The Telegraph
Thursday , October 23 , 2014
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Women self-help group gets ‘excellence award’

Shillong, Oct. 22: Known for processing “smoked fish” of two varieties, Seng-bor-lang, a women’s self-help group from the interiors of West Jaintia Hills district, was bestowed with the “excellence award” at the second Aquafest held here today.

Reinforcing Meghalaya’s potential in fish production, the fest was organised by the state fisheries department and funded by the National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) at a cost of Rs 21 lakh.

The Jaintia hills region is famous for “smoked fish”, which is an age-old practise and a delicacy sought after by fish aficionados.

Since 1992, a group of women from Umladkur village under Amlarem block, more than 100km from here, has been practising smoking of fish, which proved to be economically viable and beneficial. These women then decided to form a self-help group dedicated entirely to processing of smoked fish.

The group was established in 1995 and named Seng-bor-lang women’s self-help group. It has been running a “cottage industry” with 10 members who aim at promoting smoked fish for improving their livelihood and generate employment.

The raw materials used by the women include fresh fish, firewood and bamboo. Two varieties of smoked fish are being processed and produced — Kharang and Khyrwong/Kha Pyndong. The fishes are sold at prices ranging between Rs 170 to Rs 180 per unit.

“Although it is considered a small-scale industry, from the fisheries department’s point of view this plays a very important role as far as indigenous traditional knowledge on fish processing is concerned,” an official said.

The group has also been listed as one of the “success stories” in the Meghalaya State Aquaculture Mission (MSAM).

The first Aquafest held last year drew thousands of consumers from the city and its outskirts with a market of over 5MT of local fish.

Meghalaya, however, still has a long way to go to meet the demand of fish in the state. According to estimates, the present demand of fish in Meghalaya is about 33,000MT while the production is only about 7,500MT. The demand-supply gap is more than 25,000MT. This gap is being met through imports from other states

To revitalise the fisheries sector, the state government had launched the Meghalaya State Aquaculture Mission, which is part of the Meghalaya Basin Development and Livelihood Promotion Programme, in March 2012 to be implemented co–terminus with the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017). The mission’s objective is to aim for self-sufficiency from the current dependency syndrome.

As per statistics given by the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA), about Rs 75 crore has been invested for several activities relating to fisheries. The Rs 75 crore is the aggregate of the contribution from farmers, bank loans, and government subsidy.

So far, 7,500 fishponds have been supported under the mission with 10 fish ponds created per day. The attempt is to create 20 fishponds a day.

Through the mission, the state seeks to create one lakh new fishponds of 0.1 hectare each covering a total water area of 10,000 hectares within a span of five years (2012-2017). The anticipated additional production would be 20,000MT per annum by the end of the Plan period.

Meghalaya principal secretary (fisheries department) K.N. Kumar said since the launching of the mission and until date, 5,681 fishponds have entered the production cycle while another 20,000 ponds are still in varied stages and will come into the production cycle by 2015.

“Now, there are 20,000 fishponds under construction by the fish farmers. Each individual fishpond would cost Rs 1 lakh, of which 60 per cent is subsidy from the government, 25 per cent bank loan and 15 per cent from a farmer’s own contribution,” Kumar said.

On an average, Kumar said each pond can produce 600kg of fish in a year and from the 7,500 fishponds, the total production would come to more than 4,000MT annually.

In the next three years, he said Meghalaya would see many hatcheries. At present, 12 hatcheries are being established by the fish farmers with a capacity of 24 lakh fingerlings in each hatchery taking the total to 2.5 crore fingerlings.

Moreover, there is also a plan to establish 34 fish sanctuaries to preserve water bodies, aquatic life besides boosting tourism and livelihood opportunities.

“The government has adopted the concept of fish sanctuary by encouraging fish farmers to come with applications regarding the location that they proposed to set up the sanctuary,” Kumar said.

According to Kumar, at least 34 fish sanctuaries would be established, and a sanctuary committee constituted by the community or fish farmers would look after each of these sanctuaries.

He said the state government would release the funds to the respective sanctuary committee, depending on the location and size of the sanctuary.

“The investment will range between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh for each sanctuary and the funds would be released by the government through the public works department after technical approval of the project,” Kumar said. He added that facilities such as a small watchtower and boats would be made available in the sanctuary.

Kumar said in another five years, Meghalaya would become self-sufficient as far as fish production is concerned. “I wish to see Meghalaya saying goodbye to importing fish from Andhra Pradesh and I do not want a single fish-laden truck to come from there,” he added.

He also quoted a report from a study, which revealed that one fishpond could support at least five people of a family.