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Meet the farmerReaping the rewards of a move from agri- to aqua-culture

Trout Husbandry People +4 more

Prem Kumar Rai, 45, from Sikkim state, northeast India, earns 15 lakhs rupees ($18,333) annually by farming rainbow trout and has won several accolades from the state government.

by Indian aquaculture specialist
Gurvinder Singh thumbnail
Rainbow trout farmer Prem Kumar Rai

Rai moved from growing cardamom to becoming a fish farmer in 2012 when the Indian fisheries department was actively promoting rainbow trout farming © Gurvinder Singh

What inspired you to embark on a career in aquaculture?

I was into agriculture and used to grow cardamom until 2012. The income was limited as the crop didn’t yield much profit. The fisheries department was actively promoting rainbow trout farming and was looking for farmers who were interested in it. I contacted them and they trained me in fish farming, gave me Rs 50,000 ($611), 2,000 fingerlings and market feed.

Only 300 survived, as I had little knowledge of fish farming and how to feed them, but I still had a profit of around Rs 40,000 ($488) in the first year.

What is your mortality rate and how you tackle the diseases?

Mortality rate is around 30 percent and we have to add salt to combat fungal diseases, if their fins turns white. The fish will die if not treated within a month.

Harvested rainbow trout

Currently Rai only sells his fish locally in Sikkim state © Gurvinder Singh

Have you suffered losses in business?

I have suffered a collective loss of Rs 9 lakhs ($11,000) in 2015, 2018 and 2021, when the pipes supplying water from the nearby river got washed away and the entire stock died each time.

What’s your typical day at work?

I wake up at 6am and rush straight to the farm where I feed the fish and also ensure that the water is clean. The feed is provided again in the evening. The ponds are cleaned once in a week.

There are also dangers of theft, as the farm has no fencing or boundary and there are houses surrounding it. I have to patrol the farm in the late night hours and have caught people stealing my fish.

What’s your biggest worry at work?

The trout need regular and uninterrupted supply of water and we are fortunate to have a river nearby. But natural calamities like floods can block the pipes or wash them away.

Rai harvesting his rainbow trout

The farm currently has 600 broodstock and produced 100,000 juveniles this year © Gurvinder Singh

What’s your annual production now?

I have 600 broodstock and produced 100,000 juveniles this year. The aim is to produce 300,000 by next year, as my farm has the capacity to hold 400,000.

Are you selling your fish in other districts of the state?

At present, I sell in Sikkim only.

Are there any individuals or departments who have particularly helped with your growth?

I am thankful to all the officials of state fisheries department for helping me.

Rai's concrete ponds

The farm has no fencing or boundary and there are houses surrounding it, so Rai often has to patrol the farm in the late night hours to prevent people stealing his fish © Gurvinder Singh

Have you received any recognition for your work?

I won the award for the state’s best trout farmer in 2020 and also the state’s best fish farmer award on World Fisheries Day last year.

What’s your ultimate ambition in this sector?

I want to grow my business and build a small hatchery. I need government funding, but the government schemes provide funding of minimum Rs 50 lakhs ($61,000) for making hatcheries, while I want to build a smaller one at a cost of around Rs 10 lakh ($12,221). The government should also look into small farmers.

Do you have any advice for budding fish farmers?

I often motivate young people to become fish farmers, as the sector has a tremendous scope and good income prospects.

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