Back in the day, people would bathe in the ponds, wash their clothes and clean their utensils. Fish from the ponds met the daily needs of protein. Many drank the water too.
Things have changed. Most of the fish produced in the country now are cultivated in ponds. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says, Bangladesh has set a unique precedent of fish farming in ponds.
IFPRI terms this high production of fish as ‘Blue Revolution’. The institute has conducted seven research programmes over the past four years in Bangladesh in this regard and will publish the outcome of four of the studies in Dhaka and Washington at the end of this month.
According to the study, 56 per cent of the fish produced in Bangladesh come from the ponds. Due to advanced farming methods, the total fish production in the country has increased six fold in the last 34 years. And fish production in ponds has increased over 12 times.
About 18 million people in the country are now involved in fish farming and related businesses. The sector ranks among the top three sectors contributing to poverty alleviation in the country. Nearly 23 per cent of the working people are now somehow connected to the fisheries sector. In Bangladesh, the per capita consumption of fish was 7 kg per year and that stands at 30kg now.
A number of scientists from the US, the UK, India, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Bangladesh, led by Shahidur Rashid, director of the South Asia region of IFPRI, carried out the integrated study. This is the first of its type in the world so far.
The study ran from 2014 to 2018. Shahidur Rashid told Prothom Alo from Delhi over phone on Monday that the revolution in Bangladesh's fish farming has changed the perception of researchers and economists working on development studies in the world.
Bangladesh's fish sector has proved that poverty reduction and rural development is possible without major development plans and infrastructure projects. Creative initiatives of small farmers in the villages, government’s supportive policy and innovation of scientists are the key reasons behind the success.
He said, the nutrition status of the country is improving by the growing production of fish. Fish farming is more profitable than rice cultivation. Only two to three tonnes of rice grow on an acre of land while nearly 40 tonnes of fish can be produced in a pond on the same size of land.
According to the fisheries department, the total fish production in Bangladesh in2017-18 was about 4.2 million tonnes. The production in ponds is 2.4 million tonnes. The production of fish in the ponds was only 178,000 tonnes in 1983-84.
Fish farming in ponds, however, has increased rapidly in 24 districts of the country. Among them, the highest increase was in Bogura, Sirajganj, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Gazipur and Netrokona. Fish cultivation in ponds in those districts has increased at a rate of 10 per cent a year. On the other hand, fish farming in ‘ghers’ or enclosures in the south-western part of the country has decreased by 24 per cent in the past two decades. Pond fish farming is getting popular there.
Fisheries and livestock state minister Ashraf Ali Khan said, Bangladeshi scientists have been inventing new varieties and technologies to cultivate fish in the ponds. The fisheries department is providing government services and technology to grassroots farmers. Also, the government has taken initiative to release fish fries in open water bodies which had helped increasing the overall production.
Researchers say that rui fish was the most commonly cultivated fish in the country two years ago. Cultivation of tilapia and pangash has increased now. In recent years, the cultivation of developed varieties of koi has also increased. As many as 60 methods for fisheries and management technologies have already been developed by Bangladesh Fisheries Institute. Scientists have successfully produced six varieties of fish fries of extinct species.
However, there are also risks invloved, according to the IFPRI study. The use of lime and other chemicals to clean the pond water is increasing. Then the quality of fish feed procuded commercially in factories is also questionable. There is no assessment and monitoring of to what extent chemicals are used in the ponds and the fish feed. Ensuring quality fish will be a major challenge, especially when it comes to exports, the study revealed.
This change in Bangladesh's fisheries sector is being recognised globally not only by IFPRI, but also from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). According to the Global Fisheries Report released by the FAO last June, Bangladesh is the fifth largest producer of fish in the world.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat.