How the growth of cities changes farming

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LOOKING out from Mathabari, a village in northern Bangladesh, the panorama glints and ripples. Twenty years in the past this was a rice-farming space, with fields of vibrant inexperienced. Now many of the land is roofed with water. Carp, pangasius and tilapia swim in ponds separated by earth embankments. A number of of the remaining patches of dry floor are occupied by sheds, the place chickens are raised.

Shohel Matsay Khamar was one of many first in Mathabari to begin farming fish. Since 2002 he has steadily rented extra land from rice farmers, amassing about 70 acres (28 hectares). His is a forward-looking fish farm, with electrical paddle wheels to maintain the water oxygenated. He has even constructed a feed mill to grind maize, mustard oil cake and different uncooked supplies into fish pellets. Cockroaches cowl the partitions, feeding on the nutritious mud.

Not solely have Mr Khamar’s watery holdings expanded; he additionally will get extra from every pond. He largely farms pangasius, an unfussy silver-white fish, native to South-East Asia, which might breathe air. Within the early years Mr Khamar would haul 20 tonnes from every acre of pond. Now, with higher feed and cultivation strategies, he will get about 40 tonnes. Poaching was once an issue, he says, however not any extra. Fish have change into so plentiful and so low-cost that no person bothers.

In 2016 Bangladesh’s farmers produced 2.2m tonnes of fish (see chart). That’s greater than its fishermen caught within the wild, and greater than fish farmers produced in some other nation besides China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. The home farmed-fish business has doubled in dimension since 2008 and is 19 occasions greater than it was in 1984. Many issues have helped it to develop, from aquaculture-research institutes to improved roads. However the primary motive aquaculture is booming is that cities are booming, too.

A fish for all seasons

Farming and cities are often regarded as separate poles. Every has its personal ministries and budgets; charities usually cope with one or the opposite. However cities can remodel farming. City customers characterize an enormous, fast-growing marketplace for meals, which could be bigger than a rustic’s export markets (to not point out much less finicky about requirements). Urbanites even have distinctive appetites. With extra money than villagers and longer journeys to work, they favour tasty, quick-cooking, protein-rich fare. Sating their appetites is a big job. Ben Belton, an skilled on Asian aquaculture at Michigan State College, estimates that 94% of Bangladesh’s farmed fish are eaten domestically. Many are packed, wriggling or useless, into blue plastic barrels and pushed to the cities. City Bangladeshis are thought to eat about one-third extra fish per head than rural folks. And there are ever extra city heads. Dhaka, which is 95km south of Mathabari alongside highway, already accommodates some 20m individuals. UN statisticians assume it’s rising by greater than half one million a 12 months.

The duty of feeding that vast inhabitants has not been completed by the federal government, by charities or by overseas agricultural traders. It’s the work of a military of abnormal Bangladeshis with a watch for getting cash. Mr Belton’s analysis reveals that the variety of fish-feed sellers in the primary aquaculture areas greater than doubled between 2004 and 2014. So did the variety of feed mills and fish hatcheries. Mr Belton has discovered comparable tendencies in Myanmar, the place the fish farms are sometimes bigger than in Bangladesh, and in India.

In addition to remodeling landscapes in a big radius round Dhaka, the fish growth has modified many individuals’s lives. Aquaculture requires about twice as a lot labour per acre as rice farming, and the demand is year-round. Many labourers who was once paid by the day at the moment are employed for months at a time. Seasonal starvation, which is a function of life in some rice-farming areas of Bangladesh, is rarer within the watery districts. Individuals are consuming extra protein. Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, a feed supplier, factors to a different benefit. As a result of meals is now so low-cost within the cities, migrant staff are capable of ship extra money again to their households within the villages.

The rock-bottom costs that so delight customers make life onerous for producers. The previous 12 months has been particularly dangerous, partly due to flooding in northern Bangladesh, which drove up the price of rice and left customers with much less cash to spend on fish. Mr Khamar says he has been promoting pangasius for between 65 takas ($zero.78) and 80 takas per kilo, down from greater than 100 a 12 months in the past. However his major downside is that the market is oversupplied. In impact, he’s a sufferer of his fellow-farmers’ success. That downside is just not particular to aquaculture, or to Bangladesh.

About two hours’ drive north of Nigeria’s business capital, Lagos, is a enterprise known as AOD Farms. It started in 2009 as an egg-producing operation with some 1,500 hens. However the residents of Ogere, the small city the place the enterprise was positioned, complained in regards to the odor. So AOD Farms moved to the outskirts and began elevating chickens for meat, generally known as broilers. It now has round 10,000 birds at any time. Within the run-up to Christmas it provides a couple of hundred turkeys and cockerels.

