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Importance of Fishermen's Cooperatives

Cooperative societies in rural areas determine the socio-economic conditions of fishermen to a large extent. This case study of two such cooperatives in Burdwan, West Bengal, and the role of the government in helping them yields a number of insights that can prove helpful in framing official policies and management of cooperatives.

Importance ofFishermen’s Cooperatives

Cooperative societies in rural areas determine the socio-economic conditions of fishermen to a large extent. This case study of two such cooperatives in Burdwan, West Bengal, and the role of the government in helping them yields a number of insights that can prove helpful in framing official policies and management

of cooperatives.


he past few decades have witnessed a dramatic transformation in India’s fish catching and rearing industry including both rapid mechanisation and industrialisation. Foreign exchange earnings from exports of fish and fishery products have been steadily rising. The Inland Fisheries Act (1984) has created a sense of awareness about the preservation of wetlands among people in general and also among the panchayat level functionaries. Fishing activities from harvesting of fish to marketing have grown in the inland sectors and fish farming in ponds and tanks has emerged as an important means of providing employment opportunities to the rural masses. In West Bengal, water bodies at village level are slowly being brought under government control through formation of new primary fishermen’s cooperative societies (PFCS). Fishermen’s cooperatives are now being increasingly recognised as one of the major institutional strengths for improving their economic condition [Kamat 1978, 1984; Singh and Dhar Choudhury 1986; Singh 1984].

In India, as also in other developed and developing countries of the world, cooperatives are used as a potential tool for all-round development of human society and especially of the rural sector. The department of fisheries of government of India has taken up a number of schemes for improving the economic condition of the fisherfolk. This includes provision of extension education, improved fishing technology, credit and subsidies. However, in spite of the financial, technical and infrastructural facilities provided by the government, these cooperatives are still constrained by a variety of organisational, managerial, administrative and financial factors. This has constrained the cooperatives from being able to achieve

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007 their objectives. Most of the fishermen in various states of India are still in the grip of poverty. This issue is particularly important, from the point of view of policymakers as removal of poverty and attainment of self-reliance are given top priority in national planning. Brumett and Williams (2000) in their study suggest the need for close cooperation among government agencies, research and extension teams, fishermen groups and cooperatives for evolving an integrated system for sustainable fishery management. Hence extensive studies about the socio-economic conditions of the fisherfolk engaged in various PFCS are required for policy-making. The major objective of our study is to consider a socio-economic survey of the fisherfolk engaged in some selected PFCS of the Burdwan district of West Bengal. This objective is related to an analysis that can find out the reasons behind the abject poverty of the fisherfolk engaged in the various PFCS of the district. We have selected indicators like literacy, fishery vs nonfishery occupation, training facilities of the fishermen engaged in various PFCS, monthly income and expenditure of the fishermen among others. A related objective of our study is to examine the role of the government in improving the socioeconomic condition of the fishermen and to suggest necessary policy prescription in this regard.

Burdwan maintains a significant balance between agriculture and industry and is enriched with rivers like the Ganga, Ajoy, Damodar and many other small rivulets. However, this district is yet to utilise the available culturable water resources towards table fish1 production. The Burdwan zilla parishad through the panchayats has taken up a massive programme of water area development under the Jawahar Rojgar Yojna scheme. This is because the district contributes a major part of the total fish production in West Bengal and has 50 PFCS. As it is not possible to consider all of them we have selected only two PFCS in the Katwa subdivision of the district for our study – the Naliapur PFCS and Sakhai PFCS with the former situated by the side of the Ganga and the latter situated by the side of the rivers Ganga and Ajoy. Both the cooperatives own a few ponds. The main motivation behind their selection is that in both the cases the cooperatives are situated in the flood-prone area of the district and most of its member-fishermen are poor. Hence a study on these two PFCS can throw some light on the policies nece-Here we have considered only 122 housessary to improve the condition of poor holds as the sample size. Our study shows fishermen here. that the significant factor behind the

