Here’s How GK Aqua’s Founder Is Set On Reviving Malaysia’s Freshwater Prawn Industry

Large freshwater prawns or commonly known as Udang Galah in Malaysia is one of most sought-after delicacies in the country, whether its fried or added as an ingredient for a gravy, this species of prawns have definitely made its mark as an in-demand delicacy not only by Malaysians but also by our neighbours.

Interestingly enough, Malaysia has been noted as the first country in the world to breed these freshwater prawns both successfully and commercially since the 1960s. However, with demand rising for aquaculture worldwide, countries in the region have also stepped-up production the rising demand.

According to founder and chief executive officer of GK Aqua, Giva Kuppusamy says the demand for freshwater demand in the country alone is 2700MT, where 90 percent are imported to meet local demand.

“Not only is there an increasing global demand for the supply of freshwater prawns but local farmers that rear fish are also looking for alternatives to maximise the output of their farms due to the low-profit margins for fish rearing,” he says.

Giva further shares that even though Malaysia is the first country in the world to successfully breed these prawns and have them named “Malaysian Giant Freshwater Prawns,” other countries such as Bangladesh have surpassed us in production rates whilst our production rates have remained stagnant for the past 30 year.

What’s the challenge and how’s this founder making a change?

According to Giva, hardship and high costs have proven to be a challenge for those looking to venture into the sector. Similar to struggles faced by similar sectors in the industry, attracting farmers is no easy task.  With no guarantee on yield and spread of diseases, veteran farmers are aware of the challenges the sector poses for newcomers.

The startup founder notes that imported feed is usually used for hatcheries to grow out the fry which contributes to high costs, and harvests can only happen in 6-8 months with less than 300kg per acre.

However, Giva is aware of the obstacles. Having founded the startup since 2016, the founder himself is dedicated in reviving the nation’s once pride.  Today, he has tasked himself to ensure the sector grows sustainably and build the next line of farmers.

GK AQUA recruits prawn farmers to enter our contract farming program – as GK AQUA’s outsourcing. Giant Prawns’ all male broodstock will be supplied by GK AQUA and the contractors will raise them under GK AQUA’s supervision and development guidelines.

When the prawn crop is ready to be harvested, GK AQUA will exclusively acquire the crop at predetermined price. GK AQUA’s advanced expenses (feed and post-larvae cost) will be redeemed by deduction from sales amount.

Thus far, GK Aqua has enrolled 20 farmers into their freshwater prawn joint venture programme with farms ranging from medium to big scale. In addition, the startup has also been working closely with the state government to develop Negeri Sembilan into a recognized “prawn valley” which Giva believes will create more entrepreneurship opportunities for Malaysia.

Recently, the startup has launched the Malaysian Udang Galah Aquaprenuers (MUGA) initiative to drive employment opportunities amongst the B40 community while increasing Malaysia’s standing as an export country of top-quality freshwater prawns.

MUGA will empower aspiring aquapreneurs from the B40 community by recruiting them into GK Aqua’s cluster farming community, an easy-to scale business model that guarantees the aquapreneurs potential earnings of up to RM6,000 per month.

But its main key to success lies in its technology. The startup which is a pioneer in commercialising and implementing technology to improve freshwater prawn farming efficiency has produced a solution in engineering male prawns to breed naturally with other males.

The specially engineered prawns known as neo-female are able to produce all-male harvests that are three times larger in size and capture a 100% higher market price than females.

“We manage to knock out the male gene at a very early stage of the freshwater prawn development to ensure that the prawn becomes a neo-female through our biotech intervention.

So essentially, we are changing father prawns to become mother prawns, and through natural breeding processes, they would carry and produce Post Larvae (PL) that are all male,” Giva points out.

Going beyond local borders

GK Aqua’s resilience has also proven fruitful as it reached a new milestone last year, becoming the first company to ship over 200,000 PL overseas to Mauritius and Cairo. They have also started exporting to Dubai to work with the local farmers in the region to cater to the rising market demand there.

Countries such as China and Singapore have also approached the startup to set up facilities in their regions. But for the time being, Giva has plans to increase capacity by 10 times the amount to meet international demand for his freshwater prawns.

“We are currently setting up a transit center in Dubai to centralize the shipment of our broodstock overseas to allow our shipments to have a further reach and ensure high scalability. We aim to ship our products to West and North African countries and northern gulf countries such as Egypt,” he highlights.

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