World Bank project helps women fish farmers in Bangladesh recover from Covid-19 losses

Rakhi Mondal is a shrimp and fish farmer from Kathi village in Bagerhat district of Bangladesh. She started working in aquaculture in 2012, managing two “ghers” or fishponds. His business was thriving until the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the family suffered significant financial losses. Supply chains shrank, food stopped being delivered on time and fish markets closed under lockdown.

The village where Mondal lives with her husband and son is in the southwestern region of Bangladesh, known as an aquaculture paradise. However, the area is also threatened by climate change and intensifying storms such as Cyclone Yaas, which flooded some fish ponds, worsening the current crisis. Mondal was a housewife and mother when she, like many of her neighbors, decided to start fish farming with the support of the Bangladesh Department of Fisheries program.

One-fifth of global aquaculture production is concentrated in Bangladesh, where women hold around 1.4 million of the estimated 17.8 million jobs in the sector. The fishing sector generates income and livelihoods for 3.5 million people in coastal areas.

Empowering women fishers in Bangladesh

Women fishers have long been invisible in many countries, and often their contributions to fisheries can be under-represented or ignored in countries’ GDP figures. Bangladesh has a long history of involving women in fisheries, most often through aquaculture, but more can be done to include women at all levels of business and decision-making. Women contribute at various stages of the value chain, from fishing and fish farming to handling and processing. In Bangladesh, poor fishers and women seek fuller participation at higher levels of the sector.

For many women, work can be rewarding and make a significant contribution to family income. For others, however, their work is not recognized because they have less access to funding and no decision-making power. The Covid-19 pandemic has added another layer to this set of vulnerabilities, with long periods of unemployment for husbands as well.

Karol Rekha is another fish farmer we met who has benefited from these initiatives.

Rekha is a fish farmer in Dahanadad village, Lakshmipur district, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her daughter is in high school and her son just finished his MBA. With government support, she diversified her income with poultry and livestock as well as fish farming. But the outbreak of Covid-19 has also triggered a crisis for her family.

“I couldn’t sell the fish in time and it was difficult to pay for the fish feed,” she said. But the World Bank-backed project has helped her get back on her feet and she says the economic outlook has improved. “The financial incentives during Covid-19 have been a big support for us,” she said.

Now Rekha can buy fish food and maintain her ponds. Both women plan to expand their business this year, thanks in part to the support.

Under the World Bank-funded Bangladesh Sustainable Marine and Coastal Fisheries Project (BSCMFP), agencies provided emergency aid, helped restore the supply chain and improved food supply by getting fish to markets. The emergency aid provided fishermen with electronic cash transfers and technical assistance to buy food and alleviate their debts.

The BSCMFP project was conducting community-based fieldwork when the pandemic hit in 2020. The team had undergone aquaculture training in 16 coastal districts where more than 35 million people live. But then an emergency intervention was necessary.

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