In the nineties there had been extensive campaigns in the country to encourage fish cultivation. Now becoming self-reliant through fish cultivation is no longer a dream. Bangladesh presently stands fourth in producing sweet water fish, according to this year's report of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
FAO has published a report, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the report's cover displays a photograph of catching fish from a pond in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Inside the publication too the success of Bangladeshi fish farmers in cultivating fish has been used repeatedly as an example. According to the report, China is first in fish farming and next India and Myanmar.
Experts say that the fish farmers reached this level of success after crossing many hurdles. No cooperation is extended to the fish farmers to avail the government's agricultural loans. In the 2013-14 fiscal, fish farmers received only 10% of the 140 billion taka allocated as agricultural loans.
There are government storehouses for rice and jute, but no proper permanent cold storage facilities for the fish farmers. Even so, FAO sees Bangladesh as one of the countries that hold the most potential.
Former fisheries secretary Z Karim says, Bangladesh is the best place in the world for sweet water fish cultivation. The 25million hectares of open water bodies and the thousands and thousands of ponds in the villages have created a potential that hasn't been utilised in full. If the government pays more attention to fish cultivation and assists the farmers, Bangladesh could well become the No. 1 country in fish production.
According to FAO, Bangladesh has been among the top five fish cultivation countries for many years. In 2006 it jumped to second position, overtaking India. From 2004 till 2014, Bangladesh's fish production increased by 53%.
Bangladesh Statistics Bureau (BBS)'s latest economic census says that in the 2013-14 fiscal, the country produced approximately 3.46million tonnes of fish, of which about 2million tonnes were farmed. With the protection of hilsa fries and other initiatives, production of the country's most popular fish hilsa has gone up from 52,000 tonnes to 350,000 tonnes.
With prices of fish remaining within the reach of the common people, there has been a 100% increased in per head consumption of fish over the past 10 years. According to a survey of 2010, the annual per head consumption of fish in Bangladesh is 12kg. The people of Chittagong consume the most fish at an annual 17kg per head and the least is in Rangpur at 7.5kb per head. Annual fish consumption globally is 22.4kg per head.
The new varieties of fish bred by Bangladesh's fishery experts and the rapid expansion in this regard have given rise to this significant increase in fish production. There has been a virtual revolution in fish farming in the ponds at Mymensingh, Bogra and Comilla and in the fish farms of the southwest regions.
With fish farming having increased, over the past 10 years fish consumption has almost doubled. Fish exports have gone up by 135%. In the 2013-14 fiscal Bangladesh's export earnings from frozen fish went up by 17.35% to 41.49billion taka.
Down the decades: In the eighties the new varieties of pangash, rui, katal and telapia fish produced by the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute won instant popularity among the consumers. In recent years there has been an increase in shing, magur and shol farming.
In 1990, a total of 193 thousand tonnes of farmed fish was produced. In 2000 this increased to 657 thousand tonnes. And in 2014 this has reached one million tonnes.
Mymensingh and Comilla districts have created a stir in fish production. Fish farming in Khulna, Jessore, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Chittagong, Chokoria and Barisal divisions have been a boon to the economy of those areas as well as to the economy of the country as a whole. Shrimps produced in those regions are now the country's second largest export item.
Back to eating fish: There was a time when eating fish was synonymous with being a Bengali. Those days are back again. According to FAO, 57% of the protein consumption of Bangladesh's population comes from fish.
According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the price of all items produced in the country has gone up by two to 36%. Only the price of rui, pangash and telapia hasn't gone up. In fact, the price of koi and magur has actually gone down somewhat. Increased production has led to decreased prices.
Akhter Ahmed, the Bangladesh country head of the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), says that this success in fish cultivation has come about without any master planning of the government. It is the courage and creativity of the fish farmers that has been pivotal to this success. They take the market demand into consideration and farm fish accordingly, for which the success has been sustainable.
FAO predicts Bangladesh will be the first of the four countries to achieve massive success in fish production by the year 2022. This is followed by Thailand, India and China.
According to FAO, Bangladesh stands 25th in global standing for catching sea fish. However, after settlement of the maritime boundary issue with Myanmar and India, catching fish from the Bay of Bengal is likely to increase manifold, according to the organisation.