PESHAWAR, Jan 28: Swat’s trout farming needs significant and sustained support from the government and donors for redevelopment and to make it a profitable business prospect, according to the relevant officials.
“Swat Aquaculture: Sector Recovery and Development Strategy,” which analyses the sector’s potential and future prospects, suggests a way forward to the provincial government and private sector to redevelop the trout farming on self-sustainable lines.
“With significant and sustained support from the public sector in terms of infrastructure investment, efforts to strengthen the value chain and enabling environment, and measures to boost domestic demand for, and consumption of, fish – the outlook for an expansion of Swat’s trout culture could improve because the natural resource foundation for the trout culture is so strong,” says the proposed strategy.
According to the strategy, the outlook for a profitable expansion of the region’s trout farming to commercial level is ‘poor’ in view of the existing infrastructure developed in the private sector, feeble market linkages, low consumption and demand levels in the local markets in the pre-conflict era, and the sector’s vulnerabilities to achieve sustainability after the recovery phase.
The proposed plan recommends a holistic approach and cohesive efforts on the part of donor and public sector entities at multiple levels to expand Swat’s trout sector that experienced devastation more than once in quick successions during the past few years.
“Given the importance of the role that donors and the public sector need to play in reshaping the overall landscape to make commercial aquaculture viable and profitable, the prospects for developing Swat’s trout culture industry would be significantly enhanced if efforts at the donor – district – and provincial level are all planned and implemented in a way that is consistent with the national level policy framework and with nation-wide efforts to improve infrastructure and the overall enabling environment,” contains the strategy.
The production of Swat’s cultured rainbow trout came to a complete halt in 2009 after the military moved in the troubled region to reclaim it from insurgent Taliban that wrecked havoc, unleashing a reign of terror in 2007.
According to the plan, Swat’s aggregate production of cultured rainbow trout touched its highest ever mark of around 60 metric tons in 1990, generating an estimated annual revenue of around Rs 20 million.
The production levels slid down to a mere 40 metric tons level in 2006 due to unfavorable commercial environment. The demand for trout dipped due to sharp decline in the number of domestic tourists.
That was the period when tourism enthusiasts from Karachi and elsewhere stayed away from the picturesque valley because of security considerations prompted by Taliban’s dominance.
Later, trout farming activities in Swat were carried out under a collaborative effort on the part of the provincial government and the United States Agency for International Development, helping the owners of private fish hatcheries to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure and achieve accelerating sales.
The Provincial Relief, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA), said one of its officials, was assigned the job to implement small and medium sized enterprise rehabilitation activities to revive the sector through investment and job creation with the explicit objective to counter extremism in the region.
Funded under the USAID’s FIRMS project, a series of activities were launched in 2010 to restore all fish farms to their pre-conflict capacity level.
However, the effort, said the official, suffered a setback because of heavy monsoon rains in July 2010 that washed away whatever was left of most of the farms and hatcheries and the unused construction material.
Aiming to help guide the post-flood recovery and ongoing development of the aquaculture industry in Swat, the strategy entails that cost-intensive efforts spread over multiple years are required to rebuild the private trout farms and hatcheries back to pre-conflict levels.
Though Swat’s local retail market for cultured trout, according to the recovery plan, has a limited scope, the sector remains a financially attractive business in view of the average returns on operating costs.
However, it adds, farm gate prices (the actual prices received by the farmers) ‘will start to trend from retail towards wholesale levels’ as production increases.
According to it, the long terms prospects for commercial trout culture in the volatile region will largely depend on how effective a unique brand can be established and marketed at premium retail prices. Besides, the success would also depend on ‘the extent to which effective production systems can be developed and deployed on a commercial scale that are significantly less capital intensive than the current systems,’ according to the plan.