AMBALA, JAN 3: Haryana, a major granary of the country, is also becoming an important area for fish farming. Fish farming is gaining popularity in the state, especially in rural areas.
This has become possible largely because of the support of the state government which provides training, infrastructure, assistance in getting financial aid and subsidy to the farmers through the Fish-farming Development Agency. The fish farming industry has also generated a lot of employment for youth. Today, there are about 5,000 fishery farms operating in Haryana which cover more than 6,000 hectares of land.
"Fish farming is the best use of wasteland and ponds. It cleans the water, besides earning a decent sum and providing jobs to the youth," says Navraj Sandhu, chairperson of the District Fish Farming Development Agency at Ambala. She says that in an area of about 220 hectares, there are more than 125 fish farms in the district. The per hectare annual yield is about 4,000 kg.
"We provide 15 days' training to farmerswilling to start a fish farm and also pay a daily allowance of Rs 25 to the trainees during the training period," says Vipen Goel, chief executive officer of the agency. He adds that there is a provision of 20 per cent subsidy for the excavation of pond and another 25 per cent for the purchase of spawn (fish seed) and the feed.
Besides, complete technical know-how regarding nutrition, disease prevention and control, and inspection of soil and water is provided. Fish seeds are provided at the subsidised rates of Rs 75 per 1,000. "We also assist entrepreneurs in obtaining wasteland from village panchayats setting up the fish farm," says Goel.
Many young entrepreneurs have availed the facilities provided by the government. Nitish Bhat is one of them. After completing his education, he started his fish farm four years ago at the village Mouli, 25 km from Ambala. It has the facilities of a feed mill and hatchery to produce spawn in 5.6 hectares. The capital investment was Rs 20 lakh. His unit produced spawnworth Rs 3 crore last which was sold all over the country. "We are fully equipped with all modern techniques. I was sponsored by the Haryana government for a three months' specialised training in the United States," says Bhat. He points out that the subsidies and loans offered by the Haryana government for promoting fishery in the state are impressive. A loan of Rs 16,000 per hectare is given for the purchase of fish seeds and feed. But it is mainly the enterprise of fish farmers which has made this business a success, he adds.
This, however, does not mean that the journey has been trouble-free. The smaller players in the fish farming business have their share of problems. "To get a loan from a bank or any financial institution is not so easy for small farmers. There are many cases where fish farmers had to close down their business because of paucity of funds," says Suresh Kumar, who started his fish farm at Saha, 10 km from Ambala last year in one hectare land.
Kumar complains that banks are not willingto extend loan facility on this business and ask for 100 per cent security against the loan amount. "It is not possible for a poor farmer with limited resources to arrange a bank guarantee and complete lengthy formalities as required by the bank. It seems that bank loans are meant for people who have ample resources," he laments.
What is worse, he adds, is that private money-lenders have also stopped lending money in the wake of rumours of liquidation of some of the units. Whatever money is available in the private sector is given to farmers on a hefty rate of interest.
B K Bakshi, a local lead manager, says that in many cases there have been delays in realising the money. "Several cases of litigation are also pending in the courts regarding the recovery of bank loans. This is the reason why banks are not willing to extend credit facility. But there is no problem in advancing money to viable units," says Bakshi.
But why are many units unviable? "The demand for fish is not adequate in Haryana. There areseveral communities who are traditionally vegetarians. Fish is mainly sold in other states," says Subash Mahajan, a fish farmer. He demands that the fishery business should be considered as an agro-based business and exempted from income-tax. Mahajan established his farm at village Natwala and invested more than Rs 5 lakh in the business. "We produce 20 tons fish annually and sell our stocks in the Chandigarh, Delhi and Panipat markets in the absence of marketing infrastructure at Ambala," says Mahajan. The Haryana government has established fish markets at Panipat and Faridabad and the third market is being set up at Yamunanagar. "This market will be of great help," says Mahajan.
Businessmen feel that the domestic market is not properly organised. Small farmers find it difficult and uneconomical to pack fish in ice and carry limited quantities to the nearest wholesale market. In the process, a lot of their produce rots.
Due to a decrease in demand, there is stiff competition among fish farmers. "This hasbrought down the rates and squeezed the profit margins," says another fish farmer, Kiran Pal Chauhan. According to Chauhan, the input cost has increased many times in the last ten years, but there is hardly a rise of 10 per cent in the price of fish. "Since fish is a perishable product, during summers small farmers incur heavy losses because of lack of storage and proper transport facilities," says Chauhan. He adds that the major problems small and medium farmers face pertain to marketing and losses due to diseases. The quantity of fish produced in Haryana is 4 to 5 per cent share of the total production in the country. "Most of Haryana's fish produce is sold in Delhi, the largest wholesale fish market of northern India, from where the surplus socks are further dispatched to West Bengal," says Bhat. "In fact, more than 40 per cent fish produced in Haryana is consumed in West Bengal. We are unable to compete in the export market because the infrastructural facilities are not good."
The fish business isalso suffering due to scarcity of water, erratic and costly power supply, and the non-availability of insurance coverage. A little more help from the government would give tremendous fillip to fish farming in Haryana, say businessmen.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.