The cooperatives showed higher profit backward socio-economic condition of the from rivers than ponds in the first few years fishermen is the high level of illiteracy. after their registration because they used Between the two PFCS, the position of to catch a huge amount of fish and spawns Naliapur is worse. It is expected that by from rivers. Accordingly, fishermen did raising their income level, it would be not need to buy fish seeds from the market. possible to increase the literacy rate as Spawns from rivers alleviate the problem well. However, the target of improving of purchasing seeds, which is beyond their literacy rate through increase in income financial capacity. Consequently, there was is not sufficient. It is far more important a reduction in the cost of pisciculture,

Table 3: Number of Women Trained

which enabled the cooperatives to earn

in Net Weaving

profit in addition to the profit earned by

selling fish harvested from the river. The Year Number of Women Naliapur Sakhai

situation has now changed. One major

Cooperative Cooperative

reason is flooding. Apart from this the excessive use of pesticides in agricultural 1990 20 0

1992 40 0

operations gets mixed up with rainwater

1995 50 0or floodwater and flows into the river 1998 15 0 resulting in loss of spawn and thus fish 2000 43 20 catch. So the cooperatives are now concen-

Source: Records of the PFCS.

trating on pond areas for fish culture rather

than rivers. As a result, fishermen in both Table 4: Percentage Distribution ofDifferent Categories of Expenditure for

the societies are suffering from abject

Different PFCS on the Basis of

poverty and misery.

Sample Size

The socio-economic survey has been

Name of the Sample Expenditure Expenditure

carried out on the basis of a questionnaire

Cooperative Size above below

which takes into account the following Income Income economic indicators: income, expenditure,

Naliapur 1 2 9 3

education, healthcare, provision of

(75) (25)grants, manpower training and earning Sakhai 12 8 4

status. The purpose here is to make a (66.67) (33.34) comparative study between the groups

Figures in brackets are in percentage.of fishermen engaged in the two PFCS. Source: Field Survey.

Table 1: Percentage Distribution of Literate and Illiterate Members at Different Educational Levels on the Basis of Sample Collected for the Two PFCS

Literacy Figures Name of No of Primary Middle Higher Graduate Illiterate PFCS Members Secondary and Above Figures

Naliapur 62 13 10 2 0 37

(20.97) (16.13) (3.22) (0) (59.68) Sakhai60 18 9 8 3 22

(30) (15) (13.34) (5) (36.67)

Figures in brackets are in percentage. Source: Field survey.

Table 2: Percentage Distribution for Various Occupations

Occupation Name of the Primary Secondary Cooperative

Sample Fishery Agriculture Wage Others Fishery Agriculture Wage Others Size Labour Labour

Nalapur 12 6 1 3 2 3 0 4 5
(50) (8.34) (25) (16.67) (25) (0) (33.34) (41.67)
Sakhai 12 10 0 1 1 2 2 2 6
(83.34) (0) (8.34) (8.34) (16.67) (16.67) (16.67) (50)
Figures in brackets are in percentage.
Source: Field survey.

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

to increase awareness about the benefits of literacy.

Data Analysis

On the basis of data collected from the primary survey undertaken for the two PFCS, we can analyse the following aspects. Literacy: Educational status in the two PFCS is presented in Table 1. We find that majority of individuals of the sample households have not had even primary education (59.68 per cent in Naliapur PFCS and 36.67 per cent in Sakhai PFCS). The percentage of population that has received primary education varies from 20.97 in Naliapur PFCS to 30 in Sakhai PFCS. The percentage of population having middle education lies between 16.13 in Naliapur PFCS and 15 in Sakhai PFCS. Among all the members of the sample families, the percentage of higher secondary qualification is the highest in Sakhai (13.34 per cent). While there is no graduate in Naliapur, a small percentage (5 per cent) is observed in Sakhai. Therefore, as per the results of the survey, we have a total of

40.32 per cent literate in Naliapur and

63.34 per cent in Sakhai. Occupation: The percentage of the surveyed households engaged in various types of activities is shown in Table 2. We find that the percentage of households with fishery as the primary occupation varies from 50 per cent in Naliapur to 83.34 per cent in Sakhai while the percentage having non-fishery as primary occupation is lower in Sakhai. Though they are members of the PFCS, some people consider fishery a secondary occupation. The percentage of this varies from 25 in Naliapur to 16.67 in Sakhai. Training: In the last decade, government has realised the importance of training of fisherfolk in net weaving. Generally, a member of the fishing family is trained. Table 3 indicates the number of women who have received training over the years. It is to be noted that training of net weaving has been given only once in Sakhai in the last 10 years. This wide difference is due to the government’s negligence and the ineffective management of the society. Monthly income and expenditure: From the analysis of monthly income and expenditure, we see that most of the households incur expenditure over and above their income. The number and percentage of the household are shown in Table 4 for the two PFCS.

