Shilpy Akhter started her own fish farm in 2016 after working as a security officer for a well-known company for over a decade.
Despite the fact that she had no professional experience or training in fish farming, she worked her way up the ladder one step at a time, making mistakes all along.
She was on her way to achieving all of her aspirations when the ongoing pandemic caused a sudden and drastic drop in fish prices in 2020. She, like all other fish farmers in the northern region, had to sell fish at a low price, or else they would rot.
Then one day she heard about IDEA (Income, Diets and Empowerment through Aquaculture), an entrepreneurship development project of WorldFish, implemented in partnership with LightCastle. Shilpy took part in one of their accelerator programmes and eventually won.
She won a prize of Tk50,000, which enabled her to keep her business afloat during the difficult times when the pandemic threatened its survival.
"My goal is to become an exemplary women entrepreneur from Rangpur and make my people proud," Shilpy told The Business Standard.
Like Shilpy Akhter, many other aqua farmers of the northern region of Bangladesh are participating inwon a prize of Tk50,000.
Over 400 local entrepreneurs from Rajshahi and Rangpur have applied so far. Initially, 200 applications were chosen, with 120 being eventually selected for the boot camp.
Following the boot camp, over 50 participants were chosen for the incubation programme, where they were trained and presented to various investors or business organisations.
LightCastle and WorldFish are currently assessing approximately 1,000 local entrepreneurs from the Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions in order to identify and groom more suitable individuals.
Business management training sessions
According to Omar Farhan Khan, senior business consultant at Lightcastle Partners, "These programmes are for farmers who already know their work, have a setup for aquaculture but don't know how to approach the market with the business."
The training is focused mainly on business management and the contents of those sessions are about small and medium entrepreneurship development, business planning, small business production management, and business model canvas.
Other topics covered in these sessions include financial modeling for startups, green business, and conflict management.
Participants are asked to create their own business plans for both the short and medium term, with the assistance of LightCastle consultants.
Then a number of participants are selected by the WorldFish team as local service providers after the programme, who receive advanced training on aquaculture best management practices.
So far, eight trainers have been involved in the programme. There are also representatives from commercial banks.
LightCastle partners, according to Omar, have liaisons with various banks and financial institutions.
He said, "For our programme, we have involved Brac Bank, Prime Bank, SouthEast Bank and Jamuna Bank. have also included another non-banking financial institute named iFarmer."
How it all started
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project "Aquaculture: increasing income, diversifying diets, and empowering women in Bangladesh and Nigeria" began in these two countries in 2018.
Debasish Bhattacharjee, Market Systems Specialist of the IDEA project said, "Here the growth of aquaculture provides significant opportunities to enhance the income of smallholder families, the diets and nutrition of vulnerable women and children and the empowerment of women."
The four-year project (November 2018 to December 2022) was created in order to expand markets for sustainable aquaculture. The goal of this approach is to empower women and provide more equitable access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets within households.
The project is primarily based in the divisions of Rajshahi and Rangpur in Bangladesh, which have high levels of poverty and malnutrition but have great potential for aquaculture development.
Within the target divisions, WorldFish is developing partnerships with private sector businesses, investors, and government to develop profitable value chains and transform policies to enable increased production.
In addition, they hope to foster private-sector participation and incorporate fish into nutritional improvement initiatives.
This investment is focused on adopting a market system and consumer-led approach to achieve five primary outcomes within the fish agri-food system, from fish supply to fish consumption.
The first goal is to increase the productivity of homestead fish production systems, including nutrition-sensitive polyculture and rice-fish systems for smallholder households in Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions.
The second goal is to improve and increase the value of marketed fish and fish-based products marketed for smallholder households in Rajshahi and Rangpur.
The third goal is to increase the quality, reach, efficiency, and sustainability of extension services in Rajshahi and Rangpur.
The fourth goal is to increase nutrient-rich food consumption for two million women and young children (one million smallholder HHs in Rajshahi and Rangpur and one million rural and urban non-fish farming HHs/consumers).
The fifth goal is to increase the empowerment of women involved in aquaculture production and fish value chains in Rajshahi and Rangpur.
In order to improve the local service providers' business skills and create a more sustainable business environment, the project decided to launch business incubation programmes.
To initiate and implement the business incubation programmes, the organisation collaborated with LightCastle Partners.
"Lightcastle already has a network with the banks and local business owners in this region. This was necessary for starting the project there," Debashish said.
Although the business incubation programmes are currently on hold due to the pandemic, Omar says they will resume in November.
Let us return to Shilpy Akhter. She is now planning to apply for a Tk2 lac loan from a local bank in order to expand her business.
She wants to use every square inch of her backyard to grow nutritious vegetables without the use of chemicals and sell them all over Bangladesh.
LightCastle is now assisting her in opening a bank account and preparing the necessary documentation in order for her to apply for a loan from one of the local banks.