For many years, the Adivasi hamlets of Malkangiri were almost empty. A wave of young people from the villages of this southernmost district in Odisha would go to cities in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh in search of better opportunities. But this changed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, when jobs became scarce and people had to stay back in their villages. Surprisingly, fish played an important role in helping young Adivasis find profitable livelihoods at home.
Being a coastal state, fish has historically been integral to the lives and livelihoods of people in Odisha. Though Malkangiri is landlocked and away from the sea, it has several rivers and ponds with immense potential for inland fish farming. But there’s a catch.
“Small-scale farmers cannot afford to buy expensive feed,” says Kailash Chandra Patra, a junior fisheries technical assistant with the state fisheries department. This in turn leads to low yield. To tackle this challenge, the fisheries department initiated a fish feed production programme.
Samananda Kuasi, from Sindhiguga village of Chitrakonda block, was one of the people who joined this programme. “It gave me hope,” Samananda said. “I received INR 1,38,300 to set up a fish feed production unit.” He and his wife, Saibati, are now producing fish feed and selling it to farmers at a fair price. The couple have produced more than 30 quintals of feed since setting up the unit in 2021.
Earlier as a migrant worker in Andhra Pradesh, Samananda was unable to save anything from his meagre earnings and “often failed to meet household expenses”. Over the past six months, Samananda and his wife have earned approximately INR 50,000 selling fish feed. “I don’t need to travel to Andhra again,” he adds.
Abhijit Mohanty is a journalist based in Bhubaneswar.
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