Fishers must have food security
The government has announced that from October 7 to 22, there will be a ban on hilsa fishing to prevent overfishing during the breeding season, which runs the risk of reducing the fish population for the rest of the year. Last year, too, there was a hilsa ban in October, and a longer ban in May for similar reasons – 65 days of no fishing at sea at all. And while this policy might make sense in a country where people are known to be mad about eating fish all year round, it has a detrimental effect on the livelihoods of fishers – a population that is generally mired in poverty due to insecure incomes.
In fact, 75 percent of fishers are known to suffer from further economic hardship during fishing bans, which can be harsh enough for them to require food aid. And while the government gives food aid to those with fishermen cards, new research from Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) has found that not only is this support inadequate, but due to corruption and nepotism, it is reaching the wrong hands. This information was corroborated by the leaders of fisher unions in a recent press conference, who reported that people who have never been fishing are on the government support list due to their connections with local political leaders, and that even those who do have access to the food aid often do not get the promised amount.
These latest findings can now be added to the towering pile of public projects that target the vulnerable, but are failing to have an impact due to inefficiency and poor implementation at best, and deliberate corruption and a complete lack of accountability at worst. The research suggests that, during the bans last year, fishers suffered deeply from food insecurity, and only 40-46 percent received government food aid. Given this situation, are the fishing ministry and the relevant local government offices working together to ensure this doesn't happen again this year? Have they made any efforts to update the current list of fishers? Are they considering providing alternative employment to them during the ban? One of the fundamental flaws of this and many other government policies is that the people they are meant to serve are the ones not having their voices heard.
Leaders of fisher unions have long argued for cash incentives during seasonal bans alongside proper distribution of food aid, as well as a specialised bank or loan system so they don't fall into a debt trap by borrowing money. The relevant authorities must understand how important the roles of fishers are in ensuring food production and security in the country. Their vulnerabilities cannot be an afterthought when formulating policy. Rather, it should be the central concern, and their demands should be heard and met with the utmost urgency.