To address this objective, the project team is undertaking a
comprehensive survey of fish and shrimp farmers in southern Bangladesh. Pretesting and refining draft questionnaires is a key element in the research
design. Though the team planned to conduct questionnaire development through
face-to-face meetings in Bangladesh, this proved impossible due to Covid-related
travel restrictions. With quick planning and innovative thinking, the partners
successfully adapted their plans and conducted the questionnaire drafting
through a series of virtual meetings, explain the Fish Innovation Lab‘s Mahfujul Haque and Ben Belton in a press release issued this week.

Investing proves a success

One of the
farmers they interviewed was Golam Kibria Ripon, who is successfully continuing
his shrimp production and trading activities, despite the pandemic-related
disruptions.

“The only
thing I do and the only thing I know is shrimp culture. Whatever the situation
is, I have to continue as many people depend on my business for their
livelihoods,” Ripon told the project leads.

Ripon is a
successful shrimp farmer and trader who has engaged in the aquaculture business
since 1996. His business employs about 20 full-time staff, including five
women.

He noted that the pandemic has led to major disruptions in the
shrimp business for the first time in his career. In response, he hired 10
temporary staff to deliver the post-larvae to farmers during the pandemic,
after nursing the shrimp fry himself, and began to deliver harvested shrimp to
the processing plant with his own vehicle.

“Now I know
how to cope and survive in an extreme situation. The demand of shrimp will not
decrease, [and] all I have to do is to make sure to transport the harvested
shrimp to the processing plant,” Ripon reported.

Ripon ensures
the health and safety of his staff by providing proper sanitising facilities in
his farms and maintaining basic preventive procedures.

How to engage effectively with farmers

The researchers explain that one of the major challenges was how to pretest the questionnaire with the
farmers in the field, particularly with shrimp farmers in the remote Khulna
region like Ripon.

To cope they invited Ripon to attend a virtual meeting for pretesting
the questionnaire. Although he was unfamiliar with the videoconferencing
application, the Machine Learning for Better Aquaculture team was able to
quickly teach Ripon how to use it so that he could participate in a
questionnaire interview that lasted about three hours.

Conducting
the interview remotely allowed for researchers based in the US and Bangladesh
to meet with Ripon and continue progress on the research that
will benefit shrimp farmers across southern Bangladesh. The questionnaire was
translated from English to Bangla for better communication prior to the
interview.

“I think this
research will identify our problems, such as shrimp disease and disappearance
of stocked post-larvae that affect our farming, and according to the nature of
problems we will find a proper solution from the researchers,” said Ripon. “I
am the General Secretary of Paikgacha Shrimp Farmers Association. I can
organise the shrimp farmers of my locality to receive advanced training on
shrimp farming, disease management, and other topics though the Zoom platform.
Moreover, we have a big Facebook group, which we can use to share any useful
information among the shrimp farmers.”

According to the researchers, “the
participation of a very knowledgeable shrimp farmer early in the research
process provided a significant boost to questionnaire design and helped the
project to meet its milestones on time, despite disruptions linked to Covid-19.
This successful experiment in pretesting a questionnaire with a farmer in a
remote area indicates possibilities for conducting other project activities,
including workshops and information dissemination activities, virtually if Covid-19
continues to make travel or face-to-face meetings difficult.”

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