Landless Villagers Dig Fish Ponds to Improve Lives

May 15, 2010 at 2:20 am Leave a comment

Landless Villagers Dig Fish Ponds to Improve Lives

BANKATTI VILLAGE, Nepal—After a hot walk between the lush, green rice paddies of the Terai plains near the city of Nepalgunj, one comes upon dozens of rectangular fishponds, each about 100 feet long and bursting with carp.

Sangeeta Jaiswal, 22, sits under a thatched awning with her friends and their children, watching over their silvery treasure. These landless Madhesi people of the flatlands had been planting rice for wealthy landowners, earning 150 rupees a day (U.S. $2), barely enough to feed the family. And the work is seasonal, meaning most days, they have no income. USAID worked with Winrock International to rent swampy land and offer these poor villagers baby fish and the expertise to start their own fish ponds—if only they would dig out the pond. Each family got rice from the World Food Program to help them during the 40 days it took to dig their pond.

“We dug this out—it was a lot of work,” said Jaiswal. “Then rain filled in the hole.” The fish eat bits of grass and cow dung and should bring in 35,000 rupees a year. Growing vegetables along the earth walls of the ponds brings another 10,000 rupees. Because the fish ponds are low-maintenance, the villagers are often able to hold down other jobs as well such as making furniture or laboring on farms.

“The Americans helped us because we are poor,” said Jaiswal. “If I get money from selling the fish, I can open a small shop and educate my children.” She’d like to fry up one of the fish to see how they taste but said: “They are still too small. I’ll wait.” ★

FrontLines Editorial Director Ben Barber wrote this series of articles following a trip to Nepal in October. All photos by Ben Barber unless otherwise noted.



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