Fish Farms Saving Lives


Tilapiana has been improving lives in Ghana by creating Tilapia fish farms for villages in southeastern Ghana to increase economic development. This has allowed some of the world’s poor to become more self-sufficient.

Tilapiana is a for-profit social enterprise start-up founded by recent BYU MBA graduate Justin King in order to reduce poverty through teaching villagers to raise fish for food.

“It is unfortunate because it’s people who have so much potential but haven’t been given the opportunity to get out of poverty,” said CJ Lewis, 23-year old accounting student from Gilbert, Ariz., who lived in Southwest Ghana for two years. “On a day-to-day basis, most people are just trying to get enough food to survive.”

“The most motivating thing is when I am in Ghana working with these subsistence farmers who are making $2 a day,” King said. “[My motivation] is being able to see the difference it can make in people’s lives to help them pull themselves out of poverty.”

[media-credit name=”Courtesy of Justin King” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
A subsistence farmer in front of a fish farm in Ghana.

“[My most memorable experience is last September when] we learned about our franchises’ personal needs,” King said. “We interviewed Budu, a subsistence farmer, to see why he wanted to be involved. We discovered he wants to be able to build a house for his family. He is sharing a small mud hut with another family. We saw where he lives and it was humbling … his motivation was to provide a better life for his family. As of right now, it’s going well. We’re planning on having our first fish harvest in end of March or April.”

They live in fairly humble circumstances and many people are looking for work, said Andrew Nielsen, a 21-year-old from Dixie College who lived in Ghana for two years. “There is not much chance for education there. On a normal day you see kids selling things on the streets because they don’t have any other way to earn money.”

In an effort to overcome these challenges, Tilapiana has created two franchises in the area of Suhum, located in southeast Ghana. The organization is conducting a pilot program working with two franchisees and five operating ponds.

Last year, Tilapiana won first place and the audience choice award in the BYU Social Venture Competition. Tilapiana also won first place in the Global Category of the BYU Business Plan Competition.

This month, Tilapiana was named a finalist out of more than 300 applicants in the Unreasonable Institute. It is now competing against 44 other enterprises.

King said he hopes Tilapiana wins. If they become “Unreasonable  Fellows” they will get to attend a six-week program in Colorado giving them access to mentors who could review their economic development models.

King claims Tilapiana is unique.

“We have a very innovative business,” King said. “All the businesses are having significant impact on society however only a handful of the businesses are unique. I have never seen another group like us … Others are copying other models.”

The small organization is comprised of a team of four people. King is the only one in the U.S., while his three co-workers live in Ghana working on training, support, sales and accounting. Their plan, King said, is to evaluate how the fish farms are doing in June and make appropriate changes to the models.

King, who received a bachelor’s degree in finance and an MBA from BYU, spoke about his inspiration for this organization.

“I graduated last year and I moved to Ghana for an internship,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do something there. I realized there was a huge need for [social venture] in Ghana.”

Just as the program is unique, so are the Ghanan people.

“I love the people in Ghana. They are very hospitable and they love people,” said Corrine Christison, an anthropology student from Cary, N.C., who lived in Ghana last summer. “They are incredibly welcoming. They also are very rich in culture and attached to their culture.”

King said he has seen great success from their efforts.

“I was there in September when we started the pilot program … to go back in December to see we have an operating business, it was good to see the fish actually growing, on schedule and as big as they should be,” King said. “We realized this can be sustainable and have a significant impact.”

There is a real need and desire for fish. “[In Southwestern Ghana] people eat fish every day,” Lewis said.

King and his associates are happy to help the villagers of Suhum, Ghana because of their diligence.

“[Ghanans] are extremely hard working,” Lewis said. “They have to be. They don’t have the kind of companies or equipment that we have. The technology we have which enables us to perform hard labor, they do mostly by hand.”

King encouraged students to go after their dreams and passions now.

“Find something you are passionate about because it is hard work,” King said. “It’s hard to build a business in the U.S. but especially halfway across the world … Work closely with your clients to make a plan they actually want.  When I was in business school, everyone said I should get a corporate job and make a lot of money and then go for my passion.  I think if people are truly passionate about it … yes, it will be hard work and you may have to do other work on the side but if you are trying to solve a problem just do it now, not in 40 years!”

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