“Revolution in Fish Farming through Women SHGs” Odisha Shows the Way

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Bhubaneswar: People of Odisha love to consume locally produced and fresh fish (Carps) such as Rohu and Catla. Per capita consumption of fish in Odisha is about 15.62 Kg, which is significantly higher than national average of 9.30 kg. Odisha is endowed with vast area of water resources (6.79 lakh Hectares of freshwater resources, 4.18 lakh hectares of brackish water resources and 1.70 lakh sq. km of marine exclusive economic zone), and has great potential for fish production.

At the moment, Odisha has immense scope in freshwater fish as the demand is more than the supply. Annually it imports nearly 40,000 metric tons of carps from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh to satisfy the local demand.

With an aim of increasing the fish production and export, an ambitious Odisha Fisheries Policy-2015 was introduced. The Fisheries and ARD Department has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with World Fish, Malaysia for technical collaboration to implement its Fisheries Policy, especially for the development of the inland fisheries sector. Different programmes and schemes have been introduced to achieve the objectives of the policy.

In Odisha, there are approximately 64,000 Gram Panchayat (GP) tanks (51,000 hectares), which are public property and governed by gram panchayats under the Department of Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water. These GP tanks are dug under various government schemes such as MGNREGS for multipurpose utility by villagers. Also, they are auctioned on an annual basis to different individuals for fish farming purposes and to generate income for the Gram Panchayats. However, some tanks are in derelict condition and underutilized for fish production. Sensing an opportunity, the government intensified its efforts to utilize these GP  tanks for increased fish productivity from present 2.3 ton/ha/year to 5 ton/ha/year and thus to boost overall fish production of the state.

There are around 6 lakh Women Self Help Groups (WSHGs) with a membership of more than 70 lakh women registered in each and every village of the state under Mission Shakti- the flagship self-help group movement of the Government of Odisha.

These SHGs are involved in various types of income-generating activities such as handicrafts, textiles, honey production, food supply to ICDS and schools, etc. The government has identified fish farming as one of the potential business activity for the WSHGs. Therefore, an inter-departmental convergence program involving departments of Fisheries & ARD, WCD & Mission Shakti, Panchayati Raj & DW with technical support from WorldFish was mooted and a flagship scheme named “Fish Farming in Gram Panchayat Tanks by Women SHGs” was launched during September 2018. To encourage the WSHGs to actively enroll in the scheme, an important policy change was brought in by the Government for long term leasing (3-5 years lease) of GP tanks to Women SHGs on a priority basis.

The scheme provided financial support @ Rs. 90,000 per hectare to WSHGs, which makes 60% of the operational expenses (unit cost of Rs. 1.5 lakhs/ha/crop) towards the fish production. Two-crop system per year by the promotion of stocking of zero size fish fingerlings (50-100 gram size) was highlighted for doubling the productivity of GP tanks. The target production is 2.5 tons / ha / crop of 6 months or 5 tons / ha / year.

As a first step, a State-level Convergence Conference was conducted in Bhubaneswar on 27 September 2018 to brief the senior officials (state and district level officers of 3 convergence departments) regarding the scheme and its modalities of implementation. A total of 210 officers participated in the event.

District level training of trainers (ToTs) were conducted in all 30 districts of Odisha from December 2018 to March 2019. In total, 1596 master trainers were trained in the scheme. These master trainers are none other than Assistant Fisheries Officers (AFO), Junior and Senior Technical Officers of Fisheries & ARD Department and Block and District Project Coordinators (BPC) of Mission Shakti.

Block-level training for WSHG leaders is under progress since June 2019 and will be completed by October 2019. In total, 320 batches of block-level trainings will be conducted with a target of 9,200 beneficiaries from WSHGs.

