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Dependency to self-sufficiency

Mebanri Laloo finds a lot to cheer about Meghalaya’s Aquaculture Mission

WHAT IS a simple day in the life of Sanjiv R Marak, a fish farmer in Meghalaya? Let’s walk you through it.

     Just before the break of dawn he rises from his bed and slips into his denim broad shorts, enjoys a mug-full of red tea before taking on the rigours of the day. He walks out his door and leaves behind his rickety rackety farmhouse and makes a beeline for his feed bucket. He fills his bucket with fish feed and plods on to his fish pond. He is now set for his days labour. He approaches his fish pond and cast the fish food into the pond. Fish crest to greet him and scamper for each grain of nutritious feed. It’s a simple life, a life steeped in tradition and in honour, a respect for the natural flow of aquatic life.

     But how does fish farming really work today? Well, it encompasses more than just fish, for one. A more accurate term to use is actually aquaculture, which includes multiple varieties of fish farms. Humans have engaged in aquaculture since antiquity. Heather Builth, an Australian archaeologist, has gathered evidence in Gunditjmara of Western Victoria. The digging site has pointed to the fact that aborigines dating to the time of 6000 BC had learnt to harvest eel farms and oversaw massive eel farms that not only sustained villages but also an industry of smoked ell products. Today, an estimated 50% of the fish eaten worldwide comes from aquaculture.

     Meghalaya has always been touted as a potential fish producing state with its vast inland fishery resources yet only 7,500MT is produced in the state. A staggering 25,000MT is imported from other states. The “dependency syndrome” is an attitude and belief that a group cannot solve its own problems without outside help. It is a weakness that is made worse by charity. The case in Meghalaya may not be viewed as charity but nevertheless our dependency on imports is proving to be a barrier to a healthy growth of entrepreneurship among its people. The Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Promotion Programme (IBDLP) in March, 2012 had launched the Meghalaya State Aquaculture Mission (MSAM) with the express purpose to re-vitalise the fisheries sector and “make Meghalaya self sufficient in fish production in the next five years,” said KN Kumar, principal secretary, Fisheries Department.

     The Aquaculture Mission has been the leading mission under the IBDLP programme. Under the Mission, 5,681 ponds have entered the production cycle, producing 4,000MT of fish annually. The success stories have been pouring in while the fishes continue spawning. One of the fish farmers who has benefited from the mission is Sanjiv R Marak, Gambegre Block, Tura. Sanjiv inaugurated his hatchery in 2013 and by the end of June, 2014 he had started working as a fish farmer on a full time basis.

     According to Sanjiv, the most difficult part to make this happen was money, transportation, labour and not having an adequate experience of teaching fishery. Though he went to Kolkata for training earlier under the MSAM, it was little difficult to bring it into action as the training was purely theoretical. It was at this juncture that the department of fisheries came to the aid of Sanjiv by providing him the right guidance and approach to help his hatchery flourish. Building ponds has always been difficult due to meteorological barriers like heavy rain and flooding. The mission was able to help by providing technical assistance and subsidies.

     Sanjiv candidly spoke on how the mission had impacted on his life. He said: “Life was difficult and pressured since I was a leader for Achik Youth, but now having the hatchery as a professional, life is much easier than before. Lot of people wanted to know about the hatchery and I love to let them know of its importance and that it is one of the methods of livelihood.” Currently, Sanjiv is selling the fish in and around West Garo Hills.

     Another success story is that of Webly Jesper Marbaniang from Mairang. Webley had been born into a family of fish farmers, “My interest in fish farming started when I was young. Having been born in a farming family, my parents had a small fish pond which can accommodate up to 200 fishes and it was enough for self consumption. However, we cannot sell them and earn some profit.” Webley had a strong desire to sell and expand his fishing livelihood and thus sought help from the government, “I went to the district fisheries department on the advice of a friend to avail the scheme provided by the govt for the fish farmer. I got assistance in the year 2006-07 under the “Aquaculture Development-1000 ponds” scheme. Today I have 8 fish ponds and one of them is as large as a football field.”

     At the recently concluded State Aquafest held in Shillong, Sanjiv and Webley amongst others were awarded cash prizes and mementoes from the fisheries department in recognition of their success under the Aquaculture Mission.

     The success of the Aquaculture Mission is apparent. According to Kumar, 20,000 ponds will come into the production cycle by 2015 and each pond will be able to generate 600 Kgs of fish a year. It is estimated that each pond would cost Rs 1 Lakh; the government will be providing a subsidy of 60% while the fish farmers would have to bear 15% of the cost. The fisheries department is not stopping at this point, it is looking ahead to expand the economics of the fishing industry in Meghalaya. At present, 12 hatcheries are being constituted and a plan is being formulated to create over 30 fish sanctuaries around the state. In the words of Kumar, “I wish to say goodbye to importing fish from Andhra Pradesh.” So do the fish farmers.

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