to rent part of their space for our operation. Any seed funding obtained will be used to meet the costs of operating this new facility and increasing our level of production. We expect to demonstrate proof-of-concept on a more commercial scale while using this facility, which we hope will allow us to pursue higher levels of funding to develop our own state-of-the-art hatchery facility in Indonesia.”
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