Krishi Call Centre, a low cost solution to the extension challenges of the fisheries sector in Bangladesh

“Hello, I am Ahsan Habib from Kishoreganj, my fishes are dying due to skin ulcer. What are the treatment measures for carp ulcerative syndrome? “

Ahsan Habib is a small scale farmer. He has a pond with an area of 60 decimal (800 sq m approx). He farms carp, tilapia and local catfish in his pond. This season he stocked his pond with carp and tilapia fish. But, during first week of January he discovered his fish were dying with red ulcers on their bodies.

He knew about the Krishi Call Centre from one of his neighbours, so he called 16123 for suggestions. The fisheries executive suggested he use lime and salt to disinfect the pond water and KMnO4 (potassium permanganate) to help the fish recover. After two days he called back to say that his fish were better now and wanted some suggestions for a proper feeding scheme. After few months, we learned that Mr. Shahidul saved his fishes and expected a 60 to 70,000 (£6,000-7,000) taka net profit. Every day Krishi Call Centre gets this type of call from local farmers about their problems.

Fisheries for poverty reduction

fishery BangladeshAttaining higher fisheries growth is a key factor in poverty alleviation in rural areas. Bangladesh has extensive aquatic resources and fish and fisheries are an indispensable part of the lives and livelihood of the people of this country.

Bangladesh is a south Asian country, situated between latitude 20°34′ and 26°39′ north and longitude 80°00′ and 92°41′ east.  Hundreds of river crisscross the country. The river water is the soul of our country and provides fertility for our motherland. The climate of Bangladesh is congenial to fisheries and the country is endowed with many inland bodies of water. Our country has productive freshwater fisheries comprising 6,27,731 hectares of enclosed water and 40,24,934 of open water. The Bay of Bengal marine resources covers a huge area of 46,99,345 hectares. Bangladesh has 710 km of coastline and 25,000 sq. km of coastal area with a huge population, supporting a variety of land uses.

The deltaic country is rich in fishery resources including 260 freshwater fish species, 475 marine fish species, 24 freshwater shrimp species, 36 marine shrimp species and other important species. In 2013-2014  Bangladesh produced 34,10,254 tons of fishery products and fish provides about 60% of our daily animal protein intake. In Bangladesh, fisheries sector plays a vital role in our national economy regarding employment generation, animal protein supply, foreign currency earning and poverty alleviation. More than 11% of the total population depends directly and indirectly on the fisheries sector for their livelihood.  The fisheries sector contributes 4.37% to GDP, 23.37% to agricultural GDP and 2.01% of the country’s export earnings. Fish is one of the most familiar, popular, tasty and nutritionally enriched food items of the world including Bangladesh. As a result of the global market economy along with so many food items, garments, and pharmaceutical products,  fish and fishery products also get the opportunity to enter the global market. Thus the fisheries play a crucial role in the national economy of Bangladesh.

Challenges and opportunities in extension services

krishiSmall scale pond farming has great potential for contributing to the increase in aquaculture production in coastal regions. These fishery resources are facing a severe threat of depletion because of lack of proper guidelines. The latest communication facilities like newspapers, radio, television and internet are used for disseminating knowledge to farmers.  There is no doubt that ICTs can play a vital role in giving better access to information in a cost effective way to the millions of poor, smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs. Mobile phone based call centers play a role in agribusiness in many countries. In Bangladesh, the total number of mobile phone subscriptions reached 131.085 million at the end of February, 2016.

It is therefore timely for farmers that the Krishi Call Centre offers real-time advice on farming issues in Bangladesh. The Centre was launched in June 2014 by the Agriculture Minister Begum Matia Chowdhury by dialing to the number, 16123, whilst addressing the National Digital Fair at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the city. This is an initiative between Practical Action and the Agricultural Information Services (AIS), of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Farmers can call 16123, the number of the centre from any mobile operator to seek advice on any problem related to livestock, fisheries and agriculture production. A farmer from any part of the country can contact to the Krishi Call Centre by dialing mobile number 16123 at the nominal cost  of 0.25 taka for a minute and share their problems/queries related to farming in local dialect. The specialists at the Krishi Call Centre provide suggestions to the farmers immediately. If the call centre operator is unable to address the farmer’s query, they consult with other specialists and then provide feedback.

The southern part of the country is endowed with vast aquatic resources where aquaculture is a promising sector. But aquaculture is beset with numerous problems, especially disease. Fish farmers face immense problems when their farms are affected by diseases. Very few support centres are available in Bangladesh where they can get crucial information. Sometimes they go to their fisheries officer but fisheries officers are busy most of the time due to lack of enough manpower. It is also almost impossible for officers to visit farms and solve their problems in a single day. Hence, a large number of fish die and farmers lose faith in fish production.

Another promising sector in aquaculture is shrimp farming.  The government earn a huge amount of foreign currency from this, but its is not free from problems. A viral disease can wipe out a farmer’s whole stock of shrimp and many fish farmers have lost everything. If farmers had enough guidelines regarding shrimp farming, they could easily avoid this horrendous loss.

DRR and climate change risks solutions in the fisheries sector

Climate change is an emerging challenge for the fisheries sector. The erratic weather makes our farming and fishing communities more vulnerable. Bangladesh is a low lying country which makes it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.  It is ranked first in countries affected by the adverse effects of climate change. Every year farmers face massive losses due to heavy rain or flooding. Flooding happens recurrently in some regions in Bangladesh but climate change has made this seasonal phenomenon more unpredictable. Earlier the rainy season lasted from mid of June to September but now it rains even in late of March and carries on until October.

Practical Answers in Bangladesh have uploaded 500 questions and answers related to DRR and Climate Change adaptation solutions for better farming. These 500 questions and answers have been collected from farmers who are most at risk of flood and other environmental disaster. Zurich Flood Resilience Program has been supporting this. Those questions and answers are validated by the national experts from the Agricultural Information Services and uploaded in the repository of the Krishi Call Centre for answering the questions of farmers throughout the country.

There are other problems small fish farmers face which hinder them from profiting from their farming, such as feed prices and the adulteration of fish feed. Feed industries do not maintain the appropriate composition of the feed according to their specification. But farmers can prepare their own on farm fish feed with proper guidelines.

Fish farmers are often exploited by middlemen when they sell their fish to consumers through middlemen. If farmers are regularly updated with price information about their products, they can secure their expected price.

The government does have some support programs for fisheries and fisher community.  But, due to lack of literacy many farmers cannot attain those services. By asking the Krishi Call Centre a small farmer or new entrepreneur can benefit without intermediaries.

incoming call rate pie chartAt present of the total incoming calls to Krishi Call Centre, about 71% are agricultural calls, 17% livestock calls and 12% fisheries related. The call rate in case of fisheries is comparatively lower than others. Among the total calls in fisheries, about 43% are disease related, 27% management related, 26% culture related and 4% have other aquaculture related queries. Most of the calls on fisheries come from the northern part but fisheries dominate the middle and southern part of the country. It is necessary to disseminate information about the call centre and its importance to every corner of the country to ensure a golden revolution in our agricultural sectors. Different media workers, newspaper agencies, government offices and NGOs should come forward to publicize Krishi Call Centre services among the grass root level farmers.

Other contributors: Md. Aminul Islam and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan