Agriculture and Livestock officers over the years have found it increasingly difficult to convince farmers in the poorest parts of Bhutan, and especially so in Eastern Bhutan to take up livestock, poultry and fishery related activities. In fact, due to strong religious influence and social pressures even farmers who did these activities in the past have been giving them up.
This has resulted in stagnating or declining income for these farmers who continue to depend on mainly maize based crops apart from some vegetable farming. This is in stark contrast to farmers in Southern Bhutan who are economically better off due to livestock, piggery, poultry and fisheries taking off there.
However, there is hope to break this rural cycle of poverty in eastern Bhutan as demonstrated in the raising and selling of fish on a commercial basis in Yangbari, Mongar which has not only proven to be economically successful, but is also growing in popularity.
Increasing recognition that fish is a healthy food, low in calories and cholesterol levels, but rich in protein has increased consumer demand over the years.
Towards the afternoon, farmers of Yangbari can be seen getting into the fish ponds with their fishing nets. They wait for the temperature to come down, which they say is suitable for harvesting fish. In one scooping movement, they have the day’s catch in the nets. Young fish are released back into the pond and the rest are taken for sale.
There are mixed sentiment on fish farming among the farmers. Farmer Tshering Phuntsho said, “Like birds and mammals, fish feel the pain and stress. The practice of raising fish and then killing them in painful ways like evisceration, starvation or asphyxiation must, therefore, be regarded as inhumane.”
Another farmer said, “Farming is essential for life. Therefore, it is important that, as farmers, we view our job as very essential and important job. We must not merely have a focus on making money and increasing production.”
One of the farmers said, “The village would have gradually become self-sufficient in fish if there was no water problem, and if many people had not shied away from fish farming due to religious sentiments.”
He added that he was hesitant to embrace fish farming initially, but now it has turned out to be a profitable business for him.
According to many farmers in Yangbari, fish farming has benefited them economically and they are able to earn cash and also get to eat fish without having to spend money.
Leki Tshering said, “I was able to sell more compared to last year. I sold about 40 kilograms. I usually am able to sell all my fish here. Instead of buying from Nganglam, teachers and other civil servants come to buy from me.”
Farmers said, “Fish farming requires less land, water and other resources compared to other forms of livestock farming. Another major benefit of fish farming is that fish are cold blooded, and need little attention in the winter. Because they don’t need additional energy to cope with the weather, there is more output from less input.”
Currently Yangbari is the only village to take up fish farming in the dzongkhag. More people in the village are planning to take up fish farming.