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Little pond, big fish
A modest investment and lots of hard work pay off
In 2001 Shahadra's Gandhi Leprosy Society teamed up with the South Metropolitan Rotarian Club of New Delhi and approached FAO with a proposal for another project: a fish farm.

A small, one-time investment of US$4 000 by FAO's TeleFood campaign paid for a well and pump, 50 000 fingerlings to get the crop started, one year's worth of fish food, and some additional inputs.

TeleFood holds international fundraising events and directly invests the proceeds in small, self-sustaining projects to help poor families in food-insecure communities like Shahadra produce more to eat.

The Rotarians matched TeleFood's contribution, paying for additional equipment and some construction costs, and Society members pitched in and dug the fish ponds by hand.

Two and a half years after their first harvest in October 2001, the Society continues to successfully grow several kinds of fish, including magur (Clarias batrachus), rohu (Labeo rohita), bhakur (Catla catla), mrigal (Cirrhinus cirrhosus), common carp (Cyprinus carpio carpio) and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella).

A retired aquaculture expert previously with the New Delhi state fish warden's office, Ganysham Singh, 66, helps the Society manage things.

Decisions regarding when to net and sell fish are made based on the size of the current crop and on local market conditions.

When prices are up, the Society calls a fish seller who comes and nets the fish for them and then transports them to New Delhi for sale.

"If we sold them ourselves at market, we might get around 23 or 24 rupees per kilogram after expenses because it costs money to transport the fish and have a stall," explains Surinder Singh, 25, a Society member who works on the pond and the farm.

From the seller, the group gets around 35 rupees (US$.79) per kilogram, but the price can rise occasionally to as high as 60 rupees/kg.

The Society earns around 500 000 rupees a year -- just over US$11 000 -- from the fish farm.

Half of this money is reinvested in Society projects, and families with members who are sick or handicapped receive a free ration of fish, while neighbours buy at half price.

Multiplier effect

In three short years the Society's aquaculture operation has done so well that the group has been able to invest its profits into yet another project: a poultry farm.

"When they saw that the farm and the fishing could bring a better income, some younger members in our community said we should build a poultry farm," explains Aththan, 58.

He is one of the earliest residents of the colony and this year is serving as the elected chair of the Society's council.

The Society saved around 8 500 rupees from the sale of fish and approached the Rotary Club with their idea, he explains. The Rotarians decided to match those funds.

According to Aththan, the group hopes to save as much as 1 000 rupees per month per person through the poultry farm.

"Now the youngsters have more projects they are thinking of," he says, gesturing to Satayan Das, 35, the secretary of the Gandhi Leprosy Society and a driving force behind its projects.

"We're always looking for more to do," says Mr Das. "We would like to establish an orchard and open some small shops. But it's hard -- especially the technical aspects. We need more knowledge, more training."

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Photo gallery

Raghu Rai/Magnum Photos for FAO

Half the proceeds from the fish farm are reinvested in Society projects. Families with members who are sick or handicapped receive a free ration of fish, while neighbours buy at half price.

FAO/G. Kourous

With profits from its fish sales, the Society is building a chicken coop. "We're always looking for more to do," says Satyan Das. "But it's hard -- especially the technical aspects. We need more knowledge, more training."

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