Silver Barb Bring Their Reward
"Fish breeding is hard work, but it brings its rewards. We’ve had a lot of help setting this business from Nam Theun 2, and we still get assistance from the company and the district office. With hard work and belief in what you are doing, you can improve your future.” Mr Pheunmany, Beung Xe Village.
Mr Pheunmany climbs out of one his ponds holding a fish and shows part of the meticulous process for breeding silver barb. “This is a native species and the most popular fish for eating round here” he says, gently squeezing the fish to check its sex and then injecting it with hormones to trigger the spawning process. He puts the fish into the netted zone of a breeding pond, where it can easily find a mate. Six hours later, Pheunmany and his wife, Keovyvanh, will lift out the nets that catch the eggs and place them in a specially prepared hatching pond, where their next harvest of fish fry will begin to grow.
“It’s not too difficult,” says Pheunmany, “but the process is different for each species. There is a lot of work involved, and you cannot cut corners. We must follow the processes we learned from the Nam Theun 2 project, and we have to feed, monitor and guard the fish. The rest of it, they do by themselves”.
The couple have six fish ponds on their farmland just outside Beung Xe village, which sits on the banks of the Xe Bang Fai River in the central Lao province of Khammouane. The Xe Bang Fai now receives water released from the Nam Theun 2 Power Station upstream, and the water level has increased since the hydropower plant started operations. As Pheunmany acknowledges, fish catch has been declining in the Xe Bang Fai for many years, with over-fishing reducing the fish population long before Nam Theun 2 was built. However, the power project has brought changes, notably by making it harder for people to trap fish in the dry season, when the water level used to be very low. To compensate for such effects, and to help people improve their livelihoods in the project area, the Nam Theun 2 Power Company runs a Downstream Program that offers families such as Pheunmany’s the chance to learn and try new income-generating activities.
“We started in 2006”, recalls Mrs Keovyvanh. “The company sent us on a trip to Thailand where we met fish farmers and started learning the techniques involved. In the beginning we had just one pond, but then we borrowed money from the village fund set up by NTPC, and dug more ponds”. People come to buy fingerlings from the couple to start their own fish ponds, and also buy mature fish for eating. “During the first year we only raised enough fish for family consumption”, says Pheunmany, “but our breeding has gone well from the beginning. I’ve never had to buy more fingerlings, but I am getting more fish every year”.
The whole family participates in the business, feeding the fish with rice husk and supplements, and taking it in turns to sleep in the house close to the ponds. “These ponds now provide our main revenue, so we have to keep an eye on them,” explains Pheunmany. “We’ve always had enough food in this village”, says Keovyvanh, “but now we have cash income too. We’ve used this money to send our eldest daughter to university in the capital – she’s studying to be a teacher”.
If the business continues to go well, the couple will be able to send their younger children to university too – to seize a brighter future, funded by fish.