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Revival of trout farms in Swat valley              
By Arshad Yusufzai

MILITANCY not only destroyed tourism in Swat in 2005, the flourishing business of trout valued at around Rs44 million, also suffered irreparable losses over the next two years until 2007.

The 18 fish farms and four hatcheries of trout almost went out of business as tourists stopped visiting the Swat valley and most hotels closed down due to insecurity.

The cold-water trout is considered by many as the most delicious fish. It was not only a major source of income for fishermen, hoteliers and others in Swat, but a factor in promoting hotels and tourism as tourists coming to the scenic valley were often keen to try the delicacy.

Although private trout farms were operational in Bahrain, Madyan and Kalam since late 1980, it was in 1994 that the government decided to support the business. Of the estimated 162 tons trout produced in 2005, 37 per cent or 60 tons came from Swat. Other trout producing places are Chitral, Kohistan, Kaghan, Dir and Shangla in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Azad Kashmir and Balochistan.
 

 


However, the yield in Swat dropped to 40 tons in 2007 and trout business from 2007-2009 came almost to an abrupt stop as lawlessness took hold in Swat.

Muhammad Saeed told this scribe that his spring trout hatchery in Madyan was the largest trout farm in the country. “I was in this business since 1988 and had 309,000 Rainbow Trout worth Rs12.5 million when the Taliban poisoned the 50 ponds of my farm on September 27, 2005. I cried as I saw my fish dying,” he recalled.

According to Saeed, his efforts to seek compensation from the then MMA government were nearing success when the compensation bill of Rs8.6 million was approved, but the money never arrived. “Before other fish farm owners and I could be compensated, the MMA government left office on completion of its term. I held many futile meetings with high-ups in the current provincial government, but all in vain,” he lamented.

Down but not out, Saeed is reconstructing his hatchery with support from the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PRRSA) and is hoping to start fish business again by September this year.

In a bid to revive the trout business in Swat, a joint initiative by the PRRSA and Early Recovery of Agriculture and Livelihood Programme (ERALP) supported by the Italian government was launched in February 2010.

Project director of the ERALP Sanaullah Khan said the first phase of the post-militancy reconstruction work was nearing completion when the devastating floods struck in 2010. “We supplied construction material worth Rs10.8 million and technical support to fish farm owners in the first phase of the rehabilitation programme. The second phase consisted of providing eggs, incubators and feed, but the floods came and destroyed everything,” he added.

Any hopes of revival of trout industry in Swat were washed away by the unprecedented floods. Some 14 farms were about to be restored under the USAID- funded firms project for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) before the overflowing Swat River destroyed 11 of them. Six of the remaining 11 farms were severely damaged.

Damages to fish farms were so severe that many owners lost hope of restarting their business. However, their confidence was restored when PRRSA and ERALP damage assessment teams offered help.

Rasheed Khan, president of the Swat Trout Farms Association, said that he had lost 3,000 kg of rare Rainbow Trout when militants destroyed his farm. “My efforts to rebuild the farm were severely hampered by the floods. I lost all hopes of restarting the business when unbelievably a team sent by PRRSA met me just five days after the floods on August 1, 2010,” he said.

Khan added that PRRSA was helpful in reconstruction of fish farms. “My restored farm is already functional. I got 125,000 eggs, six incubators and 23 bags of feed from PRRSA. The baby fish are growing faster than I had expected,” he said.

He expected his first batch of trout to be ready in six years for sale by the end of May. “With the local feed, the fish took 20-24 months to reach the desired saleable size and weight. With the American feed, my fish have already crossed the fingerlings stage of three to four inches in four months. The foreign feed is working like magic,” he remarked.

The ERALP project director Sanaullah said that 22 farms including four hatcheries at Madyan and Bahrain were in different stages of construction. He said work on four farms in Kalam could not be started as the area was inaccessible after floods. “Five farms are already housing the fish in different stages. Initially we distributed 285,000 fine quality eyed ova, 18 incubators and specially formulated fish feed, all imported from the US. Later we gave 75,000 more eggs,” he explained.

Sanaullah claimed the imported eyed ova were of better quality and were cheaper than the locally available trout eggs despite transportation costs. “The babies from these eggs take up to 12 months to reach the desired market size and weight. This is due to the fine quality of fish and feed imported from the US,” he said.

The ERALP also trained farm owners and workers. “The purpose of the trainings was to educate them about the ways to produce more and better trout,” Sanaullah said. The PRRSA, ERALP and STFFA are expecting produce of five tons trout in 2011 and hopefully 184 tons by 2013 from the upcoming 22 farms in Swat.



Courtesy: The DAWN

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