Fish farmers Tk 220 crore poorer for flood | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 28, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:43 AM, July 28, 2020

Fish farmers Tk 220 crore poorer for flood

A deluge of missed calls greeted me as I glanced over my phone in late afternoon on Saturday. They were all from the same unknown number.

Puzzled and perturbed, I called back the number only to be accosted by a muffled, indecipherable voice.

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I cut off the line and before long, the phone began ringing. I answered and once again, the voice of the caller was not clear enough for me to understand a word he was uttering. I informed him about the problem and hung up.

But he kept calling for the next few minutes and I let the phone ring.

Five hours later, at about 9 pm, I got a call from a fish farmer, Md Kalu Mia from Bishwanath of northeast district Sylhet, with whom I had spoken to earlier in the day about the effect of the flood on his farm.

The 55-year-old called to inform that a modest fish farmer Azizur Rahman tried to contact me to share his nightmare, hoping I could offer him some help.

"He lost all his investment because of the flood," Mia said.

And that's when I could those incessant phone calls made sense to me: Rahman was desperate. Without further ado, I called back the 26-year-old farmer, who could not sound more crestfallen.

"All my savings have gone. I am totally penniless. It's all finished," said the broken voice.

Over the past three years, he saved up Tk 3 lakh, which he invested to rent five ponds in his locality to grow fingerlings from the spawn of carp fishes.

He would sell the juveniles to carp producers, a venture he hoped would change his fortunes for the better.

When the torrent of water burst into his ponds, which were enclosed with nets, there were 10 lakh fingerlings. Now there are none.

"All my efforts and labour have now been washed away. I am a poor man and I now have nothing to start over with," said Rahman, one of the worst victims of the repeated flood that began hitting the country towards the end of last month.

The onrush of water from upstream for heavy rainfall has vanished the distinction between rivers, static wetlands and ponds in many areas in the north and central regions of the country, ruining hopes and aspirations of tens of thousands of farmers producing crops livestock and fish.

The agriculture ministry recently estimated that the first spell of flood destroyed Tk 350 crore crops of food producers.

And as of 26 July, the Department of Fisheries (DoF) estimated Tk 220 crore of losses of freshwater aquaculture farmers, who provided 56 per cent of the total 43 lakh tonnes of fish produced in fiscal 2017-18.

Over the last two decades, aquaculture expanded on a massive scale and pulled more than 20 lakh people out of poverty between 2000 and 2010, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) last year and DoF.

The agriculture ministry recently estimated that the first spell of flood destroyed Tk 350 crore worth of crops of food producers.

While the plants that were damaged in the fields could not be recovered, the fishes that escaped the ponds amid the outgushing of water would not be lost ultimately.

"These fishes will be in the open water bodies. Hence, there will be no loss from the national perspective. It is only the farmers who will have to bear the losses themselves," said DoF Deputy Director Aquaculture Serajur Rahman.

DoF data showed that nearly 30,000 farmers, having 35,000 fish farms, were affected by the flood as of July 25.

And the number of losers and the amount of losses of growers are racing ahead every day as major rivers are flowing above the danger level, submerging districts in the northwest, northeast, central Bangladesh.

A large number of farmers there grow fish for livelihood.

Until 25 July, the water level in rivers in 18 districts was flowing above the danger level submerging low-lying areas, according to the special flood situation report by the disaster management and relief ministry.

"This is the first time in my 20 years of farming that floodwater came and washed away my entire investment," said Nawshad Ali, a farmer from Sylhet's Bishwanath, a flood affect sub-district.

Ali has a 14-bigha pond that he enclosed with a net. The net was of no use against the might of the cascading water.

"There was such a rush of water," he said, adding that Tk 600,000 worth of fish might have gone out of the pond.

Badal Chandra, a farmer from Dewanganj of northern district Jamalpur, had a different experience to share.

The grown-up carps escaped his pond as the rising water level narrowed the height of the more than five-foot net he used around the enclosure to protect his farm.

A large number of grown-up fish have jumped over the net.

"It really is a very worrying situation. The tide comes suddenly, so we have to remain alert day and night," said Chandra, who lives on the bank of the Jamuna river. 

Ariful Islam, a fish farmer at Nageshwari of the northern bordering district Kurigram, said the repeated flood has not only affected his farms but also dampened the prospect of selling fingerlings as no farmer wanted to invest amid the risk of flood.

"My investment has been stuck as I cannot sell the juvenile fishes," he said.

Bishwanath's Kalu Mia had a similar account.

"Now we are in a state of idleness. The flood has not only eaten up part of my investment but also affected the sales of fingerlings," said Mia, who grows fingerlings from the spawn of carp fishes.

What's worse, they had to spend more on spawns this year as the transport costs had escalated for the coronavirus-induced countrywide general shutdown.

Mia went on to urge the government for support for fish growers such that they can bounce back from the losses stemming from the pandemic, the recent cyclone Amphan and the ongoing flood.

Contacted, Fisheries and Livestock Secretary Rawnak Mahmud said fisheries officers are advising farmers to collect nets to build fences around their farms for protection.

"We are monitoring the damages done by floods by fisheries officials. I have no record so far that fish farms have been washed away," he said, adding that the government would take care of the farmers if they suffered losses for the unusual situation.

The government is working to provide relief to the affected areas.

"But the issue of losses of fish farmers has not arisen on a large scale anywhere. That is why we are to yet to think about the matter."

On providing support to cyclone Amphan-affected farmers, the MoFL secretary said they have tried to provide input support to the growers.

The DoF prepared a list of farmers affected by the cyclone and has submitted it to the ministry of fisheries and livestock (MoFL).

The MoFL is trying to ensure that the affected aquaculture farmers can get access to funds from the Tk 5,000 crore-stimulus package announced by the Bangladesh Bank earlier in April for growers to help them recover from the pandemic-induced economic shock.

Funds from the package would come at 4 per cent interest.

The DoF estimated that more than 39,000 farmers suffered nearly Tk 400 crore in losses thanks to the cyclone Amphan in May.

Kurigram's farmer Islam and Sylhet's Ali said easy access to the low-cost loans would enable them to reinvest and recover from the outsize damages.

While the central bank has issued a notice for flood-affected farmers, including crop and livestock producers, Bishwanath's fish farmer Rahman has no idea how to avail the loan facility.

"I do not understand this (loans from the bank). I do not know where to go and how to proceed," said the flood-affected farmer over the phone on Saturday night.

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