Extension material such as “training manual on Fish farming in GP tanks by WSHGs”, leaflet on better management practices (BMPs) for fish farming in GP tanks have been produced and are under distribution to nearly 50,000 members of WSHGs across the state. Training and extension material will significantly enhance the knowledge of WSHGs on scientific and sustainable fish farming for better yield and higher income. The BMPs are developed in such a simple manner that any layman can understand and implement with minimal cost and effort using locally available materials. BMPs include the practices for pond preparation; fish seed selection, transportation, and stocking; feed management; water quality management; fish health management; and harvesting, post-harvest handling, and marketing.

The selected WSHGs under the guidance of Mission Shakti are graded and sponsored to the nearest Block Development Office for tagging to specific Gram Panchayat tanks with a long-term lease of a minimum of three years. Once the lease is finalized, the WSHGs deposit the lease value of Rs. 2,000/- per Acre per year. An agreement at the block level is ensured prior to the start of fish farming. On-farm technical support to the WSHGs is provided at farm-gate at least once a month by the local AFO/SFTA/JFTA of the Fisheries & ARD Department. All this is done under the guidance of district administration. The capacity building and training costs are borne by Mission Shakti.

During 2018-19 (first year of the scheme), against the target of 1,680 ha with financial support from RKVY, the programme has achieved 1,463.51 ha covering 1,711 WSHGs. Fish farming was taken up in 1,738 GP tanks. Fish fingerling was released during September 2018 – March 2019. At the moment, fish harvest is under progress in many tanks.

During 2019-20 (second year), it was targeted to cover 3000 Ha water area (1500 Ha from RKVY and 1500 Ha from Blue Revolution). Till date, in total 2,654 GP tanks covering an area of 2,025.01 Ha have been leased to 2,631 WSHGs. The tanks are prepared and stocking of quality seed is under progress.

The scheme has brought a remarkable change in the knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) of WSHGs towards fish farming. The WSHGs have volunteered to clean and repair the derelict or under-utilised GP tanks. They have cleared all the weed plants such as eichornia, duckweed etc from the water. Wherever the water level is low, WSHGs have filled those tanks using locally available water pumps using groundwater or from local irrigation canals. With unity and smartness, they have fiercely protected tanks from unscrupulous elements who otherwise harvest the fish from GP tanks without any restrictions. WSHGs have started using locally available agricultural byproducts such as rice bran, oil cakes, soaked pulses etc as fish feed. Also, many of them have started using commercial pellet fish feeds. Due to increased awareness, they have started reporting any abnormalities in fish behavior and fish mortality to the project officers. This has helped them a lot in disease diagnosis and appropriate treatment in a timely manner. Due to the scheme, availability of fresh fish in the villages has definitely increased. And also, the WSHG members started consuming more fish in their households. This will definitely have a positive impact on nutritional outcomes of the women and children of the state.

During 2018-19, the average fish productivity and harvest size was about 1.5 tons/ha and 700 grams per fish, respectively against the target productivity of 2.5 tons/ha and target average size of fish at harvest at 1 kg. This was the first year and training had just been given to groups that had never done fish farming. Also, the WSHGs faced slight problems during the harvesting. They lost 20-30% of their harvested fish to harvesting parties as their harvest charges. Therefore, in consultation with Mission Shakti, Fisheries & ARD Department has formulated a new scheme for distribution of fish harvest nets to WSHGs. Due to intensified on-farm extension services and training by the department staff and World Fish under the programme, the WSHGs quickly realized the shortcomings in their practices and they have improved their quality of farming practices during this year. Therefore, in the coming days, there is lot of hope among WSHGs for improved fish production and income thus contributing to their overall empowerment.

The Programme is regularly reviewed at Fisheries & ARD Department and Mission Shakti attended by the Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Commissioner-cum-Director Mission Shakti and senior officers from F&ARD Department, Directorate of Fisheries, Mission Shakti Directorate and World Fish. Monthly Video Conference for review of the field progress made on the scheme is also organized in WCD& Mission Shakti Department of Secretariat and officers of Directorate of Fisheries and Mission Shakti participate in this.

This initiative will be a game-changer in generating sustainable income for rural women, improving nutritional outcomes and increase fish productivity in the State.

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