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Field Diary: Inland fishing communities of Sri Lanka benefitting from giant fresh water prawns

By: Reneera Paul and Vijay Karunanithy

One of the first partnerships for MDF in Sri Lanka was with Divron Bioventures, an innovative aquaculture businesses capitalising on Sri Lanka’s inland resources to export giant fresh water prawns. As the partnership activities are progressing and early signs of impact are becoming visible, a team from MDF visited the reservoirs to observe and understand the functioning of fishing communities and how the activities carried by Divron Bioventures impact them.

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MDF supported Divron to set up a supply chain that is equipped to maintain the quality of these prawns from the company’s hatchery on the coast to the reservoirs, and from the reservoirs to the processing centres, and onwards to export destinations. Divron is also training the fishing communities in appropriate catching, sorting and grading practices to maintain prawn quality.

To find out the initial impact of these activities, we traveled to the Northern Province to visit three fishing villages – Muthayankaddu, Kalmadu and Ambalpuram. Divron Bioventures has stocked more than fifty reservoirs across Sri Lanka with larvae, with most of these located in the Northern and North Central Province.

The villages we visited had the reservoirs stocked early on in course of the partnership, and the fishing community was beginning to see harvests of giant fresh water prawns. Our purpose was to understand the dynamics of the fishing communities, their income levels, poverty levels, fishing and trading practices and women’s involvement in the industry.

Usually a fishing association manages the reservoir and the members of the association have rights to fish a particular reservoir. President of the Muthayankaddu Inland Fisheries Association, Singamuthu Sahadevan said the association had been functioning for five decades.

We met several fishing families through the fishery association and found that household activities in Muthayankaddu are led by the female heads of the household, as most fishermen are asleep during the day to accommodate for the irregular fishing hours. Fishers in this village generally have working hours from 3 pm to 8 am the following day.

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The second village we visited was Kalmadu which was not historically a fishing hotspot. However, due to the conflict and loss of belongings, the residents took to fishing in the reservoirs. Kalmadu is also unique in that fishing activities come to a standstill on Fridays, due to religious obligations taking up the bulk of the day. Similarly, during religious festivals the people do not conduct any fishing activities, and rely on excess catch from before that women are involved in preserving by drying.

The final village we visited was Ambalpuram. Here the majority of fishers are Catholic and their ancestors are from Negombo, which is located on the western coast of Sri Lanka. It is said that during the fishing season men would re-locate to Ambalpuram and as a result this community was gradually formed.

In all three villages, we saw enthusiasm among the people regarding the stocking of giant fresh water prawns. One of the fishermen, Pushparasa said they are earning more money now. “We would only get LKR 150 (USD 1) for a kilo of fish previously, but now we can earn LKR 300 to 400 (USD 2-3) for one prawn.

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“Now more fishermen are coming out to the reservoir to fish because giant freshwater prawns are a good business,” he said.

Women support this trade and perform tasks such as cleaning the prawns and repairing the nets. Premini, a woman from Kalmadu said she is eagerly waiting for the reservoir to be stocked again, as that brings the household more money.

We identified other similarities amongst the three fishing communities. All three villages have their own fishery association as the governing unit. Associations negotiate and assign buyers to each fisher and offer a savings measure for the fishing household’s income. The associations themselves are funded by the commissions earned from each kilo of prawns or fish sold.

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As more reservoirs across the country are stocked, and more prawns are harvested, we expect hundreds of households to benefit from this new economic activity. Divron’s management of associations allows for more discussions between the fishers and their communities. By creating a relationship with fishers, Divron is better able to influence the post-harvest practises as well as improving fishing techniques and understanding of sustainability in these rural villages. With the insight gained from this trip, we will continue to monitor this partnership so that benefits continue to accrue to fishing communities across Sri Lanka.