TODAY -

A Taste for Pengba

Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh *

 Pengba (Osteobrama belangeri) is the state fish of Manipur
Pengba (Osteobrama belangeri) is the state fish of Manipur



There is a huge difference between the famous taste of Hilsa and the taste of Pengba. Both are fishes known for their taste. The taste for Pengba has very different implications for the growth of the economy. It can be an indigenous driver of growth.

The last six decades have seen a regressive kind of growth in this region and it has also been accompanied by an endless alienation. Centripetal forces have disappeared and only centrifugal forces are active.

In fact the hallmark of an educated person in the north east is rebellion against the authority because they know. Hilsa represents exotic taste with little linkage with the local economy. Hilsa is a very costly fish.

I cannot forget how we brought fresh Hilsa from Agartala by resorting to meticulous camouflage to beat the x-ray machine at the airport. Our experience with dried Hilsa was also equally memorable. we bought the fish with a detailed recipe provided by one of our colleagues.

Hilsa prepared with the proper recipe is unbeatable. The best Hilsa comes from Bangladesh. The price of Hilsa in any Indian market is determined by its price in Bangladesh from where the bulk of its supply comes. Thus, when any Hilsa transaction occurs most of the money goes to Bangladesh.

We are yet to develop the technology for culturing this fish. The story with Pengba is very different. It used to be a delicacy a few decades ago. Our neglect led to the disappearance of this fish and it was substituted by other varieties of fish.

Fortunately it was one of dishes we remembered with nostalgia. Some entrepreneurs realized the potential of this variety. The environment was conducive. Demand was not lagging. The conducive factors led to the revival of supply. The day will come soon when Ningol chakouba will be incomplete without a Pengba item.

We bought live Pengba recently from the pengba farm in Hiyangthang at Rs 1000 per kg. The best hilsa in the local market costs much less. The best part of this expenditure is that most of it is again circulated in the state. Some amount might have leaked outside the state in the process of purchasing the fish feeds.

We are told that even this leakage has been reduced substantially as many of our fish farmers have learnt how to produce the fish feeds locally. As more and more farmers turn to pengba, some big farms are bound to emerge and the magic of economies of scale will be realised. That is bound to reduce the price of pengba bringing it within the reach of the people.

The fall in its price will enhance the demand further. We cannot say how far the real price of pengba has risen. It used to be available for less than one rupee but in those days the monthly salary of a school headmaster was only Rs 12.

The relevant point is this is totally endogenous and there is a huge multiplier effect with minimal leakage outside. Pisciculture based on pengba is therefore a win-win situation. It is bound to have a chain effect.

Why is this Pengba story so interesting ? It is interesting because we have shown that we can revive what we have lost and it is also going to be sustainable. We love the saying that we have no business to be poor.

There are many such things of the past waiting to be revived. We have to create and revive the taste. Many new items may be waiting to be discovered if we think and think .

Can you imagine Himachal Pradesh without its apple orchards? Can you believe that the apple variety so widely available was introduced not many years ago ? The local variety of Himachal Pradesh used to be like our 'heitup'. Even for this humble fruit we are discovering many new preparations.

We have lost so many things and in fact change is also a part of life. Can we kickstart our economy by reviving what we have lost ? wedonot know for sure. But the fact is we are frantically looking for drivers of sustainable growth. We have to feel and experience the subtle nuances of change. The pengba story may be a guide to our future.

Our food festivals showcasing what we have should be encouraged. Everything is not in handlooms and handicrafts. How popular is our 'pakodas' in Delhi ? 'Pakodas' and 'Singju' have always been sale outs in International trade fairs where we open our stalls. Both are totally local.

As I said earlier, the advantage of such local ventures is their multiplier effects and ability to include the people. We have the raw materials and skills. What is needed is the cultivation of taste for local items through a deliberate policy.The story of pengba has clearly shown that it is possible.

The restoration of self confidence can do wonder to our economy. This resurgence is also needed to counter the gradual disintegration of our social institutions. How we can grow out of this mess is in us.


* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
The writer is with Economics Department, Manipur University
This article was webcasted on November 22, 2013.


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