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Bangladeshi Looks Abroad for Agribusiness Ideas

By Phillip Kurata
Staff Writer

Washington — A young entrepreneur from Bangladesh is expanding an integrated food business involving seafood, dairy and poultry products, with help from the United States and the government of Bangladesh.

Mazharul Anowar visited a seafood business in Texas and a dairy farm in New Hampshire in May 2010 as a guest of the International Visitor Leadership Program of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The State Department brings hundreds of visitors to the United States each year and introduces them to counterparts who give them advice on developing their careers in their home countries.

Anowar is managing director of his family’s agribusiness, which has five components — Palongkhali Aquaculture Limited, Anowar Trading, Modern Dairy and Poultry Farm, Farzan Dairy Farm, and Anowar Shrimp Farm. Aquaculture involves raising (as opposed to catching) fish, shrimp and other marine animals for human consumption.

Since taking over his family’s business in 2003 at age 22, after the death of his father, Anowar has expanded it on three fronts. He has increased the number of acres of shrimp and fish production from 100 to 2,000 (40 hectares to 809 hectares), the number of dairy cows from 10 to 100, and the number of chickens from 7,000 to 40,000.

It is his intention to create an integrated “one-stop shop” where buyers for food businesses can come for all their food needs. He said that during his visit to the United States he gleaned new ideas to improve his aquaculture and dairy operations.

“At the Golden Seafood company in Seabrook, Texas, I saw how they used a computer system to control access to the factory. As owner, a system like that would help me keep track of employees’ working hours and help me improve security inside the working area,” Anowar said.

At Golden Seafood, Anowar also saw how management provides its employees with quarterly health checks and teaches them safety procedures to prevent on-the-job accidents. “These measures give the employees a sense that the owner cares about their welfare,” Anowar said. “This is important for employees’ morale.”

During a visit to the Spooky Hill dairy farm in Epsom, New Hampshire, Anowar observed milk being pasteurized. Since returning to Bangladesh, he has applied for loans and taken other steps to acquire pasteurization equipment for his dairy operations. He plans to start construction of a pasteurization plant in 2011.

“I very much appreciate all the support that the U.S. government has given me to help me expand my business,” Anowar said in a recent e-mail.

“We were happy with the results of the U.S. trip,” said Carlos Aranaga, a State Department official who oversaw the project on small business development on which Anowar and other entrepreneurs from South and Central Asia traveled.

“The idea was to introduce the visitors to counterparts and to have them go home with new ideas,” said Aranaga.

Bangladesh’s government, for its part, offers support to Anowar and other entrepreneurs in aquaculture. Aquaculture is seen as a prime source of protein in the future because catches of seafood from oceans, rivers and lakes are no longer increasing.

“There are 160 million people in Bangladesh. Our main foods are rice and fish. Our government is trying to increase our production of fish. The demand for fish in our local markets is very big,” Anowar said.

Bangladesh emerged as a global center for aquaculture in the 1980s as a result of the work of Modadugu Gupta, winner of the 2005 World Food Prize, who showed farmers how to turn unused ponds and ditches into lucrative fish farms. Bangladesh’s government provides extensive training and loans to encourage aquaculture, according to Anowar. In order for aquaculture to be commercially viable, the fish and shrimp must be safe for consumers. Here Bangladesh’s government plays an active role.

“The government maintains a registration number for every farmer’s production in order to trace the origin of any problem. When we harvest shrimp from the ponds, we always check our quality. When we send it to a factory for processing, we check it again,” he said.

Anowar breeds tiger shrimp, selling the larger ones to a nearby factory to freeze and export, and the smaller ones to local markets. His shrimp operation generates 90 kilograms of shrimp per acre.

Because of the erratic nature of weather patterns, Anowar’s shrimp production is unstable from year to year. In June 2010, floods washed away all his shrimp ponds, along with the income he hoped they would generate. But the year before that, in 2009, his shrimp production accounted for more than 35 percent of his profits. In the future, Anowar plans to open his own shrimp processing plant to enable him to export the shrimp that he raises. “If I export the shrimp that I raise in my ponds, I will be able to pay my shrimp [workers] more,” he said.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site: http://www.america.gov)
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