It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon when I met with Alfred in the beautiful harbour of Port Vila, the capital of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Since I started looking for stories of inspiring entrepreneurs in Vanuatu, I had heard a few times about Alfred and ALFA Fishing, the social enterprise he founded some years ago. Curious to learn more about him and his enterprise, I dialed a number I found in an old article about ALFA Fishing. Luckily it was Alfred who answered the phone and soon agreed on meeting me some days later.
Curious and excited to know more about Alfred, I started reading every single article and watching every single video I could find about him and his organisation. I had met many inspiring ni-Vanuatu people since I moved to Vanuatu about 18 months ago but it would be my first meeting with a so-called social entrepreneur in Vanuatu. It turned out that Alfred is one of the most entrepreneurial, passionate and motivated people I had ever met in Vanuatu.
Let me share with you the story of a man that managed to improve the living standards of many people, both on the outer islands and in the capital of Vanuatu, through the development of a sustainable fishing system.
ALFA Fishing started about five years ago. In 2011, Alfred was working in a government institution but started dreaming more and more about an entrepreneurial project. He noticed there was no consistent supply of quality sustainable seafood in the restaurants and hotels in Port Vila. Moreover, he experienced how many young people and women in remote island communities were unemployed and struggling to make a living for themselves and their families. These observations motivated Alfred to start thinking about a system that could solve both problems. After asking family members and friends about their opinions and ideas, Alfred left his job within the Government of Vanuatu and started a small family fishing business. He experimented with many different fishing practices and slowly but steadily started building a system focusing on both quality and sustainability.
One year after his experiment started, Alfred had managed to set up different selling points in Port Vila ensuring a consistent supply sustainable seafood. High-end market players such as hotels and restaurants in the capital now enjoyed a good quantity and quality of seafood. As the demand continued to grow, Alfred seized the opportunity to train young people and women on outer islands of Vanuatu so they could contribute to the business and improve their livelihoods. Starting in Pele, the island where he grew up himself, he provided communities on multiple islands them with basic equipment and taught them how to build a canoe with local materials, how to use lines and how to fish in a sustainable manner.
It was important for Alfred not to intervene with the daily life of the local communities nor their harvest practices. He thus worked out a system that focussed on training and trade and left it to the communities to decide how much and how often they would catch and sell fish. However, Alfred would agree on a quotum and standards so the fishermen would not fish too much and would be able to offer a good variety of fish. In return, they could sell 100 percent of the catch at above-market prices to ALFA Fishing which not only enhanced the income levels and livelihoods of the communities but also the environment because of the sustainable fishing practices.
The seafood Alfred collected and continues to collect from the micro-enterprises on the outer islands is transported to Port Vila, maintaining its good quality because of the ice cubes that are used during transport. Once in the capital, the fish is being sold to hotels and restaurants. However, over time, Alfred identified another opportunity to benefit communities in Port Vila too. Together with his employees, he started processing the surplus of seafood and selling the packages at low prices to women from low-income families via the programme FAMUL. The women have to use about half the portions they receive to feed their family and can then sell the rest at the market so they can make a small profit. This system ensures their children get more nutritious food and the women gain business skills, confidence and respect in the household.
Since Alfred started his family business in 2011, more than 100 fishermen, young and old, female and male, partnered with ALFA Fishing and set up their own micro-enterprises on the outer islands. Nowadays, Alfred goes out two or three times a week to over six different islands near Efate, the main island of Vanuatu, to buy seafood from these small enterprises, providing an income for their families so public school fees can be paid, homes can be improved and livelihoods are enhanced. Moreover, ALFA Fishing became the preferred seafood supplier to hotels and restaurants in Port Vila and managed to improve the conditions of families living on incomes below the poverty line in the capital of Vanuatu.
Alfa Fishing now reached a point where more capital and investments are needed so they can expand their operations to meet the wish of local communities to establish more micro-businesses and the ever increasing demand for seafood, both in Vanuatu and abroad. Alfred is thus actively looking for a bigger and affordable vessel so other islands can be reached too and more fish can be traded and exported. When that happens, ALFA Fishing will be a model for social enterprises worldwide, offering a way to sustainably use ocean resources to preserve local cultures, eradicate poverty, enhance livelihoods and improve nutrition.
I cannot help but admire Alfreds entrepreneurial mindset, passion and motivation to positively impact both communities and the environment. The organisation he established, ALFA Fishing, an enterprise created by a local for locals, is a true example of positive change and Alfred himself a true inspiration for many. It was such a pleasure to speak with such a fascinating man and hear his many inspiring stories at the very end of my time in Vanuatu. It gave me nothing but good feelings and proud about the activities and dreams of ni-Vanuatu people.