New ways of doing business offer an opportunity to address the natural and man-made challenges that threaten local livelihoods in developing countries. This column reports on the success of one such model: climate-smart fisheries, which have been connecting small-scale fish farmers with credit, technology and markets. Support from NGOs is important for institution-building and developing an effective community-led business model.
The North Eastern Region of India faces both natural and man-made challenges that threaten local livelihoods. Severe floods, soil erosion, landslides and sand deposition are causing the loss of huge areas of valuable agricultural land, and thus leading to livelihood insecurity. These problems are intensified by the increasing population due to thousands of immigrants to the region over the past four decades.
Credit coverage has also been low. According to data on microfinance in India (published by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, NABARD), the average loan outstanding per ‘self-help group’ (SHG) is 61,991 rupees in the North Eastern Region, compared with an all-India average of 150,584 rupees in 2017/18.
But there are a few successful business models with high potential for replication, which have been developed by civil society organizations for strengthening the livelihood opportunities of local people. One notable example is an NGO called Kalong Kapili, which has developed a model for climate-smart fisheries.
Our study seeks to understand the model and its impact. The data for the research were gathered through in-depth interviews with the NGO’s staff and the manager of a regional rural bank, as well as focus group discussions with fish farmers.
The fishery sector in Assam
The fishery sector in India generates livelihoods for approximately ten million people. In Assam, the fishery sector is an important source of livelihood that contributes more than 2% of the state economy.
Tropical climatic conditions in the plain areas of Assam favor cultivation of freshwater fish. But despite the vast aquatic resources, the status of fish as a staple food means that fish production struggles to match the ever-growing demand. Lack of skills and experience in scientific fish farming, lack of good quality fish seeds, lack of capital and lack of support from government agencies are the major challenges observed by fishery experts.
At the same time, there is an excellent opportunity for the development of pond-based enterprise at village level with the provision of good quality fast-growing fish seeds.
The Kalong Kapili NGO has been working with fish farmers in six districts of Assam since 2007. The organization encouraged the farmers to form Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) and addressed the challenges of lack of awareness of scientific fish farming practices, non-availability of good quality seeds, inadequate marketing linkages, lack of credit support, etc.
An Indo-German project – the Umbrella Programme for Natural Resource Management (UPNRM) – facilitated the conversion of fisheries as a livelihood activity into a climate-smart fishery model.
The climate-smart fishery model
Kalong Kapili’s business model of integrated fish farming is a perfect demonstration of climate-resilient pisciculture. Frequent floods are a common phenomenon in the NGO’s operational area, destroying the livelihoods of local fish farmers. Considering the risk of frequently occurring floods, the organization developed ponds with features that mitigate climatic risks, in consultation with a varied group of stakeholders, including indigenous fish farmers and fishery experts.
The critical features of the design of ponds are tall embankments that help to retain water throughout the year and protect the pond from inundation, turfing on the sides of pond to strengthen the structure against forceful water currents during floods, and plantation of banana and other plants on the embankment and adjacent area to reduce soil erosion.
The fish farmers have been sensitized about collective pisciculture and its benefits for better income opportunities. They are mobilized into JLGs and supported by Kalong Kapili in aggregation, value addition and marketing of their products. This has greatly reduced input costs including labor, and empowered farmers in collective bargaining and price negotiations with traders.
Kalong Kapili facilitates the capital requirement for the groups to meet expenses, such as digging and renovating ponds, machinery and equipment purchase, procuring fish seeds and feeds, and horticulture crop plantation through banks, development finance institutions and donor agencies.
It has become easy for the farmers to access credit through the group model. Under the UPNRM project, NABARD provided a loan of two million rupees to Kalong Kapili for capital and operational costs.
The NGO channeled this loan to fish farmers through JLGs for preparation of ponds (removal of silt) and operational costs (introduction of prawns, feed management, disease management, labor, etc.). In addition to the loan, 0.14 million rupees were given to the organization for capacity-building, and administrative and infrastructure support.
The farmers supply their fish to the JLGs, which act as aggregators. Each producer group consists of ten members. Fish collected from the groups are packaged for bulk sales at the aggregation centers. Kalong Kapili has developed contacts with retailers and wholesalers who buy fish from the groups.
The fish farmers have been provided with necessary training and capacity-building support through classroom teaching and exposure visits.
The climate-smart fish-farming model started to have a positive impact from the first year of operation. The farmers who were earlier used to getting 50-60,000 rupees from a one-acre (0.40 hectares) pond are now getting 0.15-0.16 million rupees per year.
Seeing the success of this program, many farmers have come forward to adopt the business model. Over 200 farmers have received bank loans from the regional rural bank of Assam.
Along with bank mainstreaming, the success of the program also resulted in convergence with other government schemes. For example, the fishery department is regularly supporting Kalong Kapili in the conduct of technical training for fish farmers.
In addition, a five-kilometer pakka road has been developed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which has connected regional markets with the village. The irrigation department has also financed the construction of a pakka canal that now helps with filling ponds and irrigating nearby land throughout the year.
On the eve of India’s national fish farmers day, 10 July 2018, Jyotish Talukdar, co-promoter of Kalong Kapili, was recognized with an award for best performance in the field of fisheries from the state of Assam.
Conclusion and way forward
To eliminate poverty, a huge investment is required in form of livelihood finance. The small loan size for SHGs and JLGs is insufficient to create sustainable livelihood options for rural households. Banks should consider increasing the loan size for livelihood and enterprise financing. Bankers should also be made aware of successful business models that have been implemented under government and non-government programs for large-scale financing.
Collectivization of fish farmers in the form of farmer producer organizations can strengthen the bargaining power of farmers. JLGs and SHGs that are engaged in livelihood activities may be transformed into such organizations to connect smallholder farmers with credit, technology and markets. Support from NGOs is important for institution-building and developing a community-led business model.
Figure 1: Climate-smart fish farming model frame
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the authors, and not necessarily to the authors’ employers, organizations, committees, other groups or individuals.
Deepak Chamola has over 17 years of experience in development sector. He has led large scale rural livelihood projects and extensively worked on Rural finance, Agri-business & Value Chain and Farmer Collectives.
Biswajit Behera is a development professional from India. His expertise includes research, project management, business consulting and technical advisory on climate smart agriculture, sustainability, and others.