Fishing for Change


fish farm 2Shipping containers are becoming important tools for development across the Global South. In some areas they have been converted into emergency shelters, and they are now being used to help combat low levels of fishing off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa. The Fish Farm, created by Alan Fleming, is the first fish farm in the world to be specifically designed within the confines of a shipping container. This project began gaining momentum after Fleming entered his idea for the Empowering People Award, which was hosted by Siemens Stiftung earlier this year.

The idea was developed by Fleming after he realized that many fish farms operate with exceedingly high budgets, which is not a sustainable solution when trying to help the world’s poor. His design, which has proven to be both simple and affordable, aims to help bring food and an income to the hungry. The initial Fish Farm complex has been set up in Philippi, a low-income township in Cape Town.

fish farm 1The prototype has been operating inside a 40-foot long shipping container. Six large containers, piping, and tubes are the backbones of the simple design. The price of the initial fish farm was roughly $40,000USD, which paid for both the shipping container and building materials, fish food, salaries for construction, and the installation of solar panels for sustainable operation. Additional requirements include 250 liters of fresh, clean water per day, and a flat surface to place the shipping container on.

This simple yet innovative design allows for fish to be bred and grown in a setting away from the ocean, which helps replenish natural populations that have been declining as a result of excessive fishing. The current model produces up to 4 tons of tilapia per year, and a second model is currently being designed, which will hopefully yield even more fish. Other species can also be bred, but tilapia has proved to be a simple and successful choice. The tilapia has been sold to local restaurants throughout Cape Town.

fish farm 3The project also aims to create new livelihoods for social entrepreneurs across the Global South. The simple designs allows for simple operations, so it is quite easy to train people on how to successfully run and operate the farm. The project’s current manager, Lungile Mafilika, used to be a gardener, but has successfully been trained and taught how to operate the equipment used by The Fish Farm. He is now responsible for helping to implement the project in other locations when they are ready to expand.

After being entered for the Empowering People Award, The Fish Farm was selected from over 800 projects and eventually made it to the final round of 20. They finished as a runner-up, and received €5,000 ($6800 USD) in funding to help further their work.

With the prize money, The Fish Farm promised to help create more fish farms in poor communities across the globe, which would in turn help boost local economies by providing jobs and goods to sell on the market, and provide a sustainable, low-cost source of food for those in need. These developments within the field of aquaculture is important because many people throughout the Global South depend on oceans, lakes and rivers for food products. Producing high-quality, natural fish at affordable prices is important, and will help combat levels of hungry.

Click here for more information about The Fish Farm as a runner-up in the Empowering People Award competition, and here to watch a presentation by Alan Fleming at the awards.

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.


  1. This is a really cool innovation. I’m usually drawn to social enterprises or projects that can sustain themselves in the long run. 40,000USD, that’s not that much to start a business, granted its a lot more in many parts of the world and for many people. But when you’re producing 4 tons of fish in a year, the profits have to be coming in soon. I could see this method getting some push back from people focused on organic foods, but it makes sense to relieve the pressure the fishing industry has on oceans. Cool project, I wouldn’t mind owning one of these myself.

    • Hi Eric
      Thanks for the positive comments. Progress so far is that we have managed to bring the price down to US$30,000, and have a 6m-container (20′) “home back yard” model…although it is really for the hobbyist, and not to create an economic livelihood fore the poor. The information is not all correct (eg solar panels are not included, but can be) but the writer has most of it right. One of the biggest negatives of aquaculture is using fish from the ocean to provide the protein in the feed. Tilapia are not so heavy on this as they are vegetarians, but their feed does still contain some fish meal. Depends where you buy it from. We’re working with a local university on producing the protein component from fly larvae/maggots…which is closer to what fish eat in the wild, or stimulating local community fish food production through worm farms, snail farms etc. 5 000 000 people in SA get up every day with nothing to do and no hope…a tidal wave of trouble about to swamp us, so its a case of getting busy and doing something…anything…to assist them get economically active, even if it is imperfect to start with. Many thanks. Alan

  2. Definitely. There are a lot of objections to fish farms out there, and I wonder what they’re doing to mitigate them. Generally problems are with disease and pathogens, which I worry would be less easily controlled in less-regulated areas. Anyone have knowledge about this?

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