An inspiring story of a fish farmer's journey to award winning success

Dr Ch Basudha, Dr Arati N, Dr L Kanta Singh, W Anand Meetei, Dr Th Motilal, Dr Ch Premabati Devi, K Lily Rangnamei *

The State of Manipur has an excellent sub-tropical climate for developing a freshwater fish culture in various water bodies. There is an enormous potential for the development of the fisheries sector in Manipur, which is directly related to the rural economy, estimated at 56,461.05 hectares but present at only 19,500 ha or 40.47 per cent of the total water area is used for fish farming (Govt. of Manipur, 2022).

Rice and fish are the two staple diets of the Manipuri people. Fish is an essential protein-rich food for 95% of the State's population. The State currently produces about 33.0 thousand tonnes of fish from all sources against an estimated annual demand of 52.78 thousand tonnes. As the State Fisheries Department reported, the deficiency is partially met by importing fish of around 7-10 thousand tonnes annually by private traders from other States like Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.

The import of fish causes a draining out of around Rs 300 to 400 crore annually from the State. Capture fisheries can no longer meet the present fish demand in the State. The widening gap between demand and supply can only be removed through scientific fish farming and adopting modern technology. This would require capacity-building, skill enhancement of farmers and hand-holding in the initial stages till they can establish themselves properly.

An educated fish farmer, Shri Salam Rohendro Singh, S/o Shri Salam Leibakmacha Singh, age 49 years of Laphupat Tera Mayai Leikai, Imphal West District, Manipur approached ICAR Manipur Centre in the year 2015-16. He joined a hands-on training program at the Centre and immediately adopted short-duration aquaculture techniques he learnt during the training programme. The total farm area is 3.0 ha at Laphupat Tera Mayai Leikai.

Using his newly learnt skills in pond design, he revamped his fish ponds in 2016-17. The pond dyke was made more comprehensive by widening and increasing its height. He also raised the height of the pond dyke up to at least 1 meter above the highest flood level of ten years' flood record. Then, the ratio of the pond slope was also made at 1:1. In 2020-21, gaining confidence in fish farming, Shri Rohendro leased two more hectares to his own three hectares to increase the total area of his farm to five hectares.

He stocked different fish species, indigenous but extinct in the wild, Osteobra-mabelangeri (Pengba) and Banganadero (Khabak/Ngaton), along with Indian Major Carps Catlacatla (Catla), Cirhinusmriagala (Mrigal), Labeorohita (Rou/Rohu), Cyprinus carpio (Puklaobi) and Cteno-pharyn-godonidella (Grass carp). This multiple-species-short-duration aquaculture system was conducted in 2.25 ha of water from 2017 to 2019. From 2020 onwards, 3 ha of water area was expanded further following the same technology.

In this culture system, fish culture was 6-7 months, from April to October yearly. The pond depth was kept at 2.3-2.5 m with a water depth of 2.0 m. Fish fingerlings 25000 with a body weight of 80-110 g were stocked in different stocking ratios by keeping 30% surface feeder, 35-40% column feeder and 30% bottom feeder. Pond liming was done @40kg at every 30 days interval.

Fishes were fed twice daily with pelleted feed containing 30% crude protein at 3% body weight. The survival rate of fish ranges from 40-80%. After 6-7 months of culture, the fish attained a good size for marketing. The total harvest ranged from 6000 kg to 8900 kg per ha.

In this multi-species short, duration aquaculture system, approx. 409 to 510 man-days labour was used for cleaning the farm, netting, regular feeding, etc., compared to 110 man-days in traditional carp farming systems. This technology increased fish production 5-6 folds from traditional farming (800-1200kg/ha). As a result, the fish farmer could earn more than Rs 10,00,000 per hectare in 7-8 months.

Further, the production was improved/refined by manipulating fish species (instead of Khabak, Labeogonius (Ngathi) was reared in 2017, 2020 and 2021). He expanded his farm area by taking a lease in 2020. From this adopted aquaculture system, Rohendro could harvest Khabak (100-110g), Pengba (250-300g), Rohu (500-700g), Grass carp (2-3.5 kg), Mrigal (500-750g), Catla (1.2-2.5kg) by using either drag net or by draining the pond water using a water pump.

As a result, he produced 6-8.5 t/ha during seven (7) months of fish production. Furthermore, the total fish production was further increased by manipulating the fish's stocking ratios, thereby increasing the B:C ratio from 3.03 to 3.49.

As Rohendro expanded his farm area to 5 ha in 2020, he started quality fish fingerling production to meet his requirement for fish fingerlings. He used carp seed production technology to produce fish fingerlings which is also a very remunerative venture. The culture management of quality fish fingerlings production is more or less similar for various carp. It can be done in shallow ponds on farms with proper fish stock selection and water management.

This short culture technique can be conducted 2-3 times a year. Fish fingerlings of some fishes, e.g., silver carps, grass carps, Khabak and Pengba are higher priced in the market and can fetch more income. Quality fish seed production has been done as a part of his farm activities, and Rohendro can earn an additional revenue of Rs 5-6 lakh per annum from it. It was a long-time dream of Rohendro to win an award for Fish Production in Manipur, and he could do so in 2021.

Rohendro participated in the Fish Fair cum Fish Crop Competition 2021, organized by the Directorate of Fisheries, Government of Manipur, in 2021 and was awarded First prize with a 1,00,000.00 cash prize in recognition of his hard work. He also received the 'Progressive Farmers Award 2021-22' on National Fish Farmer's Day' and National Campaign on Emerging Aquaculture Practices on 11th July 2022at ICAR-Directorate of Coldwater Fisheries Research, Bhimtal 263136, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India.