Analysis of earning status shows that3 66.67 per cent of the households have single earners while 25 per cent of the households have more than one in both the cooperatives. Most of the members of the societies do not believe in population control with the percentage varying from 41.67 per cent in Naliapur to 75 per cent in Sakhai PFCS. As an outcome, the number of dependencies in the households has increased. Again, as residents of a flood-prone area they have to keep a fixed amount of expenditure for repairs of their homes due to natural calamities. Members of the samities have mainly ‘kuchcha’4 houses and the percentage is about 75 per cent in both the societies. For their livelihood about 50 per cent of the men of Naliapur PFCS take loans from the government at a subsidised rate. In the Sakhai PFCS abject poverty has motivated the government to introduce the Integrated Rural Development Plan (IRDP) loan and it has been extended to almost 66.67 per cent of the households.

Concluding Remarks

Over the last 20 years, the government is trying to improve the position of the fishermen here. From our study, we find that though members of both societies have a poor standard of living, members of Naliapur PFCS are better off compared to their Sakhai counterparts. When we consider the literacy figure, the picture is exactly the opposite. Also, we found that the members of the Sakhai PFCS tend to migrate to other places. The poor standard of living compels them to concentrate more on gaining literacy so that they can get jobs in small-scale industries, cottage industries or large-scale industries as an alternative to their fishery occupation. On the other hand, comparatively better standard of living motivates the members of the Naliapur PFCS to work effectively for the societies. As the fishing occupation provides them their wherewithal, they are indifferent towards education.

This contradiction can be wiped out only if the gram panchayat takes an active initiative in this regard. The aim of the government regarding all-round development of the cooperatives seems to be partially fulfilled. To wholly fulfil its aim, the management of the fishery cooperatives must be strengthened. The government must take keen interest and special care to ensure all-round balanced development of the primary fishermen’s cooperative societies. It is planning to provide them foodgrains at subsidised rates and also ecohatchery facility to increase income generation. Fertilisation of spawn, using this facility will enable the fishermen to culture fish in their own water bodies as well as sell the surplus fingerlings in the market. Thus pisciculture can become another source of earning.




[This article is a part of the MPhil dissertation prepared under the supervision of Kausik Gupta, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. The authors are indebted to an anonymous referee of this journal for his/her comments and are also thankful to Radha Gobinda Barman, manager of Sakhai Dhibar Samabay Samity, and to Nimai Rajbansi, chairman and Kalipada Mandal, secretary of Naliapur Dhibar Samabay Samity, for their help in collecting data from the cooperatives. Any error however, is the sole responsibility of the authors.]

1 Table fish are those fish primarily meant for consumption only.

2 The fishermen constitute a very small part of the total village in the study area – 18 to 20 households. We have selected the number of households out of the total population by random sampling method.

3 Considering 12 as the sample size of households for each cooperative. 4 Houses made of mud.


Brumett, R E and M J Williams (2000): ‘The Evolution of Aquaculture in African Rural and Economic Development’, Ecological Economics, 33, pp 193-203.

Kamat, G S (1978): New Dimensions of Cooperatives Management, Himalaya Publishing House, Bombay.

– (1984): ‘The Role of Cooperatives in Inland Fisheries Development’ in U K Srivastava and S Vathsala (eds), Strategy for Development of Inland Fishery Resources in India, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi.

Singh, A (1984): ‘Inland Fishery Cooperatives: Some Policy Issues’ in U K Srivastava and S Vathsala (eds), Strategy for Development of Inland Fishery Resources in India, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi.

Singh, K and S Dhar Choudhury (1986): ‘The Captain Bhery Fishermen’s Cooperative Society in West Bengal’ in K Singh and V Ballabh (eds), Cooperative Management of Natural Resources, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Economic and Political Weekly March 10, 2007

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