Three Questions with Neelkanth Mishra, founder of Jaljeevika
Our guest for our second Q&A session was the founder of Jaljeevika - Neelkanth Mishra, pioneering aquaculture activities in India. He had a brief conversation with Smita Ram, Rang De’s co-founder. Here are the top three questions from the interview -
Aquaculture is a relatively new concept, especially in urban areas and until Rang De started working with you, we didn't know what a big livelihood source it is. Can you please walk us through the role of Jaljeevika?
When you Google aquaculture in India, you will find that India is second in the world and we all feel so proud about it. But the difference between the first and second place-holder is more than 60% productivity. So there is nothing to feel very proud of. Data such as - ‘India exports 40,000 Cr fish per year are from marine fisheries. Because, as per the government rule, export data has to be taken properly. So the data on the domestic market, nobody knows. The fact is that only 30% of fish production comes from marine areas, and 70% comes from freshwater. In India, 60-65% of production is consumed locally. So if you multiply that by the economics, it becomes a very huge multi-billion dollar kind of business in the rural area.
So the first thing that we do is demystify this kind of idea and visit the local market. That gives a lot of boost to local farmers. We set up a proper school with all the infrastructure facilities. We are big on technology. Everything is provided as a physical asset where people can do hands-on training. Once the farmers are trained, they go on to do their fieldwork or start farming. Tell us about your organization. How big is the team and what are the states you work in? I understand this kind of end-to-end hand-holding is being given to communities. How do you do this? First, there are two segments. One is the farmer segment where we work largely with small marginal fish farmers who are first-generation farmers. So training and support happen through our aqua school. The second group is the capture fisheries which means those working in big reservoir dams where the cooperative is functional. And then there are the farmers’ collectives which are much more advanced and we can raise resources from government schemes for infrastructure and supply chain development. So that's the farmer's end. For the enterprise segment, we have started activities in the last two years. We work with the fish vendors and then the microentrepreneurs who are operating nurseries, hatcheries or the local transport system.
We also work with large farmers who have big investment infrastructures like recirculatory aquaculture and bioflock. These are the two segments we work in. At this moment, we are concentrated majorly in Bihar and in Telangana.
We are starting very soon in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. But as a new strategy, we want to focus on northern India and the eastern part of India. Amazing! Can you walk us through the need for credit in this? Did you face any challenges in terms of fish farmers taking this up as a livelihood activity and what was the role of credit?
So, it's very challenging to motivate first-time farmers whereas we have seen women or SHG members, there is an aspiration to earn even just 5000 per month more. They are really the fast adopters of the system. Thus the selection of the right people is a tough challenge. And in all these things, credit becomes one of the really big challenges. We personally feel even a farmer with a small area, if he has to do seed stocking for say Rs 5000, he has to travel to the city to acquire them. The cost adds on for him. In the banking system, even though there are many schemes, all of them have a clause for collateral. In rural areas, everyone doesn't have complete ownership of their land, it is distributed among the family. So many are ruled out. Banks also ask for production data for fisheries-based loans. So, new farmers are not even considered, and the support system for the sector is quite low. ---------------------------------------------
We asked many more questions to Neelakanth in this conversation that gave us insightful information on aquaculture and the work Jaljeevika is doing, like - - the potential market in India - operational and structural gaps in the sector - livelihood generations and the future scope in business If you’re interested in watching the full conversation, head on to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVFzPTwVjGY
Jaljeevika is a Rang De impact partner and they enable fish farmers to learn affordable and sustainable aquatic farming practices. Aquatic livelihood covers fish farming, Makhana cultivation, water chestnut, Azolla farming & many other aquatic food production systems.