This article was originally written by Will Hehemann and published by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff here.
Bauer Duke, Extension specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, recently served as a volunteer for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Khulna Upazila, Bangladesh, where he taught young entrepreneurial fish farmers, ages 18-35, management practices to better their operations.
Duke and Badal Golder, a partner representative of Winrock International, hosted a program titled “Training on Improved Aquafarming for Entrepreneurial Development.” The workshop provided assistance to young farmers through information on marketing, business development and management practices for fish farms.
“Fish farming is an important part of the entire Bangladesh economy, as Bangladeshis eat probably five times the amount of fish as the average American,” Duke said. “The land is low and floods significantly during the rainy season, which means large areas are turned into open fishing ponds. Farmers stock these flooded areas with fish and slowly harvest them after six to eight months as the flooded areas start to dry up.”
Duke said the program’s goal was to help farmers make useful decisions with established criteria so they can mold management practices to their farm’s specific needs.
The program participants Duke worked with were still in school and living with their families who ran fish ponds. He worked with them to understand fish culture from a more academic perspective and add that knowledge to what they had learned from the family business.
During the course, participants were tasked with developing a business plan on their own. As more information was introduced, they were given time to change the plan and eventually had to justify why they made those decisions.
“We hope the participants will take some new farm management skills home and share them with the current decision-makers at their family farms,” Duke said. “It’s very easy to lose lots of money with a fish farm, so it’s always a good idea to analyze the market before growing a crop, build a business plan and keep records.”
After several participants admitted to not keeping records in the past or not seeing the point in doing so, Duke said he emphasized the practice’s importance in any farm operation. Record keeping allows farmers to see where they are spending and making money, which in turn helps them make better business decisions and increase profits.
“Frequently, small farmers are taught to put a certain number of fish in a pond, and feed and harvest them,” Duke said. “We wanted to teach the program participants that they can use that system, but they can also choose to stock more or less fish depending on several variables. We tried to give them analysis tools to help them make these decisions. In the end, it’s their land and we are trying to help them get as much out of it as possible.”
Duke said Winrock International holds the USAID contract to run the F2F program in Bangladesh. The organization works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Bangladesh to identify ways to reverse the trend of unemployment among young adults, 18 to 35 years old.
“Five years ago, NGOs recognized that people in this age group were finishing secondary and post-secondary school with nowhere to go afterward,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is generally seen as the way to solve these problems. Many countries acknowledge that youth without opportunity in rural areas flock to the cities in hopes of finding a factory job. By working with youth in the rural areas, the hope is to keep them there, which will enhance the rural lifestyle and help spread out the population.
According to its website, the Farmer-to-Farmer Program promotes sustainable economic growth, food security and agricultural development worldwide. Volunteer technical assistance from U.S. farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives and universities helps developing countries improve productivity, access new markets, build local capacity, combat climate change and conserve environmental and natural resources.
Program volunteers work with farmers, producer groups, rural businesses and service providers to develop local capacity necessary to increase food production and rural incomes, expand economic growth, and address environmental and natural resource management challenges.