For Lovely Yasmin and her family, the long days when her husband was effectively unemployed were difficult. At times, it was a question of food on the table. But the housewife from Uttar Kastosagra village in Jhenidah sadar upazila was determined to change her family's lot. After graduating with a Higher School Certificate in 2001, she enrolled in a six-month course at a youth training centre to learn aquaculture and animal husbandry. It proved to be the start of a major transformation. Few could've imagined what a successful fish farmer Lovely, now 42, would become.
Her husband Md Abdul Mannan Mia had worked at the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation, but during the Bangladesh National Party's tenure he was exempted from duty as an excess employee. Thus began the family's struggle, not only to cover daily expenses but their three sons' schooling costs.
“There was once an Eid-ul-Azha when my husband couldn't sacrifice even a goat,” Lovely recalls, in tears. “I could only cook a hotchpotch and there was barely enough. We were hungry. My youngest son cried himself to sleep. On that day I resolved to build a better life.”
In 2002, Lovely took a Tk 20,000 loan with the view to establishing a poultry farm. But the money was insufficient to run the business. She withdrew a further Tk 44,000 from a savings plan but unfortunately the poultry farm wasn't profitable.
Unable to achieve solvency she didn't give up. Lovely tried dairy and fish farming, and growing organic vegetables. These activities ran for five years, and in 2012 Lovely availed the opportunity to travel to Malaysia for training in oil seed production. But at home it was the fish farming that seemed most viable. She decided to concentrate on that.
“In August 2012, I leased four ponds for Tk 1 lakh and released fry. The business began in earnest from then,” Lovely says. Since then, her business has grown. In the upcoming harvest season next April, Lovely estimates she will sell Tk 15 lakhs worth of fish.
Her reputation as a fish farmer means many people ask her for advice. “With the assistance of the fisheries office I have trained around 120 people in fish farming,” she says, “including housewives, students and other farmers.”
“After training with Lovely Yasmin, I have taken a lease on a pond to farm fish for myself,” says one neighbour, Shilpi Begum.
Lovely currently employs twenty labourers on her farm, which now stretches across seven ponds. In her spare time, she is the general secretary of a human rights group which works against child marriage, dowries and domestic violence.
Needless to say, Lovely is more than a little pleased with her new life. Her eldest son works as a textile engineer in Tangail, the middle son is studying computer engineering at a private university in Dhaka while the youngest current boards at a residential school and college, also in the capital.
“Undoubtedly fish farming is very profitable,” she remarks. “From my farm profits I have bought five decimals of land in Magura and almost thirty in Jhenidah.”
She currently has a Tk 2 lakh bank loan for her business, and regrets that interest rates weren't more reasonable, since if they were she would be able to employ more labourers.
“Lovely is a successful entrepreneur,” says Jhenidah sadar upazila's senior fishery officer Timir Baran Mondol. “She is energetic and skilled at fish farming. Through hard work she has achieved much, creating for herself and her family a prosperous future. Others would do well to follow her example.”