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Padma Shri Awardee Farmer Pioneers Profitable & Self-Sustaining Aquaculture Model; Read The Story

Sahoo entered the trade of fish farming long back in 1986. He previously practised paddy cultivation but did not find it very profitable. In the 15 acres of land he had, he used to sow paddy and other crops. He was able to generate income of around Rs 10,000 per year, from farming.

Ayushi Raina
Padma Shri Awardee Farmer Pioneers Profitable & Self-Sustaining Aquaculture
Padma Shri Awardee Farmer Pioneers Profitable & Self-Sustaining Aquaculture

Batakrushna Sahoo, 71, meticulously ironed his blue vest-coat and white shirt before heading to the national capital with a tiny suitcase and a few members of the family on his way to Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet President Ram Nath Kovind and receive the fourth highest civilian award- Padma Shri.

Sahoo is now a well-known personality in the fish seed business in his state, producing around 40 million-50 million spawns of improved varieties each year. Sahoo's family may now earn more than Rs.12 lakh per year. He says compared to agriculture, fish farming has very few associated risks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and other top echelons of the Indian state, as well as several other exceptional and inspirational people, were expected to attend the event. After receiving the award last month, Sahoo told Mongabay-India about his "dream come true" moment, which elevated his small village of Sarkana in Odisha to national spotlight.

Journey to Stardom

Sahoo first ventured into the fish farming business in 1986. He previously practiced paddy cultivation but did not find it very profitable.  He used to cultivate paddy and other crops on his 15 acres of land. Farming provided him with an annual income of around Rs.10000.

Based on his personal experience, he discovered that agriculture was not lucrative. This convinced Sahoo to pursue training at the Bhubaneswar-based Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture and Krishi Vigyan Kendra, which is about 10 kms away from his village.

Sahoo acquired a panchayat pond in his village and began fish cultivation. "I applied and I got a three-year lease for Rs.12300.  I visited the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture and Krishi Vigyan Kendra, interacted with the scientists there and learned how to make fish farming profitable.”

"The scientists explained to me that if I listened to their suggestions, I would be able to recover all the money I invested," he told Mongabay-India”.

Within a year, Sahoo made around Rs.24000 from the pisciculture which recovered the initial leasing fee and overhead expenses.

He diligently followed the scientists' directions and suggestions for providing adequate food for the fish, weeding out predatory species from the pond, and protecting the pond to prevent stealth.

The septuagenarian, on the other hand, was rearing fish at a time when improved transportation and other complementary support systems were unavailable. "Back then, we used to transport fish to the market in aluminium vessels, which resulted in a lot of fish dying," he explained. "There were lousy roads, no supply of oxygen cylinders, or better preservation methods, which might have decreased our losses. So, under these circumstances, I jumped onto the bandwagon of growing spawns myself, instead of depending on the market.”

"Scientists from the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture and Krishi Vigyan Kendra introduced me to spawn production with hapa technology (use of fixed nets in ponds)," Sahoo stated. "With the help of growth stimulators, we can produce egg seeds early and make this a more profitable business than pisciculture in the ponds."

The fish farmer experimented with this in the late 1980s, releasing four lakh spawns into the pond from the fish eggs and earning Rs.7000 in two months, which piqued his interest and encouraged him to experiment more.

Transforming barren lands

Sahoo began pisciculture in five ponds with loans from the Odisha state government in the late 1980s. "Later, I switched my irrigated land with barren lands from some local community members by paying the same price to ensure that I could use such areas for establishing ponds for spawn production," Sahoo explained.

"With this, I was able to produce almost four acres of land for spawn production.  I received four additional acres of property through the same exchange offer in 1994, and I built a total of eight ponds."

He continued to use ponds for producing spawns with the hapa technique till 1997 and later shifted to circular artificial hatcheries (Chinese hatcheries) to ensure better control over the water body where the fish and eggs are taken care of.

His village in the Khurda district, about 60 kms from the Bay of Bengal in Puri, was prone to natural calamities such as cyclones and had previously encountered cyclones. During Cyclone Fani in 2019, Sahoo also lost around four quintals of fish owing to the cyclone's devastation.

"I began building circular hatcheries in 1998," he said.Because of the rain, strong winds, and predators, you don't have much control over the affairs in ponds.  So, since then, I've been employing circular hatcheries to safeguard the fish and minimize losses."

Several years later, with the persistent efforts of Sahoo and his family, he now owns 22 ponds in his block, where spawn production works on 10 different species of fish such as rohu, catla, mrigal, and some ornamental fish are undertaken. However, spawning of edible fish varieties are in high demand.

After proving his virtues as a rural entrepreneur, Sahoo has also offered training programs for prospective fish farmers and rural entrepreneurs over the past several years.

Every year, he trains around 1,000 fish farmers with live demonstrations on how to provide fish growth stimulating  injections, taking care of hatcheries and other techniques.  He was declared as a resource person at the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture, where he mentors other fish farmers, rural entrepreneurs and fish scientists.

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