These awards by various organisations are a testament to his systematic approach and better management practices in fish production. By interacting with concerned experts, his approach to farming has changed to incorporate more scientific techniques and temperament. As a result, he can reduce the risk in fish farming and get a better return.

The multi-species short-duration aquaculture technology Shri Rohendro has adopted is an easier way of increasing fish production. It facilitates maximum fish production from a water area by quickly utilising available fish food organisms. As a result, survival rates of indigenous fishes, viz., Khabak/Ngaton, and Pengba are higher and fetch higher prices than IMCs in the market.

The culture duration is also short, allowing multiple cycles in a calendar year. Before adopting short-duration aquaculture, the culture system of most of his fellow farmers was unorganised, with no proper feeding or water management and proper pond design/infrastructure. The number of fish stockings was also not uniform. Therefore, the survival rate was meagre. Consequently, the fish production rate was low. After adopting this technology, fish production and farm productivity have increased.

Due to proper management of fish stock, pond water, and feed management, fish survival rate and growth improved. There were fewer cases of disease incidence in comparison with traditional fish farming. Several fish farmers, entrepreneurs, and Government officials visit his farm regularly to observe. Many farmers in the neighbouring villages appreciated his work and copied his fish-rearing practices. Motivated by his success, more than 20% of neighbouring village farmers adopted short-duration carp culture farming to sustain their livelihood.

Nowadays, Rohendro is arranging regular interaction-cum-demonstration programmes with his fellow fish farmers from different valley districts of Manipur to educate and motivate fish farmers and anyone interested in fisheries. Many farmers have benefitted from these interaction programmes in short-duration culture systems with diversified fish species.

In 2020-21, more than 70% of farmers in neighbouring villages adopted his pond design: pond construction methods, water management, and selecting fish for stocking in their ponds. The many awards Rohendro won has made him immensely popular and a role model among farmers.

As he has been working on fish production for a long time and has gained good skills and knowledge, he was chosen by ICAR fishery scientists for the rearing of Sareng and initiated by stocking 200 fingerlings in the year 2021. The growth performance and survival rate of Sareng are encouraging. It could attain 2.0 kg in 8 months on his farm, and Rohendro again participated as a Sareng producer in the Fish Fair cum Fish Crop Competition 2022 organised by the Directorate of Fisheries, Government of Manipur 2022.

Rearing Sareng (W. attu) is not child's play but a challenge for any fish farmer. Sareng is known as a freshwater shark. It is entirely carnivorous (piscivorous, prefers eating fish) with a cannibalistic habit too.

Unlike another known carnivorous fish Ngaihei (Pangasius), it cannot be reared on artificial feed. It hunts like a shark at night (nocturnal), and it feeds on live prey, which it prefers to hunt at night. As everyone knows, Sareng does not have scales, and during hunting for prey at night, they fight among themselves and bite one another. Wounds and scratches that develop on the thin skin may lead to the death of the fish later.

Such deaths are more common than due to diseases. Due to their predatory and cannibalistic behaviour, they cannot be reared/stocked together with other fishes but should have a pond dedicated to themselves. Another less-known fact is that Sareng eats other Sareng too (cannibalism), so a pond should stock Sareng fishes of the same size and age to prevent cannibalism. Otherwise, the bigger fishes prey on the small ones.

Consequently, Shri Rohendro was conferred the Best Innovative Farmers Award for his outstanding fish farming performance during the North East Krishi Kumbha 2023 and the 49th Foundation Day of ICAR Research Complex for the North-Eastern Hills Region, Umiam, Meghalaya.

The ceremony was graced by Shri Narender Singh Tomar, Hon'ble Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Govt. of India, Dr SK Chaudhari, Deputy Director General (NRM) ICAR, New Delhi and Dr Anupam Mishra, Vice-Chancellor, CAU, Imphal. Recently, Shri Rohendro Singh has been invited by Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussorie, for interaction in the session "Kissan Sambad: Learning from Progressive Farmers Module" of IAS Professional Course Phase-I on 7th March 2023.

Rohendro is a successful fish farmer representing an amalgamation of modern scientific agro-technologies, economic prosperity and human values of simplicity and thriftiness. Hardworking and scientifically inclined farmers must be identified, trained and supported until they can establish themselves. Farmers' associations and groups also need to be mobilised and coordinated with pre-determined goals fixed in advance. Manipur can become self-sufficient in fish production only when fifty Rohendros are spread throughout the State in every district.

Awarded First prize with Rs 1,00,000.00 cash prize for the highest fish producer in Individual category and certificate by Salam (O) Binodini Devi w/o Salam Rohendro Singh from Shri L Shushindro Meetei, Minister of Public Health Engineering Department, Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Department. Awarded Progressive Farmer Award 2021-22' on National Fish Farmer's Day'on 11th July 2022 at ICAR-Directorate of Coldwater Fisheries Research, Bhimtal 263136, Nainital, Uttarkhand, India.

Haricharan Das Memorial Best Progressive Fish Farmer Award 2022 during an International Conference on "Responsible Aquaculture and Sustainable Fisheries Interact (RASHI)" at College of Fisheries, Central Agricultural University, Tripura. Best Innovative Farmers Award" for his outstanding contribution in fish farming during the North East Krishi Kumbha 2023 at ICAR Research complex for NEH Region, Umiam, Meghalaya.

* Dr Ch Basudha, Dr Arati N, Dr L Kanta Singh, W Anand Meetei, Dr Th Motilal, Dr Ch Premabati Devi, K Lily Rangnamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on March 16 2023.

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