Wetlands prove their value for extensive carp farming operations


Kaushal Kishore Thakur started farming fish in 2009 and now produces over 5 tons of fish every year

© Gurvinder Singh

Kaushal Kishore Thakur comes from a long line of farmers, but his income was barely enough to feed his family.

The 65-year-old, who resides in the remote village of Shahjadapur, admits fish farming in 2009 radically changed his life and made him financially stable.

“We have been traditional farmers for several generations, cultivating over 10 acres of land. But the high cost of production, coupled with climate change, has caused heavy losses. We ended up with barely enough income to live on,” he says.

“I am now farming about 6 acres of wetlands and am able to produce about 5-6 tons of fish, which generates an annual income of 120,000 rupees (16,066 USD).”

Two flooded fields
The Indian state of Bihar has started using wetlands for aquaculture

© Gurvinder Singh

Farmers provide commercial fish feed twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. They also add fertilizer in the form of cow dung, jaggery (a type of palm sugar), rice bran, minerals and salt to the water every fortnight. They also spray a mixture of lime powder and water once a month to keep the water from becoming too acidic and to help maintain proper oxygen levels.

During the hottest days of summer, they aerate the ponds by rowing through them for a day to maintain oxygen levels.

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Wetlands pay off

Thakur is not alone, but belongs to a group of 40 farmers involved in community fish farming in about 100 acres of wetlands (locally called chaurs) near the village, which is about 100 kilometers northeast of Patna, the state capital of Bihar.

group of men standing near a flooded field
A group of farmers participate in the aquaculture project in the wetlands of the village of Shahjadapur

© Gurvinder Singh

Villagers say the area has about 120 acres of land that has remained waterlogged throughout the year, but they never realized its potential for conversion to fish farming until government officials intervened. 2010.

“Several acres of our land remain waterlogged for several months of the year. Crops are destroyed due to flooding which has affected our livelihoods. But fish farming in standing water turned out to be a profitable business for us,” said 53-year-old Sunil Kumar, who farms about 1.5 acres of wetland and earns around 250,000 rupees ($3,347) from it. per year.

“Officials from the fisheries department visited the village and started to guide us in farming the waterlogged area. We slowly started converting the wetland to productive use and started fish farming in 2010. The government also gave us training and we started with 60 acres which has now been expanded to 100 acres and 70 ponds. We have a hatchery here and mainly produce Rohu (Labeo rohita), catla (Labeo catla) and mrigal carp (Cirrhinus cirrhosus).”

The use of wetlands for fish farming also attracted young farmers seeking new livelihoods due to declining farm incomes.

“We were planning to migrate because farm incomes have gone down due to the rising cost of seeds and fertilizers,” says Sonu Kumar, 30, another fish farmer in the village.

Man standing near flooded fields
Sonu Kumar cultivates 2 acres of land near the village

© Gurvinder Singh

“But then I started fish farming on more than 2 acres of land last year and earned around Rs 300,000 ($4,015) from it. It is a sustainable business and the buyers get the produce from the field. and deliver them directly to markets.We also sell directly to consumers.We start growing from March and finish in November.

The government is also promoting integrated farming in which farmers are encouraged to raise four cows, 300 ducks and 500 chickens to generate organic manure to fertilize ponds and increase their productivity.

“Poultry not only provides nutritious food for fish, but can also be sold. But you have to be careful because the poultry can be attacked by dogs, so you have to use double-layered nets for their protection,” said Laddu lal Singh, 52, a fish farmer in Surmarmeyari, 1 km from Shahjadapur.

Senior government officials believe that fish farming in the wetlands will play a major role in the state’s self-sufficiency in fish production.

flooded fields
Government officials hope that farming fish in the wetlands will help make Bihar state self-sufficient in fish production

© Gurvinder Singh

Availability of abundant natural resources

Bihar has about 940,000 hectares of wetlands spread across 38 of its districts and over 100,000 farmers involved in fish farming in the state.

“The government has been watching farmers’ efforts to use wetlands for fish farming. It began direct intervention in fiscal year 2020 when six districts in the state were chosen for the pilot. The aim was also to create additional jobs and replenish groundwater reserves through an environmentally friendly approach,” said Tuntun Singh, Lecturer at Bihar Fisheries Training and Extension Centre.

“Farmers are given a cash incentive of 700,000 rupees ($9,368) per hectare to develop fish farms in wetlands. The government is also keen on protecting the environment – ​​only wetlands under 5 acres that are sandy and have no river connection are chosen for farming. We don’t allow fish farming in places like Kanwar Lake which is a Ramsar site and other large wetlands,” he adds.

The government has also earmarked 15 districts for wetland fish farming for the fiscal year 2022 to 2023, according to Singh.

Bihar far from becoming autonomous

Despite the efforts of the state government, Bihar has a huge deficit in fish production and consumption.

group of men harvesting fish
Bihar state still imports fish from Andhra Pradesh to meet local demand

©

Bihar Fisheries Department

According to senior Fisheries Department officials, fish production in the state was around 653,000 tonnes in 2020-21, down from 344,000 tonnes in 2011-12. Production of fish fry which stood at 342,400,000 tonnes in 2011-12 increased to 1,706,900,000 tonnes in 2020-21.

“Human consumption of fish per capita is 9.60 kg per year against a demand of around 11 kg. We manage the deficit by importing fish from the southern states, mainly Andhra Pradesh. We have about 195 hatcheries that produce about 1.7 billion juveniles every year,” Rashid Farooqui, Bihar Deputy Director of Fisheries Statistics and Marketing, points out.

A section of farmers, however, pleads for more government support to increase their production.

“We receive subsidies from the government, but we need more support to produce more fingerlings and improve production. Lack of adequate financial resources is proving to be a major impediment to increasing our incomes and also hinders efforts to make the state self-sufficient in fish production,” stressed Anil Kumar Singh, 45, a farmer from Siwan district in Bihar.

Tuntun Singh conceded that fish farmers face a multitude of problems.

“The mortality rate is around 15 to 20%. In addition, farmers also face the problem of floods leading to loss of catches, fish diseases, labor shortages and weather changes, especially in winter. The state government is trying to provide better support to farmers,” he says.

Gurvinder Singh

Gurvinder Singh is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India. He has been writing on environment, politics, aquaculture, health and social issues for 10 years and can be reached at @gurvind48664097

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