Farmers in the country usually follow the agricultural practices only after successful practices and inventions set by scientists of government and public sector research institutes and Universities. K. Saseendran, a progressive farmer at Thekkumthara in Kerala's Wayanad district has distinguished himself by setting a model in conserving the endemic and endangered fish varieties of the district to be emulated even by the government institutes.
Saseendran set up the first, and only, hatchery in the district in 2011 to provide fingerlings of edible and ornamental fish to other farmers. He now sells fingerlings of various species of edible and ornamental fishes. Ornamental fisheries has become a lucrative venture for farmers in the recent times. While the Fisheries department and research institutes keep away from efforts to conserve the endemic and endangered fish wealth of the State, Saseendran, a national award winner in inland fisheries in 2013, has taken the bold initiative to breed and propagate the rare fish varieties. He also bagged the state award for the best inland fish farmer in 2011.
“When I first set up the hatchery, some tribal fishermen brought my notice the dangerous extinction of various species of fish endemic to Wayanad, especially of the River – varieties. They claimed there were nearly 62 species till a decade ago, but the number has now shrunk alarmingly due to the unethical application of pesticides on banana and ginger crops, the two major cash crops in Wayanad”,he says.
At first he was able to collect the breeding stock of only one of the species, locally called Cherumeen (Channa marulius), two years ago. Chrumeen grows up to 7 kg a year. He could produce nearly 2,000 fingerlings in a year from the original stock, and started selling to the farmers. This year he also could collect a breeding stock of 200 fingerlings of Varaal (Channa striatus), another endangered species of fish. Inspired from the success of Mr. Saseendran, the Fisheries department in Wayanad is now planing to set up an aqua park of endemic and endangered fish varieties of the district, at Pookode Lake at a cost of Rs.20 lakh.
A major issue to faced by the fish farmers of the district is the high cost of fish-feed, which takes up nearly 60 percent of the production cost in fish farming, according to B.K. Sudheerkishan, Assistant Director, Kerala Fisheries Department told The Hindu. Saseendran has successfully developed a low- cost feed made from locally available materials (rice, wheat, millet and Kassava etc) to help reduce the production cost in fish farming.
The Aquaculture Development Authority of India has selected four farmers for a trial plot to cultivate Genetically Improved Farm Tilapia (GIFT)project and Mr. Sasidharan is one among them, Mr. Sudheerkishan, says. His hard work, enthusiasm to learn the new technologies, and the interest to share his experience to novices to enter in to aqua culture make him differ from other farmers, Mr. Sudheerkishan added. Mr Sasidharan also runs a free farm school titled 'Shyam farm school' near his house to impart his knowledge on aqua culture to other farmers, especially novices to the sector. Saseendran entered in to the venture of inland fish farming when the Kerala state Fisheries Department had launched the People's Fish Culture Programme in 2002.In that year he started fish farming by depositing nearly 150 fingerlings of Cyprinus carp(locally called Chembally), Labeo rohita (rohu), and the common grass carp (Pul meen)in a small pond made on one and a half cent of land.
However he failed in his first stint, primarily due to lack of technical know-how. But he did not give up. The very next year he deposited nearly 200 fingerlings of the same varieties of fish, this time with the help and direction provided by the fisheries department officials. He could harvest nearly 3 quintals of fish — that was his first taste of success. Gradually he started to expand, and now he rears seven spices of edible and 14 species of ornamental fishes in 16 ponds spread over his five – acres of land.
“I harvested nearly four tons of edible fishes and sold hundreds of ornamental fishes last year. Marketing is not an issue, as the demand for the fresh water fish is very huge in the hill district of Wayanad”,affirms Saseendran. This year he has purchased one hectare of marshy land near his house, and has constructed a huge pond covering an area of two acres in it, at a cost of Rs.14 lakh.
He feels confident that he can get back the investment within two years. Farmers in Wayanad are taking to inland fish farming for better income, inspired by the increasing number of success stories in the sector. When the Department started 'Matsya Samrudhi' project in 2009 there were only 400 farmers to pick up the venture. But now there are around 4000 farmers ready to try their luck in fish farming. The farming area also has gone up, from 20 to 190 hectares,” Mr. Sudheerkishan said.