Washington, D.C. – Bangladesh is experiencing a quiet revolution in its domestic fish farming market, with significant gains among all the players in the industry, according to a recent journal article from researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
Debunking the traditional view that fish farming in Bangladesh is mainly subsistence oriented, the study shows that the market for farmed fish grew by a dramatic 25 times in three decades, and that among fish farmers, 75% of them sell fish commercially. There has been an equally rapid shift among consumers eating fish from a home pond to purchasing farmed fish from the market.
“What really surprised me about these findings,” says Ricardo Hernandez, research coordinator at IFPRI and lead author of the study, “was the extent of the growth in many sectors, not just in production but also in many off-farm segments, such as rural and urban traders, input dealers and feed mills. The rapid increase in mainly small and medium actors has produced a more competitive environment that has pushed the adoption of new technologies, which has increased productivity. This has greatly benefitted poor and low-income consumers.”
This rapid growth has been spawned by increased demand; improvements in technology, communications and infrastructure; and investments by millions of farm households and small and medium enterprises. Very little change was brought about by NGO or government action, although the government did play an important role in the early stages with infrastructure investment (such as investment in fish seed production, electricity and roads), a pro-business outlook, and a laissez-faire approach to land use and crop choice.
What was once a subsistence enterprise in Bangladesh has seen a tripling of volume and players in all segments. There has been a proliferation of feed mills, hatcheries, farmers and traders, with rapid increase of purchased seed and feed, rapid increase in the use of chemicals, increase in the use of hired labor, and rapid increase in investment in agriculture equipment.
“Aquaculture has become an important driver of the Bangladeshi economy,” added Hernandez, “and the industry now employs as many persons as the garment sector (another growing success story in the country).”
Just over a decade ago, rural fish farmers usually sold their fish to local traders; now they are selling two-thirds of their product to large wholesalers based in towns and cities.
Rapid increases in urban consumption of farmed fish in Bangladesh mirror the trend taking place throughout Asia. This trend is particularly significant for Bangladesh, where fish is the most important food, after rice, in terms of the food budget.
“Both rural and urban poor households have been able to improve their diets by consuming more protein and micronutrients from a source other than rice,” said Hernandez.