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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

Addressing Critical Problems in Bangladesh

Dr. John Woiwode

Dr. John Woiwode, Fisheries Scientist, chronicles his latest volunteer assignment in Bangladesh

“I returned to Bangladesh [as a volunteer] this December to address a critical problem for the country: the exhaustive use of groundwater for fish hatcheries. The hatchery industry has evolved in very concentrated areas of Bangladesh, and their water requirements are massive: a typical hatchery uses up to 1500 liter per minute during peak spawning/production cycles. In the area around Jessore, for example, there are 44 such hatcheries. The water table was dropping dramatically. WorldFish, a worldwide non-profit with a large presence in Bangladesh, was my partner in this endeavor.

Dr. Shamshul Kabir, Regional Director for Winrock International’s USAID-funded Asia Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, has told me this is my eighth Winrock/F2F fisheries assignment in Bangladesh (and I’ve done three more in Myanmar) since 2011, though frankly I had lost count. I very much enjoy the people, I appreciate their technical aptitude, and I especially appreciate the food (and eating with my hands!). I observe I can have a significant impact in these short fieldings; and given my work schedule, there are specific times of the year (late Nov/early Dec and late April/early May) that I can donate my time to such philanthropic enterprises as Winrock International. To me, it is a natural extension of my professional/technical perspectives dating back to my US Peace Corps days.

A simple example of an impact I’ve noted is aeration; all hatcheries brought out groundwater to a head tank, and gravity-fed to the incubating hatch jars. I always test water wherever I go, and indeed the groundwater was not only anoxic (without Oxygen), but it was very high in Carbon Dioxide, with a resultant acidic pH. This water was being used directly for hatching of eggs and early life stages of embryos. I detailed seven advantages of aerating the groundwater, all influencing egg and embryo health, and pointed out there would be no additional operational costs associated with aeration. They are already pumping the water up to the head tanks. All they needed to do was break apart the water as it entered the head tank. I provided an aeration tower design. I am pleased to say every single hatchery I have visited during this fielding has an aeration tower, and there is vast improvement reported in hatch and larval rearing success.

This volunteer assignment was designed differently, though. While I had previously engaged with WorldFish, and had “Trained the Trainers” in previous assignments that included discussions on the concept of water biofiltration and recirculation, this time not only were we to develop a formal Training Module specific to this concept, but we were to actually construct a commercial-scale system for biofiltration and recirculation of the hatchery water. This was a monumental task. Fortunately, I was working with a large group of very motivated fisheries professionals: Hatchery owners and WorldFish personnel.

I had done much footwork while in the States in order to secure necessary materials. There is not the structured media available in Bangladesh to culture the necessary beneficial bacteria, nor to remove the fine organic particulates. I had arranged for sample blocks of these medias, large enough for our commercial-scale system, to be provided for free. But delays upon delays occurred with the providing company as my request shifted from the United States to India to Thailand, and at the 12th hour, while we had already begun constructing the biofiltration system, disappointingly, the media was still in Thailand. They said they could DHL it to me, but it would cost $1550. The money was not available. I canceled the order.

Sometimes these events are blessings in disguise. I told our very motivated hatchery owners and WorldFish folks, more than 40 inspired fish people, that we will construct the system using only locally available materials. We reviewed our options, decided upon specific sizes of pipes, and began detailed construction of the medias.

Our model system is to recycle one ton of water (1000 liters) per minute. This would be an effective size from which to expand or contract, as water consumption needs would be identified at the various hatcheries. Fortuitously, the aeration towers I had introduced a few years ago played perfectly into this system: I could place our Bangladeshi-sourced media into the aeration tower, and once charged with the two species of bacteria, we would have our trickling nitrifying filter. Perfect. The largest task however was to capture suspended and settleable organic solids, and that was where our largest efforts focused.

After days of morning until night yeoman effort, with everyone doing their best, for all intents and purposes we completed this Herculean task. As I am writing up my Final Report and reflecting on this project, I can confidently say these activities will have the greatest impact of all my fieldings with Winrock. It is one thing to visit a facility and talk about how to improve their production. It is quite another to actually construct a working system that all dedicated stakeholders can have input, help with the construction, do the necessary water chemistry tests, watch the flow patterns, discuss and question each step of the process, put their hands on every facet of the system, and come away with ideas that each hatchery owner will take to his facility, and apply there.

Operationally, I have provided my contact info to all, and as these systems come on line in the near future, I have invited these hatchery owners and WorldFish personnel to contact me directly with any operational questions. There will inevitably be managerial missteps that we will have to correct. Importantly though, the huge first step has been taken: the construction of a working prototype system, using locally sourced materials, built by the inspired stakeholders themselves. It is this type of project that has the greatest chance of success, and I am pleased to be a part of this effort.”

–Dr. John G. Woiwode

Thanks for YOUR Herculean efforts, Dr. Woiwode! We, too, are pleased that you are part of this effort, and we are grateful for all that you have done as a F2F volunteer!