A majority of the community engaged in pisciculture across Kutch is debt-ridden.Lack of regular income, due to largely inconsistent catch is a major reason behind the problem which is common phenomenon. Traditionally, fishermen have been taking loans from local traders at the start of each fishing season and this amount is used to buy fishing equipment which are vital for catching fish. To repay the debt, fishermen sell their catch to traders at a meager price and hence compromised with their bargaining power.
Loans are also being taken by the fishing community for consumption during the three-month-long off-season. A vicious circle of debt is formed as traders are also stranded in a snare of debt from the big traders. The traders are heavily dependent wholesalers providing access to markets situated beyond Kutch. Coastal Gujarat Power Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tata Power has been working extensively to steer the fishermen as well as the traders out of this vicious debt trap through its Sagarbandhu program.
In Pisciculture, the returns aren’t as high as the costs incurred as the prices of fish in the local markets are low. Access to markets which offer better prices are either unknown to fishermen or inaccessible due to high transportation costs and inadequate storage facilities.
There is empirical evidence that microfinance enables the poor to smoothen their consumption, manage their risks, build their assets gradually, and enjoy an enhanced quality of life. Keeping this idea at its heart, CGPL has initiated a microfinance programme in close association with various stakeholders. Identification and collection of information regarding the debt status of fishermen have been the first step in launching the program. The initiative began in 2010-11 in Tragadi Bunder of Kutch district.
The initiative was kicked off with the partnership with Fisheries Management Resource Centre (FISHMARC) has been given Rs. 50,00,000 to disperse among 136 fishermen of Modhva and Tragadi, under a Microfinance program to extend credit and supplement the income of the fisherfolks.
Simultaneously, various other esteemed partners were also invited to join the hands with CGPL. CGPL also involved Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) to get support and understand different types of Government schemes and also strengthening and managing the VDAC (Village Development Advisory Committee). CGPL further joined hands with Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE) , which plays a significant to conserve and manage Coastal Marine resources such as Mangrove. In this initiative also, the fishermen were involved in the management of mangrove which had also added additional income for the fishermen
Specific to Tragadi Bunder, in 2016-17, to give more impetus on Microfinance, CGPL in close coordination with partner agency Swadeep and VDAC started the Micro finance program where four microfinance groups have been formed with an initial tranche of Rs 28, 37,000. The amount has been divided amongst four groups of fishermen as seed capital. Fishermen are using the finances to pay off their debts. Seed capital has been provided to local traders to repay the debt of bigger traders so they may pay the market price to the fishermen. Based on evaluation conducted four months after the commencement of the program, it was found that more than half of the loan amount has already been repaid and hence has increased the bargaining power of the fishermen. Now they are getting the benefit of actual realization of price of fishes.
Due to substantial increment in the income, it has been predicted that a large chunk of the loan will be repaid by the end of the fishing season. CGPL’s intervention has somehow ensured economic stability for the fishermen who need money during the off-season. This has led the fishermen to make substantial profits, ensuring decent savings as well as partial repayment of loans.
CGPL’s intervention has proved to be a boon for the fishermen. Their lives have changed for the better. For CGPL, it is just one of the many steps forward in its attempt to rejuvenate lives of the fishermen friends on economic fronts.