Aquaculture: from laboratory to village

Indian agricultural scientists obtain excellent results in their labs and experimental farms. But it is only when technology and techniques are successfully transferred to the village farmer that the payoff comes in the form of increased national production, rural prosperity and improved nutrition.

CIFA aquaculture extension chief Radheyshyam (left) gives farmer Nrushingh Charan Panda advice on how to set up a fish hatchery

The Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA) in Orissa State, eastern India, the largest such centre in the country, has achieved outstanding results in rearing carp in experimental ponds: 10 to 15 tonnes per hectare per year. But the average village farmer, even if he uses good fingerlings and fertilizes the pond with household waste, gets only 2 to 3 tonnes per hectare per year. Overcoming this type of yield gap is one of the greatest challenges of agricultural development.

The lush green coastal plain that stretches from the sprawling Institute complex of ponds and laboratories to the Bay of Bengal, 60 kilometres away, is dotted with villages. One of them is called Sarakana, home of 407 farm families with a population of 3 500.

In 1986, a disgruntled Sarakana farmer arrived in the office of Dr Radheyshyam, the head of training and extension at CIFA. The farmer had stocked a pond with commercially bought fish fry, but when he returned to harvest the pond there was nothing there. He felt cheated.

"I asked him if he was sure there was nothing in the pond. I had a hunch about what had gone wrong," said Radheyshyam. "We went to his village and I put something in the pond to kill off any predators that might be lurking there. A while later, predator fish were floating on the surface. No one had told the farmer that he had to prepare his pond carefully before stocking it. Predators, hidden in the mud on the pond bottom, had emerged and eaten all his fry."

With Radheyshyam's help, the farmer and a partner set out to grow fish in a scientific manner. Ten years later, Sarakana produces fish and, more importantly for the district, supplies quality fish seed to new fish farmers in nearby villages as well as advice on how to raise the fish.

"I don't sell to bad farmers," said Nrushingh Charan Panda through an interpreter. "If they don't prepare their ponds properly, the fry will die. Then they will blame me, saying I sell poor quality fry." The partners, who run 11 ponds and have built a cement-tank hatchery, say that they get ten to 15 customers a day for their fry.

In Sarakana, Nrushingh has provided work for his whole family, his wife and sisters taking care of supplementary feeding, manuring, digging and packing of seed. His sons and nephews do the heavier work like netting.

Villagers have a better diet now as well. "We eat fish three times a week now. Before we only ate it once a month. When there is a marriage in the area, we sell lots of fish," said the farmer, relaxing on the banks of one of his ponds.

The Institute, founded with extensive help from FAO, is counting on many more farmers like those of Sarakana to act as catalysts for a "Farmer-led Farmer Approach" to spreading effective and proven aquaculture technologies.

20 August 1998

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