Livelihood of hundreds of fish farmers in Province-5 at stakeAs a result of travel restrictions, farmers in the region say they are unable to transport produce to the market or purchase feed and many of their fish are dying.
Tara Pandey, who has been engaged in fishing for 19 years at Siyari-5, Siddhapur in Rupandehi, had to bear losses for the first time since she started working as a fish farmer. She has not been able to sell fish after mid-March assuredly. Fish have been dying in the pond, and the ones that are alive, she has not been able to take them to the market.
"The market should have been opened by finding alternatives," she said, who started her fishery under the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Programme in the fiscal year 2015-16. She says she used to sell up to 4 quintals of fish daily earlier, with her produce tapping into markets in Syangja, Pokhara, Parasi, even till Sunauli in India. Now her sales have dwindled to be just around 70 kg a day.
Sales used to be so good that until last year, she was earning up to Rs150,000 a month, she says. But now, she is struggling to pay the salaries of her nine employees. She has not even been able to afford fuel expenses to take her fish to the market, she says. If the situation persists, and the nation continues to be under lockdown, farmers whose livelihoods depend on fish farming in Province-5 are heading for more difficult days.
Like Pandey, Din Bahadur GC, of Pyuthan Municipality of Pyuthan, too, said that this was the first time he had faced a problem in the fish business. GC, who started rearing fish from 2005 by making a pond in eight ropanies of land, said that 155 kg of his fish have died during the lockdown. "My pond is about to empty now, because my fish are dying and I have not been able to bring young fish," he said.
Bindulal Shrestha, central senior vice president of the Fishermen Traders Association, said that because of rising temperature, the fish in the pond are being deprived of oxygen and are thus dying. “Additionally, farmers have not been able to give them enough feed," he said, adding that purchasing feed too has become a problem.
Earlier, before the lockdown, feed traders used to provide feed to farmers in credit but now—because of the economic uncertainty brought in by the pandemic—they demand cash. This additional cost for farmers, who are already under financial stress, is having an impact on their fish. Shrestha said that the cost for fish farmers has increased doubly because they are feeding fish that are ready for the market.
Another problem is that feed in warehouses is fast running out and there is a shortage of raw material required for the feed, he added. Because of this shortage, GC says he has been rearing his fish by making feed at home and has not purchased feed from the market after lockdown. "The farmers will suffer if the same situation persists," he said.
In Bardiya too the problem is the same. Farmers are dependent on Rupandehi, Kailali and Bake districts for fish and feed, but with travel restrictions imposed farmers are in trouble.
Despite earning a good income from fish farming for years, farmers said that the fear caused by Covid-19 has led to a sharp decline in this year's income. According to farmers, they used to earn up to Rs 20,000 daily from fish all year round. This year, things are uncertain.
Farmers say that fish farming has been supporting their household expenditures but as business has come to a standstill they are having to bear losses.
However, Tulsiram Bhandari, chief of Province-5, said, "Fishermen have not complained about the impact of the lockdown yet. But if the lockdown is extended, alternatives need to be found." There has been no discussion about that right now, he added.
According to the Directorate of Livestock and Fisheries Development, fishing is being done across 3,166 hectares in the province, of which 2,805 are artificial reservoirs and 361 are natural reservoirs. The fish farming in the artificial reservoir produces 13,355 metric tonnes of fish annually. Similarly, a total of 626 metric tonnes of fish is produced in the natural reservoirs. There are 1,625 commercial fish farmers in the state and 1,315 registered fish farm firms in operation. Silver, Rahu, Naini, Brigade, Grass and common fish are bred in the fish ponds of the state.
The province government has set up four rural municipalities in Rupandehi (Siyari, Shuddhodhan, Gaidhawa and Mayadevi), three wards of Butwal sub-metropolitan municipality, two wards of Tilottama municipality, two wards of Siddharthnagar municipality and five wards of Lumbini Sanskritik municipality ward as ‘fish superzones’. Similarly, Banke, Bardiya and Kapilvastu also fall under the fish zone. These fish super zones of Rupandehi alone cover an area of 1,008 hectares, which produce more than 4,600 metric tonnes of fish annually.