Pofishmarket, an online fish wholesale market, has been receiving good response from fish farmers and traders as it offers a direct access to the market, reduces numbers of middlemen, ensures better prices and minimises post-harvest losses.
In July this year, the online marketplace witnessed a nine-time rise in fish sales to over 128 tonnes in contrast to only 12.52 tonnes in the same month a year ago.
In difficult times of Covid-19, the Department of Fisheries launched the website pofishmarket.com and a supporting app called "Fish Market" on a pilot basis in May last year under the National Agricultural Technology Phase II Project (NATP-2). Fish farmers in 22 upazilas were connected to the platform.
According to the fisheries department, 963.87 tonnes of fish, valued at Tk20.48 crore, were sold to 1,529 buyers through the online fish market from May 2020 to July 2021.
Using the app, the farmers themselves can easily upload information about their produce and its price. Interested buyers then can settle the purchase deal over mobile phone.
To improve the smallholder farmers' access to markets, 22 fish producer organisations (POs) have been formed in 22 upazilas. Among the 22 producer organisations two are special as they have 1,200 members and 20 are general as they have around 750 members.
Apart from the fish farmers, traders have also been made members of the producer organisations, which are managed by executive committees.
The upazilas where producer organisations are set up are Kotalipara in Gopalganj, Rajoir in Madaripur, Shibpur in Narsingdi, Bhairab in Kishoreganj, Bhola Sadar, Nandail and Trishal in Mymensingh, Barhatta in Netrokona, Satkhira Sadar, Dumuria and Paikgachha in Khulna, Bagerhat Sadar, Manirampur in Jashore, Alamdanga in Chuadanga, Singra in Natore, Raiganj in Sirajganj, Chatmohar in Pabna, Alamdighi in Bogura, Mithapukur in Rangpur, Baniachang in Sylhet, Raipur in Laxmipur and Nangalkot in Cumilla.
Md Ohiduzzaman Sarker, president of Shibpur Upazila Fisheries Producers Organisation, said, "The PO Executive Committee and the upazila office of the Department of Fisheries are providing the farmers all kinds of assistance in selling fish. PO business representatives are also assisting the farmers in this work."
"As a result, small and big fish farmers trusting this online marketplace more and more every day. The amount of fish sold online is constantly increasing. The fish produced in Shibpur is being sold to big cities of the country including Dhaka and Chattogram. Due to this, many people are increasingly getting interested in commercial fish production."
He added that even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, these activities on the online platform have progressed a lot. However, due to the market situation, currently many farmers are not selling fish. The recovery of the economy is expected to boost online fish sales.
Farid Ahmed, a fish farmer in Trishal upazila of Mymensingh, recently sold 9 tonnes of pangas fish using the online fish market. The farmer said he has made a lot of profit as he could sale his fish at a price Tk3-4 more per kg compared to the local wholesale market.
He further said the process of selling fish online is very easy. There are also special facilities for transportation and storage. As a result, farmers are increasingly getting interested in the online marketplace.
Mr Nuruzzaman Russel, a member of Barhatta Upazila Fish Producer Organisation, said he has sold 6,000 kg of pabda fish at Tk290 per kg through the online platform, while its price at the local market was Tk250 per kg .
Md Rafiqul, president of Adamdighee Fish Producer Organisation, said the process of marketing fish has become much smoother than before due to the online marketplace. He was able to connect with potential buyers in different parts of Bangladesh.
Officials of the Department of Fisheries said the objective of this online system is to introduce an online wholesale marketplace for the fish farmers, fishermen and fish traders. It will be an online bidding place for buyers and sellers of wholesale fish market. Thus, the fish farmers will get direct access to the market avoiding the middlemen, and get better price, suffering less post-harvest loss. The retail customers will also benefit from this process by getting quality fish at an affordable price.
The project is financed by International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) and the World Bank.
Dr Arnoud Hameleers, country director of Ifad Bangladesh country programme said, "Farmers' access to markets is key to the fight against poverty and hunger in the rural areas. Under the NATP-2 project, the Department of Fisheries introduces and promotes marketing fish via a digital platform that supports smallholder fish farmers to reach larger markets. Pofishmarket is such an online wholesale fish market, which enables rural fish farmers to maintain uninterrupted trade of fish, even amid the Covid restrictions."
"High perishability of fish and the remote location of the fishers often result in low product prices. Expanding the offer of fish beyond the traditional wet markets, allowing buyers to access products online proved to be of great value and indicates the need for innovative marketing strategies," he continued.
"The Ifad, together with the Government of Bangladesh and the World Bank, has been able to demonstrate high adaptability and the ability to innovate project activities during the Covid-19 crisis. Such efforts must continue as the world emerges from this crisis and prepares for a new normal," he added.
SM Moniruzzaman, director of Project Implementation Unit of NATP-2 Project, said fish production in the country is constantly increasing. The government has undertaken the NATP-2 project to facilitate the distribution of this fish. This initiative has met with success in the Covid situation. The Department of Fisheries would take more new initiatives to expand its online activities across the country based on these pilot activities.
Meanwhile, officials of the Fisheries Department said that the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on August 24 approved a project titled Climate Smart Agriculture and Water Management Project.
Through the Climate Smart Agriculture and Water Management Project, 14 Mini Fish Processing Plants (for value-added product development) will be constructed under the Department of Fisheries. In addition, an online fish marketing website/apps will be launched to expand the online market under the project.
Under the project, fish will be supplied to local fish markets, wholesale fish markets and chain shops. This program will be implemented in 29 upazilas of 18 districts of the country.
In 2019-20, the total production of fish in the country stood at 45.03 lakh metric tonnes, with a market value of about Tk1,05,005 crore.
According to the 8th Five Year Plan, the target for fish production has been set at 49.01 lakh metric tonne by 2025. Various new projects are in the process to achieve this goal.
In addition, a total of 76,591.69 tonnes of fish worth Tk408.98 crore, has been exported in 2020-21. In the 8th Five Year Plan, the government has set a target to export 1.0 lakh metric tonnes of fish every year by 2025.