JALALABAD, Nangarhar Province - Abdul Baqir frequently carries 2,000 nervous passengers in the back seat of his small white car. Called fingerlings, his companions are baby fish that bob and flit around heavy plastic bags filled with water until they can be released into four ponds on Baqir’s property in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
To replenish his supply, Baqir visits the Rahmat Insaf Fish Hatchery in Bagrami village on the outskirts of Jalalabad. It’s a pleasure to make the trip and pick up another batch of fingerlings at the hatchery in Sukhrud district, says Baqir, because he no longer has to make a long, expensive journey to suppliers in Pakistan.
“For me, this is much cheaper, my transportation costs are reduced, it’s less time consuming and I am 100 percent supporting my own country and its people,” he says.
The hatchery’s owner, Haji Ghulam Mohammad, agrees that his business is as much about national pride as it is about practicality. “This is a highly complex process and sometimes we have had to learn by making errors,” says Mohammad. “But we are 100 percent trying our best to do this the proper way so we can support our family, but also because we want this industry to be successful in Afghanistan.”
He has had setbacks trying to get the company off the ground but he credits the technical and training assistance offered by the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project (AREDP) with helping his family acquire the necessary skills to run the business. Launched in March 2010, this Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development project is supported by the World Bank and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
AREDP aims to improve participation of the rural poor in economic activities by providing business development services, improving their access to finance, and strengthening market linkages and value chains.
Opportunity to train abroad
Mohammad first became fascinated with fish hatcheries when his family lived in Pakistan more than a decade ago with other refugees from the Afghan conflict. “I saw the hatcheries there and thought it could be a good idea for us. Everyone loves fish in my country.”
About eight years ago, on land that his family of six brothers previously used to grow wheat, tomatoes, and other crops, Mohammad had six large ponds dug and inter-connected by a steady supply of water from a nearby canal. They also constructed a building with three circular concrete tanks where the fish hatchery process takes place each spring for three months.
Getting four different species of fish (mori, silver, raho, and grass) to agree to have their babies in this environment takes a mixture of great skill and good luck, he says. The process requires a series of steps that happens quickly and often through the night. Just getting the large fish out of their ponds demands the services of a special fish ‘wrangler’ who throws large nets over unwilling participants.
Then, expertise is needed to identify the fishes’ sex and age (which must be at least three years old) to qualify them as ‘breeders.’ Once suitable couples are found, they are injected with hormones and released into a tank where mating may or may not happen. “Sometimes we are trying 15 times and still nothing,” says Mohammad. “Maybe the water is too cold, or something isn’t right. It’s a big challenge.”
But when the pairing is successful, it can produce as many as 200,000 babies, and business is good. It is Mohammad’s son, Ghulam Nabi, 30, who has become the family expert. With the help of AREDP, Nabi has already travelled to India twice for training at fish hatcheries there. “I learned from a man in India who has 27 years of experience in this business, so even now when I have questions, I can phone and take advice from him about what we should do.”