Cultivating fish in reservoirs usually addresses two problems – one, fishes help to keep the water fresh, and two, they help meet the economic needs of a community. Realising the huge potential of well-stocked and well-run fisheries, Tata Trusts decided that working with local cooperatives to build their capacity and plug holes in the value chain would help resolve the basic issues that plagued the system – poor stock and non-existent governance and management practices.
The Trusts identified six different locations in Andhra Pradesh, where they could manage the government’s cage culture initiative through the communities. The reservoirs were supposedly stocked with 1,000 fingerlings per hectare. In reality, the number was far lower. This meant that community incomes either reduced considerably each year, or at best, stagnated.
The Trusts hypothesized that the communities could be trained to breed and rear fish spawn into fingerlings, through fairly simple techniques. This would remove their dependency on external factors and ensure a steady income through better stocking and seed sales.
Fish breeding only needs a happa (a net-like structure that could be fashioned out of an old sari or dhoti) as it is known locally across the country, some mature adult fish, bamboo, and some substrate (such as a water hydrilla) so the eggs can stick. Then, these spawn need to be cared for, fed a diet of rice bran and groundnut oil cake. In about three months’ time, the fingerlings would be big enough to release into the reservoir.
The Peddagadda project
One of the target areas was the Peddagadda reservoir in Andhra Pradesh. When the Trusts representatives went to the fisheries cooperative society’s meeting in January 2016, there were only 10 members there; they were despondent about their economic future. In fact, the society’s president, Kona Rao, was thinking of migrating to Chennai as a labourer.
The field lead from Tata Trusts, Padmakar Bojja spent more than a month building a relationship with the community members, encouraging them to rally, and slowly, attendance began to pick up. Padmakar also encouraged the participation of women, and by March 2016, 40 women turned up for a meeting with the District Fisheries Officer, Dr Phani Prakash. That meeting was the tipping point. For the first time, these women entered the reservoir around which they’d grown up.
By July 2016, the members of the cooperative were involved in breeding and rearing common carp. The women had also begun to set up happas on their own. Unfortunately, the happas were washed away within a couple of days of breeding. The failure of their initial venture did not dampen their spirits, however, and the community began again from scratch.
In early October, after the tilapia were harvested from the cage culture initiative, it occurred to the team that the vacant cages could be used to rear fish spawn to fingerlings. It had never been done before, and the community members were excited to begin the experiment.
The government supplied 3.5 million fish spawn to the cooperative, which split them up into two batches – one, a batch of 2 million spawn that would be reared in the cages, and the remaining 1.5 million that would be reared in happas in an unused pond.
A 12-member group was formed to manage this experiment. The conversion rate was estimated at a conservative 10 percent – a rate of about 300,000 fingerlings from 3.5 million spawn. They hoped to release half the fingerlings into the reservoir, while selling the other half. Assuming each fingerling could be sold for a market price of Rs1, it meant an assured income of Rs150, 000 for 12 people over three months on a seed investment of Rs20,000.
This experiment became the talk of the district. Thirty-nine other cooperatives made visits to learn how to implement this in their own ponds and reservoirs.
The Peddagadda cooperative waited anxiously for the successful culmination of their efforts but were faced with a tragic setback. The 2 million fish spawn in the cages were deliberately poisoned. The Trusts feared that this would shatter the confidence of a community that was just beginning to find their bearings. However, the members proved their resilience. With Kona Rao leading front and centre, they pushed onwards on their quest for self-sufficiency, battling adverse circumstances.
In January 2017, the community then took the next step of constructing their own low-cost cages, and built about 4-5 models of their own. This was a first in the state, and when the programme is rolled out across the state, this cooperative will act as one of the technical support agencies.
The cooperative has plans of constructing close to 100 low-cost cages for the 2017 monsoon, and rearing 2-3 million fingerlings, bringing in 2-3 million rupees worth of income. Ambitious of course, but the quiet confidence that the cooperative exudes means it will only be a matter of time.