Ruhul Amin Liton – a fish farmer in Lalmonirhat – invested Tk25,000 in harvesting pearl-producing oysters in his fish pond to earn some extra money. His project was a great success as he sold 200 pearls, for around Tk2 lakh, within nine months.
He is one of the farmers trained by the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI), which has recently seen some success in harvesting pearls in the country. In the last seven years, the research institute provided free training to almost 1,000 people on freshwater pearl harvesting.
Ruhul said many other farmers in the area grew interested in harvesting pearls after seeing the profits he earned from the business. However, selling pearls is a little complicated. He said that if the government were to modernise the process market, farmers could export the pearls in addition to selling them on the local market.
BFRI researchers said the climate in Bangladesh is conducive to harvesting pearls as the weather remains warm for 10 months of a year. Pearl harvesting in Bangladesh can provide raw materials for the local medicine industry and assist women – who join the trade – in becoming self-sufficient.
Among the thousand people trained by the BFRI, around 800 were women. One of them was Sabina Akter from Brahmanbaria.
She collected around 2,000 oysters from the local water-bodies and seeded them to produce cultured pearls. She will extract pearls from the oysters after a certain period of time. The operation to extract pearls is easy and the instruments needed for it are inexpensive.
Dr Mohsena Begum, who leads BFRI's research on pearl harvesting in Bangladesh, said 12 people trained by the BFRI are already successfully-producing pearls, while many others have started harvesting them.
The BFRI said, currently, China is the top pearl-exporting country, as it supplies 90 percent of the global market's freshwater pearls. Annually, the country exports 800 to 1,000 tonnes of pearls – half of which are sent to: Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
The researchers at BFRI think that there is great potential for this sector in Bangladesh, but they are facing problems over the types of oysters available in Bangladesh. Countries which produce larger pearls have larger and better-quality oysters; while the Bangladeshi farmers depend on small oysters which produce small pearls. Thus, they cannot harvest pearls larger than two-to-three millimetres in diameter. The researchers are trying to solve this problem.
Yahia Mahmud, director general of the BFRI, said, "We are capable of producing three types of pearls. We have given the local entrepreneurs the technology needed to produce pearls."
He added, "We still need a system to market the pearls produced in our country. So, we are working on developing a system for market management and creating possibilities to export pearls."