The hassar fish pond project embarked on by the Government of Guyana, through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to provide a livelihood for the remote Region One Amerindian community, Tobago Hill, has become a white elephant 3 years after its implementation.
During a visit to the community by Stabroek News on July 10 the ponds had to be examined from a distance because the bridge to access the area where the 4 ponds are located had floated away because of torrential rainfall. The hut that was built to house the caretaker of the project was also abandoned.
Toshao Patrick Thomas, who has held the post for the past two years, inherited the unsuccessful fish pond project from former Toshao, Edmund Santiago. He explained that when the ponds were first set up, there was much that went wrong in terms of construction, drainage and even the feasibility of such an activity given that the people were inexperienced in aquaculture. He said the first set of hassar fingerlings, some 2,000 or so, that were placed in the ponds in 2010 mostly died and that no benefit had been derived from the project since its implementation. While not calling it a complete failure, he said the government then told them to go and catch fish from the Waini River and put them in the ponds. This he referred to as a redundant move since it’s just as if they were catching fish as per normal. He then explained that they were never able to fill the ponds with wild fish because of bad weather and no finance. The latter he elaborated would have been needed to buy fuel and materials necessary to catch the fish, keep them alive and take them to the fish ponds to be released. They were never able to successfully do this, so the fish pond project has been abandoned and there seems to be little hope of it being revived given the unfeasibility of such a venture.
The project, part of an $88 million National Secure Livelihood Programme, which was launched by the government in 2009 to assist Region One communities had been deemed a success by Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai. The Government Information Agency had reported that the minister commended residents for their hard work in preparing the fish ponds and caring and growing the fingerlings. In 2012, the minister had said that the Tobago Hill community would soon reap the first harvest of hassar reared under the project but this was never so.
The minister had disputed a report by Stabroek News on the then state of the project (2012) highlighting the problems faced by the community and the lack of fish in the ponds. The minister had insisted that there were fish in the ponds, but that they could not be seen because they were bottom dwellers. The report accused this newspaper of misrepresenting the situation on the ground despite the consensus of the villagers and Santiago, the then Toshao.
The current Toshao, Thomas, reminded this reporter of the incident and specifically asked that there be no more misconceptions about the project. He made it clear that there are no hassar in the ponds and that financial and weather constraints are preventing them from maintaining the project.