Depend your chickens

AOD Farms is a part of a white-meat explosion that rivals the fishy one. Saweda Liverpool-Tasie, an agricultural economist at Michigan State College, calculates that there at the moment are round 1,000 medium and enormous poultry farms in Nigeria, up from round 400 throughout a lot of the 1990s and 2000s. The amount of maize used for feed shot up from 300,000 tonnes to 1.8m tonnes between 2003 and 2015. There’s little motive to anticipate development to decelerate. The typical Nigerian nonetheless eats solely about two chickens a 12 months.

In some methods the west African hen growth is completely different from the Asian fish growth. Whereas Asian fish farmers are sometimes former rice farmers, African poultry farmers usually tend to be rich, well-connected urbanites. AOD Farms is owned by a civil engineer. Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has a big poultry enterprise within the south-west. International traders play a big function, too. Final September Olam, a multinational agribusiness agency listed in Singapore, opened two giant feed mills in Nigeria. One among them may also produce fish meals.

However the parallels are extra placing than the variations. As with fish in Bangladesh, the Nigerian hen business clusters across the fast-growing largest metropolis. Lagos is estimated to have between 12m and 15m inhabitants, although it’s onerous to make certain as Nigerian inhabitants information are notoriously unreliable. Lagosians’ starvation can actually be felt in Ogere. AOD Farms sells many chickens on the gate to native patrons. Of those which might be loaded onto vans and pushed away, 70% go to Lagos.

Coming dwelling to roast

In each international locations the industries have gotten extra skilled. Bangladeshi fish farmers more and more use medicines and floating fish feed, which is much less wasteful than the sinking type. AOD Farms continues to be a dusty work in progress—throughout a latest go to, some chickens had escaped by a gap within the fence. However a vet comes a minimum of as soon as every week and the farm supervisor, Kunle Adebayo, studied agriculture and enterprise at college. Bigger, slicker companies promote chicks and veterinary companies to smaller outfits.

In a remaining parallel, farmers in each Nigeria and Bangladesh complain bitterly about extreme provide. Nigerian hen farmers insist that the home market has been flooded by overseas traders and overseas chickens. The Poultry Affiliation of Nigeria claims that about 70% of the birds eaten within the nation are illegally imported. Nonetheless, Ms Liverpool-Tasie reckons that solely 15% are imported. Hen farmers’ revenue margins have in all probability been stored skinny by the rising worth of feed and a surge in home manufacturing.

It’s onerous to know for positive, although, as a result of official statistics are so poor. Hen and fish farmers have little thought what their rivals are producing, in order that they discover it onerous to foretell what worth their produce would possibly fetch at market. Mohammad Mahfujul Haque, an aquaculture skilled at Bangladesh Agricultural College, argues that detailed annual figures on fish manufacturing would assist enormously. Bangladesh already does this for crops.

So would a certification system. At current, a hen is only a hen and a pangasius is just a pangasius. That stops farmers from exporting to wealthy international locations, the place customers insist on understanding the place their meals comes from and the way it’s produced. The shortage of requirements even causes issues at dwelling. Rather than actual info, Bangladesh has rumours. In a couple of days your correspondent heard two. One was that pangasius are poisonous; the opposite that the primary hearsay had been unfold by merchants in an try and suppress costs. Each gave the impression to be nonsense.

However the stress on farmers is making them ingenious. In a warehouse in Mymensingh, a city near Mathabari, Shamsul Alam has put in eight giant vats. When he shines his torch in, they’re revealed to include hundreds of stinging catfish. Though the fish is hard to deal with, owing to the venom in its dorsal spines, it’s a delicacy that fetches a minimum of 4 occasions as a lot as pangasius per kilo. The water within the vats is cleaned by a machine imported from Canada.

It’s an costly, technically complicated approach of farming fish. The indoor fish farm poses no aggressive risk to open-air farmers. Nonetheless, Mr Alam’s innovation is an intriguing approach of dealing with persistent low costs for the commonest fish. He says that considered one of his neighbours is already copying him.

Nonetheless a lot farmers battle with the implications of their success, it’s a far nicer downside than the one they used to grapple with. Strolling down a market road, Mr Haque dips his hand right into a sack of maize and a sack of rice. The grains can be purchased by farmers, who will grind them into pellets for fish and cattle. “Twenty-five years in the past, individuals had been ravenous for need of this,” he says, marvelling. “Now we feed it to animals.”

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