Mohammad Saeed was a prominent antiques dealer before he turned his hand at trout farming in 1988. He seemed to have the Midas’ touch because before he knew it, his New Spring Trout Fish farm, in Madyan, became one of the largest outlets in Swat valley.
“I got into the business of trout farming after I realised all my clients, a majority of whom were foreigners, were very keen on eating trout.” By the time business warmed up his farm was producing 3,000 kg every year.
Swat valley, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, with its lush green forests, pristine waters, archaeological sites, fruit orchards and off the beaten tracks lured many an enthusiastic traveler. But many were also drawn to the trout the valley provided in abundance. In fact, tourism served to anchor a variety of supporting sectors, including the small scale trout aquaculture.
According to a recent report by the Malakand Aquaculture Advisory Group (MAAG), set up by the KP government, trout production had reached 109 tonnes in 2006-07, but by 2008-09 it had dropped to 85 tonnes. Almost 37 per cent of this fish came from Swat, generating revenue of a whopping Rs 20 million.
According to MAAG, some 56 trout farms and 13 hatcheries in the private sector in the province were damaged during the floods. It estimates that an amount of Rs.222.616 million is required for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged public and private sector farms as a result of floods.
The trout producing places are Chitral, Kohistan, Kaghan, Dir and Shangla in the province.
Unfortunately, in Swat, the slow decline in tourism due to rise in Islamic extremism led to a decline in trout production as well.
In 2006, when the valley became a hotbed for the nefarious activities of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group, the production had dropped from 60 tonnes to just 40 tonnes by 2007 when the social and physical infrastructure had collapsed, the farms had completely shut down as there was no one to look after them.
Saeed can never forget what the Taliban did to his ponds in 2005. “They put chemicals in 50 of my 55 ponds killing most of the fish,” he said. Those that remained were washed away by the floods in 2010.
In 2006, Haji Hayat Mir had 40,000 fish in his 49 ponds in Madyan. “But because we could not run the farm due to the insurgency of the militants, people took away the fish. Mir had been in the business since 1996 and was making a profit of Rs 1.6 million annually.
In 2009, the military had successfully rid the valley of the militants. In a bid to prop the tottering tourism industry, the government of KP and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), developed a programme to revive and rehabilitate small and medium sized enterprises of the valley, including supporting Swat’s aquaculture.
“We supplied construction material worth Rs10.8 million in June-July 2010 and technical support to fish farm owners in the first phase of the rehabilitation programme in Swat. The second phase consisted of providing eggs, incubators and feed, but the floods came and destroyed everything,” said Inamullah Khan, project manager of FIRMS Project of the USAID.
“Of the 22 farms and hatcheries in Swat 15 were almost restored under the project by June 2010, but then the floods washed all of them away. At the moment 19 are being re-rebuilt and except for three, the performance of the rest is quite satisfactory,” says Khan.
Work has begun anew and five farms are already housing fish, work on four farms in Kalam could not be started as the area is still not accessible after the floods.
The USAID has provided working capital and rehabilitation grants, technical assistance, in-kind support of construction material and operating equipment to the trout farmers.
Mir’s farm was among those that had been rehabilitated and then swept away. Today, construction is underway and 18 ponds with 40,000 fish in them are going strong. “I received 90,000 eggs, but only 40,000 survived,” he explains.
By next summer, he thinks he will be ready to supply fish from his farms to the market.
From the way they carried on with their farming practices, it would take about 18 months for the fish to attain maturity. However, after Saeed attended the ten training workshops organised by the USAID and received the imported fish feed he had to acknowledge the fish grew faster. “I didn’t believe them [experts] in the beginning but I can see the fish attaining maturity in half the time!"
According to Saeed while the importance of fish feed cannot be overemphasised, what the farmers learnt was the mortality attached to them increased if fed inappropriately. “There is a method to feeding fish, it cannot be more, nor can it be less,” said Saeed.
According to Khan, imported pre-formulated fish feed has given “unprecedented results and the fish farmers are asking for additional feed.” In addition, he said the pre and post training assessments show “over 50 per cent improvements in knowledge of participants who have attended the trainings”.
The fish is usually sold when they attain a weight of 300 gms, and the size of the fish is approximately about 11 inches explains Saeed. It is sold between Rs 800 to Rs 1,500 per kg.
An independent damage assessment carried out by the FIRMS Project in early 2010 found that that the privately owned trout farms and hatcheries had incurred a loss of Rs 6.1 million due to conflict. Another assessment of losses was carried out after the floods which came to another Rs 3.5 million bringing a combined capital loss to Rs 9.6 million.
By making slight changes in the design of the farms and through the use of imported eggs and feed, it is expected that in the next three years, there will be abundant fish. “By March 2012, we hope to see almost 75 tonnes of fish, which will be almost double the target of 40 tonnes we had estimated after the conflict and before the floods,” stated Khan. “This excess can be used to help explore and shape new linkages with the larger domestic markets,” states the USAID assessment report.
Zofeen T. Ebrahim is a freelance journalist.