AROUND 66 per cent of Pakistani population is deficient in protein. Per capita requirement of protein is 102.7 grams daily with the availability somewhere at 69.61 grams. The main sources of animal protein are beef, mutton, poultry meat, eggs and fish. There is a shortage of food of animal origin. The per capita availability of meat in Pakistan is 14.8kg per annum — far below the dietary standards recommended by the international food agencies.

According to a joint group of the FAO experts, protein intake for adults may not be less than one gram per kilogram of body weight. People of low-income strata face deteriorating health and physiques. The food and nutrition of people require the attention to overcome this deficiency. Along with cattle and poultry, the development of fish farming is also an important factor as its protein is considered the best for health. It helps in combating many ailments.

Fisheries play an important role in the livelihood of coastal inhabitants. Apart from marine fisheries, inland comprising of rivers, lakes, ponds and dams is also a good source of animal protein.

Export of fish and its products during July-March 2003-04 was 1,01,256 metric tons valuing at Rs7.9 billion. Total fish production was estimated at 6,30,000 metric tons and the share of marine sector was 4,52,000 and inland 1,78,000 metric tons. People engaged during 2003-04 were 3,95,000 as compared to 3,65,000 in 2002-03. Around 1,25,000 or 31.6 per cent were engaged in marine sector and 2,70,000 68.4 per cent in inland.

This sector has great potential as a profitable business. The NWFP and northern areas of Punjab, where underground water is sweet, can play an important role in fisheries development. However, barren and saline areas can also be used for the purpose. There are species which can survive in brackish water.

In southern Punjab and Sindh, the saline areas can be brought under fish farming where underground water is brackish. It can improve the financial position of farming community by introducing the practice on large scale in marginal/saline areas. This will generate jobs in rural areas by attracting more people.

Most fish farms are small with mere two acres or less. Illiteracy is another hurdle which comes in the way of applying modern production technologies. Farmers mostly use tubewell to fill their farms while some use canal water.

According to Parc, on the average fish production is 15.4 maunds per acre and the sale price at Rs2,215 per maund. Farmers marketing their produce themselves make more profit as against those who contract out their ponds. The per acre cost of production of such farm is Rs21,475 with an overall revenue of Rs33,628 and net profit of Rs12,153. This profit is in saline areas whereas, margins in good land and water conditions is about Rs25,000, which is more profitable.

Farmers face problems in production and marketing. Profitability can be increased by providing incentives. They mostly lack in financial resources as they do not have credit facilities, especially those who take farms on rent, along with high cost at the time of pond excavation and subsequent cash requirements for water, seed and feed etc. Credit availability on easy terms is a key element in the promotion of fish farming. There is a need to introduce supervised credit programme for establishing ponds. A low rate of interest may be charged during initial stages of development. The government’s saline/waste land may be given to fish farmer on lease at low rates.

Water is a major cost of production. There is no provision of canal water and the tube-well water is very costly. Either canal water could be provided to farmers or subsidy may be given on electricity for running tube-wells to fill fish ponds,which will encourage the business.

Research and guidance is needed to accelerate the growth. Farmers usually use traditional feed such as farmyard manure, poultry dropping, fodder and waste bread. Only a few farmers use urea, DAP, nitro phos, SSP, ammonium sulphate, maize gluten, rice husk, mud, lime powder and gypsum which are good in accelerating the growth of fish population. This enterprise is still in infancy.

Quality seed is not available to majority, especially the smaller ones. Seed is of poor quality resulting in poor growth, less weight gain, low yield and hence low price. There is a lack of research for development of fast growing and high yielding breeds. Supply of good quality seed in adequate amount at reasonable prices and at the right time is an important requirement. It is difficult for small farmers to produce their own seed therefore, supply of standardized length, genetically improved and quality seed need to be ensured through public hatcheries.

An efficient extension programme acts as a bridge between the research and field application. There is a need to initiate a well-equipped extension service programme to eliminate the hesitation of farmers in starting the trade and introduce improved production technology on existing farms. Qualified and well-trained staff may be employed to motivate and provide guidance. To make the extension services more effective, field staff may be made mobile. Training programmes may be organized to disseminate the technologies to fish farmers.

Marketing problems are less as compared to other agricultural products. These concerned mostly to small farmers. They get less price of their produce as they have less market information and the commission agents exploit them. Mostly small farmers sell their produce to pre-harvest contractors who pay them less price.

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