Dr. Gopal krishna , Mr. V. Harikrishna, Mr. Sathya Prakash and Mr. Thirunavukkarasar R
Shrimp is a widely preferred seafood delicacy and a major contributor to the economy of the country. Seafood exports to China alone contributed to at 2,42,218 tons valued at US$ 1032 million during April-December 2019. In the total exports, frozen shrimp represented 41.10 % in quantity and 68.46% of the total USD earnings for the year 2017-18 as per the MPEDA report. This was a 30 % increase compared to the previous year. These statistics clearly depict the consumer demand for shrimp in the international market and thus shrimp cultivated in several regions along India is aimed primarily at this export market.
Shrimp culture is traditionally practiced in coastal areas across India. It can also be done in some inland areas where ground saline water (IGSW) is available. But only with appropriate technology developed by ICAR-CIFE, 40% (2.2 million ha) of the salt-affected soils in India that lie in Haryana, Punjab, U.P., Delhi and Rajasthan have become less productive or increasingly unfit for crop cultivation. Since the IGSW different from natural seawater with regard to potassium, calcium and magnesium, it is very important to manipulate the ionic compositions to bring them within the optimum range.
ICAR-CIFE has innovated and perfected a cost-effective solution to alter / amend the IGSW to make shrimp culture feasible and viable in inland saline ecosystem. The technology was demonstrated successfully in CIFE’s Rohtak farm during 2012-13 and in farmer’s field during 2013-14. ICAR-CIFE’s technology adoption and spread have kept doubling every year during the last 5 years across Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Delhi. In 2019, about 450+ farmers have adopted the technology in about 1000 acres with production estimated to be nearly 2000 tons.
Usually, the culture season starts by the end of April with the end of the cold winter months. The produce from all these regions is aimed at the market in Uttar Pradesh (Gazipur Mandi) and the export market. The unprecedented situation of the n-COVID 19 and the lockdown which followed has left a huge blow on the shrimp farms and associated activities of this region.
Farms with no laborers
Phase-1 of the lockdown following the pandemic threat was declared on March up to April 14, 2020. This was a first-time experience for anybody let alone the farmers who were expecting to begin the new culture by the end of April. But the lockdown closed down all forms of public transportation hindering the movement of laborers as well as logistics of necessary supplies. Thus there was no provision for the preparatory steps i.e the pre-stocking management activities. Most of the shrimp farms in inland states have been operating with the support of manpower from Assam, Bihar and other North-Eastern states. The restricted movement of migrant laborers will also impact the farming operations. As the employable period (shrimp farming activity mostly binds by December) gets reduced with the delayed stocking, laborers would be reluctant to move from their home state. This will lead to a considerable delay in the produce reaching the markets this year as the restrictions are not yet relaxed.
Procurement of inputs
A shrimp farm is not whole on its own capacity but relies on outsourcing of several inputs for a successful culture. These are the post larvae, feed, feed additives, probiotics and mineral supplements etc. Almost all inputs related to the shrimp farming in in the region are brought from coastal states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Gujarat. The limited cargo which has been operationalized lately has increased cost, thereby increasing the seed cost and the investment required by farmer. Apart from this there were also issues concerning the inter-state travel of vehicles used for the transporting the seed from Delhi and Chandigarh airports to different shrimp farming sites. Further increasing the plight of the farmers who thought of beginning their culture operation in spite of the pandemic situation.
Subsidies and Financial assistance
The shrimp farmers obtain certain subsidies from the government which is determined through registration via various government agencies. Unfortunately this pandemic has brought life to a standstill at all areas of the government and only necessary services such as the medical and police departments were functioning. The registration processes were not able to be done and everything will have to be initiated again after the lockdown. The farmers can be hopeful but it will be a long time as the economy predicted to take a downward turn in the current situation.
Shrimp primarily being an internationally traded commodity there is also uncertainty among the farmers about the farm gate price they might realize once the crop would be ready. The major consumers Such as China, USA and European Union has been badly hit by the corona virus and farmers fear this might negatively affect the demand and consequently the farm gate price. But this year, the pandemic has created a gloom in the market situations.
In the beginning in February 2020, the MPEDA reported that the coronavirus outbreak has not affected the shrimp exports to China, one of the major markets but post- lockdown the shutdown of the export market has led to the gloom. Any reduction in farm gate price would be fatal to the economic viability of inland saline shrimp farming as the farmers in the region have already been receiving about 20 to 30 rupees lesser than what a coastal state farmer gets for his product. Fear of reduced profit margin has further demotivated the farmers from initiating the farming operation.
Corona has badly impacted the hospitality and restaurant sector and the fear of their limited operation in the coming months will further decimate the opportunities for local marketing. The absence of an effective preventive mechanism creates an uncertainty as to when the situations will be back to normal. Even if there is considerable demand for shrimp despite the pandemic, the shortage of labourers and inputs will lead to increase in production costs leading to reduced margin for the farmers. This has prevented new investments in the industry this season.
The produce from inland saline regions are aimed at the domestic consumers of northwest India, mainly comprising of people with vegetarian dietary preferences, who have been gradually turning interested into shrimp and fish due to their nutritional benefits. The spread of the coronavirus was coupled with rumors speculating the source of the virus. As it was of animal origin, social media took to spreading hate on meat and fishery products citing them as the origin. This triggered the minds of the consumers who preferred to stay away from the same including shrimp leading to the downfall of the domestic markets too.
Processed products and restaurants
Shrimp dishes are important delicacies in restaurants all over the country. The lockdown also caused shutdown of hotels and restaurants who were also a major buyer of the cultivated shrimps especially along the urban areas comprising of Delhi. The processed shrimp products find their way into the life of the urban Indians but shutdown of processing plants due to labour shortage has affected this industry. Further the general public sort to stocking of essential commodities in this time of crisis reducing demand for processed products which are considered a luxury.
Shrimp farming post-pandemic
During the lockdown 4.0 period, there have been relaxations. Life does go on but life will never be the same. There are stricter enforcements on hygiene. The necessity to disinfect farms, markets, vehicles will be implemented by law. This will lead to higher input costs and time at every step of culture and harvest. There will be stricter laws regarding employee personal hygiene in farms too whereas personal hygiene was a matter of concern only in the processing industry pre-pandemic.
There will be regulations in domestic markets too causing disruptions in the supply chain of shrimp and shrimp products which are perishable. There might be random screening and consignment rejections even in the local markets. As the economy is hit, the income of the marginal and lower sections of the society will be affected leading to an alteration in dietary preferences.
When the whole world is waking up to rising death tolls and infection rates, the case of India is nothing different. But, the plights of the shrimp farmers need to be taken into account by the government of India and the respective state governments by giving due importance similar to that of agriculture as grains, fruits and vegetables. As shrimp contributes to economic security as well as the food security of the nation. Even if the international markets are closed down, let the local markets be encouraged to keep the system alive.
(Dr. Gopal Krishna is the Director, ICAR-CIFE, Mumbai, and Mr. V. Harikrishna, Mr. Sathya Prakash, and Mr. Thirunavukkarasar R are working as scientists. Views expressed are personal.)
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