Equipping fish farmers with the knowledge and machinery to produce their own low-cost, quality fish feed is increasing the productivity of aquaculture in rural Bangladesh.

Just as a nutritious diet is essential for our own healthy growth and development, the quality of feed given to farmed fish directly influences how fast and large they grow—in turn impacting the yield and profits for the farmer.

For small- and medium-scale enterprises, like Salim Reza’s fish farm in Hazrahati village, Magura District, Bangladesh, these profits are vital. Salim uses the money he earns to buy quality food for his family and educate his son.

Despite being fundamental to productive aquaculture, finding low-cost, good-quality fish feed with a high content of protein and vitamins is a challenge for many rural farmers, who commonly prepare their own mixture from ingredients like mustard oil cake and rice bran.

“After using this feed, my fish have good growth. Now, in 10 days they grow as much as they used to in 15 days.” – Swanpan Kumar Biswas, fish farmer

“In the past, we did not have fish feed here. We would use mustard oil cake to make ordinary-quality feed at home. Most fish farmers complained that production in their farms was very low,” recalls Salim, whose income supports his mother, wife and eight-year-old son.

Those in search of commercially produced feed with a high protein content, which helps the fish to grow, are often forced to travel long distances along damaged and dangerous roads to the nearest market.

Salim’s neighbor and fellow fish farmer, Swanpan Kumar Biswas, used to travel 23 kilometers to the closest city to purchase commercially made feed, which he discovered was falsely advertising a 32% protein content. In reality, it contained only 22% protein.

Frustrated with the cost and challenges of accessing quality feed, Salim and the 22 members of the village’s Shapla Fish Farmer’s Association approached the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) project, which they heard was offering training on fish feed production.

AIN aims to improve household income and nutrition through providing cost-sharing investments and training on aquaculture.

Salim attended a training session on topics such as feed compositions for different species, feed-to-body-weight ratios and how to operate a semi-automatic feed mill. The project also taught Salim how to act as a trainer himself in order to teach others in the association, and provided participants with record books to track the growth of their fish.

After Salim shared his learning with the other members, the association was motivated to purchase the equipment for a semi-automatic feed mill for the village in June 2015 to allow them to produce their own feed for a lower price.

AIN contributed 50% of the cost for the machines that together form the feed mill. Along with investing the majority of the remaining half of the funds, Salim provided the tin shed and land on which it stands—making him the majority shareholder and responsible for the feed mill’s operation.

“After installing these feed machines, we were trained to operate and maintain both the diesel shallow engines and electric engines for these machines,” explains Salim, who purchases and transports the feed ingredients from the region’s capital, Khulna.

Farmers then buy the raw materials directly from Salim and pay a small fee to use the mill to compress the ingredients into pellets for mature fish or grind them into powder for juveniles. Shareholders from the association divide the profits according to their original contribution.

“The main benefit of having such a mill is that I can assure the amount of protein in the feed, and that it is of good quality. After using this feed, my fish have good growth. Now, in 10 days they grow as much as they used to in 15 days. I also don’t pay as much for the feed as I used to,” says Swanpan.

The mill has produced 2750 kilograms of feed since it opened in June 2015 and is now supplying 25 fish farmers in the area.

“This extra money has made education for my child easier; I can fulfill his desires … I am also living peacefully, as I can buy good food from the market,” Salim says.

Since January 2014, AIN has established 62 feed mills and trained 430 farmers in feed production.

In a country where more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line, AIN is improving the productivity of household and commercial fish farms to help secure income and nutrition for rural farmers and their families.