Thursday, August 9, 2018

Hubert Lemong Mangrove Crab Farm Opens in Ngersuul, Ngchesar

By: Ltelatk Fritz
Palau SBDC Director/Business Advisor

One of Palau’s traditional delicacies is the mangrove crab, Scylla serrata, or locally known as “chemang.” The demand for mangrove crab surged in recent years due to the significant increase in visitors to Palau. As more hotels and restaurants sold mangrove crab to the tourists, the local demand to fulfill filial rites and tradition also increased.

Mr. Hubert Lemong is a humble man who lives in Ngersuul, Ngchesar - located on the eastern coast of Babeldaob. Hubert first approached Palau SBDC in late October 2016, requesting technical assistance to complete his aquaculture loan application to start a mangrove crab farm. When Hubert showed up for his initial counseling session, he brought a rough draft of his business plan and a letter of support from the State Governor showing support for the aquaculture project. Palau SBDC accepted Hubert’s request since he and his aquaculture business qualified for the free one-on-one counseling sessions.

Mr. Hubert Lemong 
Hubert Lemong was inspired to start his mangrove crab farm from the initiatives established by the State Government of Ngchesar in promoting aquaculture projects. Although Hubert is still a novice crab farmer, Hubert is getting additional assistance from experts in the field: PCC-CRE Multi-Species Marine Hatchery, business management assistance from Palau SBDC, and support from the leaders and community of Ngchesar state.

Palau SBDC provided assistance in helping Hubert develop financial projections to help him understand the cost structure of the aquaculture project. SBDC assisted Hubert understand the level of monthly expenses of operating the farm, such as the loan payments, cost of fuel (both land transportation and coastal transportation when he goes fishing for feed), import taxes (because Hubert was importing his vehicle from Japan), and gross receipt taxes, once he starts selling the mangrove crabs. Palau SBDC also facilitated in the acquisition of a used vehicle online to be used by Hubert in his farm business.

Once the loan application package was complete, Hubert submitted it to the National Development Bank of Palau. According to Hubert, the process was easier than he had expected because his application was complete and easy for the lender to understand. Hubert was able to get an unsecured aquaculture loan to launch the mangrove crab farm business. The funding enabled Hubert to excavate the ponding system, create access to and around the farm, netting supplies to keep the crabs within the farm, purchase a small boat used to find food for the mangrove crabs, a van to transport materials during the construction phase and to be used in bringing crabs to the markets.

During this initial year of operation, Hubert has taken note of the lessons he had learned from the daily operations, from talking to fellow aquaculture farmers, and communications with PCC-CRE. Hubert introduced milkfish into the ponds, but because of the drought-like conditions Palau is experiencing this year, many of the fingerlings could not survive the heat. Hubert admits he sometimes felt discouraged in the first couple of months during the growth phase because he could not easily see the tiny crabs in the farm. Now that the crabs are much bigger, he can see the crabs moving in the water or basking on the mini islands scattered in the pond.

Hubert plans to excavate one side of his pond deeper to allow the animals to seek cooler waters during severe low tides and high temperatures. To ensure the safety and security of the farm assets, Hubert has even built a small home on the farm and integrated a small garden to support him and his mangrove crabs.

In the long run, Hubert wants to expand his farm and create up to three ponding systems to have a staggered supply of mangrove crabs and milkfish. Hubert is also learning about shrimp farming because he plans to incorporate shrimp into his aquaculture farm in Ngersuul, Ngchesar.

When Hubert was asked, “What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?” His response was, "If you want to start a business, you have to prepare yourself. Learn by asking for help. Learn from people who know about the business. Start small and grow your business as you learn and grow too.”