Fishing for Fortune

Ruma leads the way

Childhood Connection

Ruma Begum, 28, is a rural fish farmer from Mongla.

As a child, she used to watch dreamily as fishermen would cast their nets which glistened in the sunlight along the Mongla River.

Large ships passed by the busy sea port all day, but her gaze would remain drawn to the nets as fishermen slowly pulled them in, jumping with shoals of fish.

One of Ruma’s fisheries
Ruma feeds her son a meal prepared using ingredients from the family’s fisheries and gardens

Keeping Dreams Alive

Nine years ago, Ruma married Babul, a resident of Bagerhat–an area known for its fish and shrimp farming. Shortly thereafter, they had a son and named him Bulbul.

Soon, Ruma found herself trying to make ends meet for her family in order to take care of her son. She never lost sight of her dream of being successful in the fishing business.

“Fish is a very important part of my life,” says Ruma.

Ruma collects eggs produced by her ducks and chickens

Early Efforts

Ruma used to support her family by selling eggs from her ducks and chickens.

Over time, she noticed that many neighbors were farming fish in ponds. “I thought that since I have lots of land, I can also do this,” says Ruma. She excavated a pond next to her house and started to raise fish.

“When I first started fish farming, it did not go so well. I didn’t know when or how often to properly feed the fish. So I couldn’t make much money.”

Learning New Ways

In 2013, Ruma learned about a Feed the Future training program. “I saw everyone was going. I was sitting idle, so I decided to listen to the training.”

When she arrived, she saw expert trainers talking about fish and vegetable farming.

“I learned how to prepare the pond properly by adding lime and fertilizer before stocking fish fingerlings in the pond. I also learned when and how to feed the fish.”

A Feed the Future training program class on creating fisheries
Ruma teaches a class the proper techniques for raising fish
Ruma shows a class the proper way to construct a pond for raising fish

Role Reversal

Ruma taught her husband what she learned from the training sessions.

“We learned how to grow vegetables around the pond and also learned a lot about nutrition. We get nutrition from eating fish and from the vegetables in my garden around fish ponds.”

“Spinach, pumpkin, sweet potato – we also eat other kinds of nutritious food.”

Ruma’s husband, Babul, casts a fishing net into one of the family’s ponds
One of the several fisheries that Ruma and her husband have built
Ruma and her family get ready to transport their fish away from the pond for cooking and storage

Dreamer to Doer

Ruma now has a nursery business of her own and is the proud owner of three ponds. She sells her high-quality fish seed and fingerlings to other farmers in the area, who use it to stock their ponds and raise large, healthy carp varieties like rui, katla, and mrigal , for themselves.

“From the nursery business, I make a lot of income.”

She is also teaching other women in the community about fish farming.

Ruma is now able to take better care of her family and has high hopes for her son.

“My son wants to become a judge,” she says.

She sends her son, Bulbul, to private tutors after school so he can follow his dreams.

Ruma sits with her son in their house
Babul helps his son with his schoolwork
Ruma and her son pose in front of one of the family’s fisheries

Making Her Own Choices

Now, with her additional income, Ruma pays for Bulbul's education, food, clothes, doctor visits, and other expenses. She also saves some of the money in the bank.

“You have to care for fish the same you have to care for children,” says Ruma.

“Now I can make my own decisions and accomplish anything.”

About this story

Since 2011, Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, has helped more than 80,000 Bangladeshi farmers increase their profits by raising fish.

The USAID Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) project is implemented by the WorldFish Center under the Feed the Future initiative, which is concentrated in 20 districts of southern Bangladesh.

The activity disseminates improved quality lines of fish and shrimp seed, creates employment opportunities, and increases overall production across commercial aquaculture in Bangladesh.

As a result, production has increased by 25 percent since the project started in 2011. In addition to the financial benefits, raising fish also helps poor farmers provide a rich source of protein to improve the nutrition of their families and their communities.

Farmers also learn to grow vegetables on the embankments surrounding their ponds, which has helped improve family nutrition and generate additional income.

More than half of the fish farmers that were trained are women like Ruma.

Photos and video by Morgana Wingard and Josh Estey for USAID