Promising Ponds and a Road
In 2010, Hridoye Mati O Manush showcased 'Koi Fish Village' (Climbing perch). We named the fish ponds 'money-ponds' where farmers net millions of taka. Over the last few years, the whole scenario of the village has dramatically changed. There was not a single farmer left in the village who didn't start Koi fish farming. Farmers who could barely count in thousands started counting in millions. Since then, Shahbazpur village is known as Koi village. However, a 2.25 kilometre road remained a great obstacle for farmers which made it difficult to transport the fish. But farmers of Bangladesh are hardly taken aback by such obstacles!
Since 2005, fish farmers started small scale Koi farming in Mymensingh's Shahbazpur village. In all these years, they farmed Koi fish in every household pond. Some farmers even converted their paddy lands into ponds. With the extension, farmers started earning better returns.
Everything was in favour of farmers but they got trapped because of a dull 2.25 kilometre-long road, a thorn on their side, from Rashidpur to Baushi Bazaar. During the full monsoon of July 2010, I went to Shahbazpur. It was the fourteenth day of Bengali month, Ashaar - a day of cats and dogs. A few trucks were standing at the entry road towards Shahbazpur. The road was in a very bad shape and I had to go on foot. The trucks couldn't go in to the village because of the poor condition of the road and the same was happening inside as I learned that farmers can't easily transport their Koi fishes on this muddy road where hardly any vehicle can move on.
In around 500 ponds, Koi fishes are farmed in Shahbazpur village. But, over the years, many farmers stepped down from Koi farming due to the transport havoc. But things were better before. Farmers used to count profits in plenty from Koi fish and that is how Shahbazpur came to be known as Koi village. I talked with many farmers there and they explained how things rapidly changed and the price of their fish came down speedily.
In the past, Koi farming took the marginal community of Shahbazpur way ahead. Farmers bought lands, built houses and some saved money for other businesses. I talked with an elderly farmer, Shamsul Haque who said, “I've turned my little hut into a building and bought a private car only with the profits I made from Koi farming”. But in one year, frustration came heavy on all the farmers. Shamsul Haque, who started five years back, is now in a pretty difficult situation with his Koi farm. I also asked another farmer regarding the profits he made before.
“My profit was around Tk. 10 lac.”
“How long did it take you make such a good profit?”
“Only one year”, said the farmer, leaving me amazed and shocked to learn about the potential for prosperity as I was afraid that the great promise of Koi farming was headed towards a decline.
Four things are very noteworthy for agricultural development - input availability, fair price, infrastructural and marketing facility. These are the places where farmers always encounter big blows. On one hand, input price went sky high, and on the other, they face a massive downturn in price at the markets. This catch 22 was further aggravated with the critical problem of the poor road.
“If it rains, the road gets muddy and becomes really tough for us to transport fish. Trucks which can carry one-tonne load can't come in here. And that's why farmers face a loss of around Tk. 20 per kg”, local young entrepreneur Mahfuzul Islam gave me the factual information.
It’s not only that Koi farming has stopped and that the rich farmers have come down to zero profit, but also that they're taking the load of loans. Farmers have taken big loans from fish feed companies. For many, it's pretty tough to pay back and it's also a huge setback. These farmers are in great fear whether they'd be bound to sacrifice their parental households and lands to pay back the credit.
Small farmers suffer even more. Like one of them was describing, “Small farmers like me will have to sell my households and lands. Last year, I suffered a loss of around Tk. 80,000 on a 12 decimal land. “I have a loan of around Tk. 5,00,000. This season, all my farming went in vain due to the poor road and lack of transport options. Three electricity transporters have burnt out and aren't working anymore. I went to REB, but they couldn't give another transporter to me”, another literally undone farmer told me how things are slowly turning to the back-gear in Shahbazpur.
“The profit we made during the last two years is almost gone. Every fifteen days, we suffer the price hike of fish feed. There's no profit for us. Financially, we are back from where we started. Who'll inspect this price hike? Where should we place our complaints?” Some farmers also mentioned about how the quality of the fish is degrading due to too much time spent on the road. Koi, Magur, Shing - these species belong to the group of Jiol (kept-alive) fish and thus needs to be sent to the market fast. Whereas it should be transported to Dhaka in two hours, it takes one and half hour to reach only the highway from inside the village, over the muddy road. “It loses its original colour, and the fish turns red. We get Tk. 100 instead of 140 taka because the fish already turned red. Sometimes it goes down to Tk. 50, a frustrated farmer was telling me his story of misery.
One farmer was saying the market rate fell down to Tk. 60 from Tk. 150. Feed price went up to Tk. 54 from Tk. 24. Farmers of Shahbazpur believe Koi fish has given them everything, and then, snatched everything in return. And, there is always the hassle of renting a truck. “Even during summer time, we have to pay each truck Tk. 5000. And during monsoon time, we have to pay them Tk. 8000. This means that they pay roughly tk. 10 for every 25 kgs of fish. If the road becomes even worse, we've got to pay Tk. 15 to Tk. 20. If the road was fit, the company trucks could directly reach our ponds”, said a bold farmer who couldn't help being point-blank about the issues.
Wind of Change
I have been travelling to Shahbazpur over three years, the concerned officials of LGRD ministry followed the infrastructural disaster on Channel i News and Hridoye Mati O Manush. The State Minister for LGRD, Mr. Jahangir Kabir Nanak visited Channel i on 6 June 2011 and gave his word to construct the 2.25 kilometre road, on LIVE news. The construction works started on 6 January 2012 and Mr. Minister appreciated the positive journalism of Channel i. I am very thankful to the government for taking such an effective initiative to bring back the sustainability in Shahbazpur and also to Star Insight Magazine for spreading the news of their efforts through the publication of this story. Farmers of Shahbazpur, who had been devastated, will shine once again and their ventures will become profitable within a short period of time.
With the encouraging message of the road-construction, many farmers are in high spirits and can't express their happiness in words. Undeniably, the farming and business of Koi farming will expand. If throughout the country, we can gradually fix the infrastructural constraint such as this 2.25 kilometre road, I'm sure that farmers, the spine of Bangladesh, will become more successful and will be able to contribute even more significantly in making Bangladesh a strong and sustainable nation.
||Shykh Seraj is an Agriculture Development and Media Activist. He is Director and the Head of News at Channel i and also the Director, Planner and Presenter of the popular Agro-Documentary “Hridoye Mati O Manush”.
(R) thedailystar.net 2012