New sustainable aquaculture techniques boost incomes and nutrition for ethnic minorities

In Bangladesh, where food shortages and malnutrition continue to plague millions, an aquaculture project is helping to raise family income and assist the rural poor to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Bangladesh, the world’s third poorest country, boosted basic food production in the 1970s and 1980s with the introduction of high yielding cereal crops. The benefits of the new varieties, however, largely failed to reach the Adivasi ethnic minority.

Roughly two million Adivasi live in Bangladesh, mainly in marginal, resource-poor areas that are experiencing the impacts of global climate change. According to the National Geographic Society, Bangladesh ranks first as the nation most vulnerable to climate change, a fact that has prompted the government to develop strategies that place greater emphasis on fisheries and aquaculture.

The Adivasi Fisheries project aimed to improve production from farm fishing. The project introduced aquaculture and related fisheries options tailored to the specific needs, circumstances and resource base of Adivasi households.

"The Adivasi project greatly exceed our expectations." -Dr. Michael Phillips, Discipline Director, Aquaculture and Genetic Improvement at WorldFish.

Since initiation of the Adivasi Fisheries Project, fish production among the Adivasi has increased nearly 500 percent, dramatically boosting family income and protein consumption.  

A majority of the nearly 3,600 households that participated in the project are still using the new aquaculture techniques. These techniques that are spreading to others throughout the Adivasi community.

The researchers noted that the new techniques were developed over a 20-year period in an effort geared principally to community fisheries management and disadvantaged rural minorities. The fact that they may also help to address the impact of climate change on the poor is a bonus.

These included introduction of small ponds, integrating rice production with fish and a technique known as cage fingerling production. Cage fingerling production involves raising fish in submersed cages in small ponds. The practice is thought to be especially attractive to women as an easy-to-handle 1 cubic meter cage will produce as much as 20 kg of fingerlings in less than 60 days.

Shulekha Hazong, an Adivasi mother and farmer, has put the new techniques to good use. She is producing five species of fish as well a variety of nutritious vegetable crops. Her efforts now represent nearly 50% of her family’s household income and have significantly improved the family’s nutrition and diet.

Women, such as Hazong, and thousands of other Adivasi farmers, learned about the project through farmer field schools that provide training in aquaculture and community-based fisheries management practices designed specifically for small-scale farmers and fishers.

For women, the schools provided training in fingerling production, community-based fisheries management and fish trading. For men, the schools provided training in how to teach other members of the Adivasi community to fish and also how to provide fish-harvesting services to pond owners. Men and women were both instructed in how to plan, implement and monitor aquaculture projects in their communities.

“The Adivasi project greatly exceeded our expectations”, said Michael Phillips, Discipline Director, Aquaculture and Genetic Improvement at WorldFish. “Our monitoring and evaluation efforts show that over just a two-year period fish consumption quadrupled and family savings increased from 9% of household income to nearly 29%.  In addition, ownership of land and other assets increased, as did improvements in household nutrition," he said.