This week’s blog post comes from Mike Frinsko, an aquaculture expert from North Carolina State University, who has volunteered three times with Winrock’s USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program. His most recent F2F assignment was focused on improving water quality management in fish ponds in Bangladesh. Below, he shares his impressions of the country and thoughts about his assignment:
My [F2F] assignment to provide aquaculture training in Bangladesh has been amazing! During my nearly 3 weeks here, I have had the pleasure and honor to work with a group of extension professionals from many organizations. This Train-the-Trainer (TOT) assignment was in partnership with the USDA’s Rural Enterprise for Alleviating Poverty (REAP-II) program and was aimed at enhancing the skills of aquaculture extension agents in the area of water quality management.
This assignment involved many days of intensive training in each of two principle aquaculture districts, Khulna and Mymensingh. Both areas are heavily developed with aquaculture on small land holdings. Most ponds produce fish on sites near to family homes and consist of one or two ponds of about 0.1 acres each. Fish production is important to the farmers as both an income generator for fish sold at market and as a source of fresh, high quality protein for their family.
Extension assistance is important, with each local Agent working with an average of 750 farmers! The farmers generally have little or no formal education in science, let alone aquaculture, so the extension program provides the needed technical information from which improved production practices can be received.
In the Khulna region, I met with producers that farmed both fish and freshwater prawns in an integrated farming system, which included vegetable production on the pond levees. Production occurred throughout the year, with most ponds being stocked during the time of my visit…the hatchery season.
In Mymensingh, I visited a farm that raised monosex Tilapia. These “all-male” fish grow very efficiently, putting all their nutrients into muscle production without the waste common in egg bearing females.
Every day found new and rewarding experiences exploring the culture and landscape of this beautiful country. While in Mymensingh, I’ll never forget the fish market located just off the railroad tracks, with sellers marketing fish live and on-ice as the train cars pass by. During sight visits to villages, the hospitality of the farmers was so wonderful as demonstrated by the obligatory offering of a fresh coconut hacked open by a sharp sickle to provide a drink of the sweet juice inside. The many visits to other farms and government fishery facilities were filled with good memories of the wonderful people of this most beautiful country.
Of the many countries I’ve worked/traveled, Bangladesh clearly faces some of the greatest challenges in the world. Yet, in this environment of “controlled chaos”, the Bangladeshi attitude is both realistic and positive…the “glass half full”. I believe it with such an outlook on the country’s future potential that belies its continued progress and advancement. It is something to behold to see strangers helping each other, as when the rickshaw driver overloaded with mangoes struggles up a bridge only to have a half dozen pedestrians help push him to the top and on his way. This is how I see Bangladesh moving…forward, selflessly. What a lesson for the world! Of course the superb staff of the Winrock office coordinated the experience to make it so enjoyable and productive. I wouldn’t hesitate to return!
-Mike Frinsko, F2F volunteer