Reaching the coastal area of Bangladesh WUR-WIAS-AFI

I am Md.Iftakharul Alam, a 4th year PhD researcher at the Aquaculture and Fisheries Group (AFI), Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences (WIAS), Wageningen University and Research (WUR). I am exerting myself to complete my PhD thesis now. Four years back, my PhD journey began with writing the WIAS proposal and taking some TSP courses. Afterwards, from the Netherlands, I returned to Bangladesh and stayed there for my field work for a long time. One of the very first things of the field work that I did was setting up a field laboratory in a very rural coastal area in Bangladesh.

While setting up the laboratory, I kept on discussing with the coastal farmers about my research work and I shared with them the purpose of setting up the laboratory. Due to my very sincere and intense interaction, the local farmers extended their immense cooperation for my research. My research is on feeding shrimp post larvae natural food produced from mangrove leaf litter. We planned to plant mangrove trees surrounding the ponds of shrimp farmers and test the effect mangrove trees have on shrimp growth and survival. The work is part of a silvo-aquaculture project in Bangladesh funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Sciences. Initially the farmers did not show much interest in such plantation schemes. However, I had the firm belief that if the experiments could yield positive outcomes to a certain degree, the farmers would be enthusiastic about planting mangrove, even though the outcome of the experiments is uncertain. The fact that, based on a rigorous literature review, we were able to identify four common mangrove species that show never negative and sometimes beneficial effects on shrimp post larvae performance. In our experiments, we used leaf litter of these four mangrove species. 

I put a signboard at the entrance of my temporary field laboratory. It was equipped with aeration, water testing kits, plankton sampling nets, digital camera etc. I was very happy with my acceptance as a researcher among the local peoples, especially the farmers. And of course, I was even happier to help improve the farming system in coastal Bangladesh with support from WUR. Four weeks after stocking shrimp post-larvae besides leaf litter in culture tanks,  I counted the post larvae. I thought most of the shrimp PL died since I could not to see shrimp when looking into the tank. However, when I harvested and counted the shrimp with the farmers, the survival turned out to be excellent.  From this experiment, the farmers were able observe the effect of mangrove leaf litter as we did not apply any supplemental feed but still had very good survival. Though the farmers are not experts in mangrove - shrimp aquaculture, they could rank the contribution of the four mangrove species to shrimp performance. After my experiment, the farmers spread the news that “one University from the Netherlands is doing research in their rural village”. It seemed like they were getting the flavor of some foreign research at their doorstep. Though I am from Bangladesh, the farmers treated me as a researcher of the world best agricultural university which made me proud, enthusiastic and devoted to my works.  The success of this experiment motivated the farmers automatically to plant mangrove species on their pond dikes.   

I also excavated 15 new ponds in the coastal areas of another district where I replicated the falling rate of leaf litter of four mangrove species mimicking the Sundarbans reserve mangrove forest (the world’s largest single tract mangrove forest). I put also another signboard of WUR, WIAS and AFI at the experimental plots. The local people were truly happy for the research I was doing in their community. I sampled the shrimp on a regular basis and the local people keenly followed, commented and learned from the research.   

My promoter Dr. Marc Verdegem from AFI, who is specialized in pond aquaculture, and co-promoter Dr. Dolfi Debrot from Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) who is specialized in mangrove ecosystems, visited me in Bangladesh to review and advise on my fieldwork. There they attended Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) with the shrimp farmers. They were able to share their combined insights in a practical way with the farmers. 

I am very happy and proud to work with AFI-WMR of WUR. I now understand why WUR is one of the top research institutes on agriculture and ecology in the world that is dedicated to share its knowledge and experience with improve farming systems. It is rewarding to contribute to the development of circular agriculture-aquaculture food systems in the coastal zone of Bangladesh with my research.  


Pictures (clockwise) : (1) Me in front of my temporary laboratory in the rural coastal areas of Bangladesh (2) my promoter Dr. Marc Verdegem is checking the salinity of water (3) researchers from different organizations are visiting my research ponds (4)  experimental ponds in rural and coastal areas of Bangladesh.

Published articles for interested readers: 

1. Alam, M.I., Ahsan, M.N., Debrot, A.O., Verdegem, M.C.J., 2021a. Nutrients and anti-nutrients in leaf litter of four selected mangrove species from the Sundarbans, Bangladesh and their effect on shrimp (Penaeus monodon, Fabricius, 1798) post larvae. Aquaculture 542, 736865.

2. Alam, M.I., Debrot, A.O., Ahmed, M.U., Ahsan, M.N., Verdegem, M.C.J., 2021b. Synergistic effects of mangrove leaf litter and supplemental feed on water quality, growth and survival of shrimp (Penaeus monodon, Fabricius, 1798) post larvae. Aquaculture 545, 737237.

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