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Alternative resilient livelihood through fish farming

  • Published at 08:17 am May 8th, 2021
Bidhan Chandra Das shows his fish he farmed in his own pond. Courtesy

How Bidhan Chandra Das became the ‘friend of fish farmer’ in his village

Intense and frequent occurrences of cyclone, flood, tidal surge, river erosion, and salinity stress have been rigorously disturbing agriculture, fish cultivation, and livestock rearing in the coastal zone in Bangladesh. Communities in these coastal areas remain enormously vulnerable to these disasters which hinders their livelihoods more than any other region of Bangladesh. The poor infrastructure, disorganized institutional setup, improper resource management, social inequality, and absence of freshwater due to salinity intrusion has made the situation worse.

“I was a fisherman. Due to this seasonal loss in fish farming; my livelihood was destroyed by the attack of two consecutive cyclones Sidr and Aila,” said Bidhan Chandra Das from Sonatola village. Sonatola village lies within the administrative boundary of Jiudhora Union at Morelganj Upazila in Bagerhat District and it is a disaster-prone area. Bidhan is the only earning member in this family of five, consisting of his wife, two daughters and ageing mother. He depends solely on fish farming on his small fish gher of two bigha land.

During monsoon season, tidal inundation results in most of the fish ghers becoming submerged; this persists even after the monsoon is over. Moreover, climate change is causing longer and wetter rainy seasons in the coastal region, which is eventually initiating this waterlogging and longer flood period. These flood waters wash away the fishes from the ghers, adding to the suffering of the local fish farmers. The farmers have to endure significant loss as most times they are unable to achieve their expected profit due to the damages of their fishes in the gher. 

Bidhan faced a similar fate, like many others in his village. The prolonged and constant loss experienced every year since 2009 resulted in the cumulative debt. “I did not know how to recover from that miserable situation. I was burdened by huge debt. I could not see any source of earning. It was a huge challenge to recover the cost and make a profit again”, Bidhan recalled his sufferings. “It was a mental trauma for me to arrange meals every day for my family. Seemed like a never-ending journey,” added Konika Mistry, Bidhan’s wife.

Bidhan had been working in the fish farming sector all through his life. He has reasonable knowledge and years of experience in this sector, but he was left clueless at this stage in his life. He stated, “I was confused and frustrated. I have only expertise in fish farming. One thought was roaming in my mind; at this age, should I go for another occupation without any knowledge? I was hoping and praying for any support to continue the fish farming again.” 

On one side, Bidhan was trying to find a way or opportunity, on the other hand, the Upazila Fisheries Office(UFO) with the support from international and national NGOs was organizing training for fish farmers and looking for helpless farmers like Bidhan.  In 2014 Bidhan started his journey to learn new techniques and explore support offered by Upazila Fisheries Office to grow his expertise to be able to run his fish farm better and be resilient to climatic shocks. “I have received various training on fish farming for capacity building by the Upazila Fisheries Office. Upazila Fisheries Office also organized fish farming exhibitions for disseminating modern fish farming techniques to the local farmers”, Bidhan stated. In 2016, Bidhan became a Local Service Provider (LSP) for the Producer Group (PG) with the support from Upazila Fisheries Office and other sector actors. He understood very clearly that this new expertise will help him to run his fish farm while also providing advisory support to other farmers in this sector.     

Bidhan used to apply very traditional methods to nurture his fish farm, which was neither profitable nor climate-resilient. It always left him uncertain of unpredictable natural events. As per the local practice, fish farmers depend heavily on loans to run their business. Any kind of distraction from estimated profit can lead up to huge debt. After receiving the training, Bidhan realized, “The traditional ways of fish farming are very much exposed to climate changes and extreme events. The recovery period is very long and sometimes fish farms cannot be restored fully. It is very wise to use and adopt modern technologies to respond and resist the natural calamities efficiently.”

By enlightening the local fish farmers with proper knowledge and information regarding advanced techniques aligned with climate resilience with the help of local government authority, the traditional mindset of a fish farmer like Bidhan has been changed uplifting their confidence in their profession. More advocacy at the community level can make fish farming one of the dominant livelihood options as well as more resilient and sustainable.

Bidhan stated, “Now I am now very much familiar with new scientific and climate-resilient technology. For example, I have elevated the banks of the gher considering flood. The death rate of fish has decreased during the last 3 years due to proper nurturing of the gher all the year-round.” Previously when ghers were flooded due to ill-equipped management of the banks, local ghers did not have any backup plan to recover from the situation. After receiving the training and guidance from Upazila Fisheries Office, they realized what was wrong with how they were doing it.

Only training and technical support were not enough for Bidhan. By realizing the fact, Upazila Fisheries Office provided financial assistance of Tk22,000 with various equipment and technical support for crab farming in 2019. Later, Bidhan initiated crab farming with his capital. He has spent around Tk45,000 for fish and crab farming and earned around Tk200,000. In 2020, Bidhan built his own house by spending Tk1,75,000 from the profit made through cultivating fish and crab.

Bidhan stated, “Being an LSP, I am more connected with the Upazila Fisheries Office, which helped me to get all the necessary information.” He now provides advice to local fish farmers on improved farming and motivates local people to start fish farming as it is a very profitable business as modern techniques and technologies can be applied.

“Compared to the local demand, we usually do not have the required set up to support training due to lack of manpower and resources. But we do provide updated information and guidelines to local farmers from time to time. But I think more training can contribute to building resilience in the fish farming sector,” said Pranab Kumar, Upazila Fisheries Officer. He added, “Bidhan came up with such a positive attitude, which became an inspiration to others. He keeps regular communication with UFO and disseminates the updated information to other farmers. He has a leadership quality which helped the community to rethink their coping strategies to recover their miseries.”

Local fish farmers seek help from Bidhan from getting his advice to buying the best quality fish fry to fish feed. He also updates them about the current market rate for selling. “Many of us started fish farming again with a small piece of land. Bidhan da provided the guidance and demonstrated new techniques to restart our farm. He also introduced us to professionals of the Upazila Fisheries Office,” said Nasima Begum, a local farmer from the village. “We call Bidhan Da ‘Friend of Fish Farmers’ in our village,” echoed Eva Rani Paik, another local farmer.

Local Service Providers should be promoted and provided support to keep the pace of fish farming on track. Timely training and knowledge dissemination can make the fish farming sector climate-resilient and profitable for local farmers. Moreover, to enhance the diversity of livelihoods through transformative actions and a participatory approach from both ends can bring accountability including governance structures. And the story of Bidhan’s journey so far with UFO and within his community has been evident to this concept.  

Ashish Barua is working with Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as Programme Manager, Climate Change and DRR, his research interest lies in Empowerment, Justice and Social Equities. Can be reached at [email protected] 

Moumita Sen is working in Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as a Junior Programme Officer under Climate Change and DRR, her research interest lies in Urban Disaster. Can be reached at [email protected] 

Md Kamruzzaman Khan is working in Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Center (BDPC) as a Field Coordinator, his research interest lies in Climate Change and DRR. Can be reached at [email protected]

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