Wetlands management yields fruit for Bangladeshi villagers
Caritas Bangladesh also helps in restoring the environment
On the eve of World Wetlands Day, Toibul Islam, 45, a Muslim teacher from Moulvibazar in southeastern Bangladesh, said: “In the past there was no lotus or water lily in our swamp, local fish species had almost disappeared and no migratory birds used to come. Things have rapidly changed.”
He added, “Once I used to catch fish [from the swamp] but now I don’t. I took a loan from Caritas and started a rice business. I also teach in a local school.”
Islam is one of the villagers living by the side of the huge Hail back-swamp in the area which has benefited from the US Agency for International Development-sponsored Bangladesh government project dubbed Management of Aquatic ecosystems through Community Husbandry (MACH).
Caritas Bangladesh along with Winrock International, the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the Center for Natural Resource Studies took on the 20,900-hectare MACH project in 1998.
The restored wetlands owned by the government are handed over to the villagers on a lease basis.
Besides dredging the wetlands bed, Caritas has also helped create 63 sanctuaries for safe living and breeding of various fish species.
Alamgir Hossain, 40, another Muslim beneficiary of the project, said: “In the past the whole swamp used to dry up during winter to catch all fishes, it’s not done anymore.”
He added that after proper management the swamp yields three times better crops and has more fish than ever as illegal fishing and the use of pesticides in the fields have stopped.
“We now cultivate 54 local species of fish here which were in threat of extinct in past,” Hossain said.
Peyara Begum, 35, a Muslim housewife said, “All the family members used to catch fish before I came to know about Caritas micro-credit. I took a loan and started rearing cows and it has changed my family conditions.”
According to Caritas, the MACH (meaning fish in Bengali) project has helped more than 5,500 villagers formerly dependent on fishing to alternative careers. Their annual income has risen by 63 percent.
In the vast wetlands of Bangladesh, inland fisheries provide food and income for about 70 million rural households. Here, the extensive rivers and floodplain wetlands of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta rank third in global freshwater fish production behind China and India.
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