Prawn farming feels pinch, lakhs affected
The coronavirus outbreak and the resultant lockdown has jeopardised the livelihood of 30 lakh families in rural India involved in prawn cultivation and export, according to farmers and processing plant officials.
L. Satyanarayan from Andhra Pradesh had to last week throw away all the prawn seeds he had grown in his hatchery because prawn farmers did not turn up to buy them for release into ponds. The juvenile crustaceans have to be transferred to ponds after they are raised for 21 days in hatcheries, else they die.
March-April is the season for releasing the seeds into ponds.
Nearly 500 hatcheries in Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have had to drain 50 lakh to one crore seeds in the past 10 days as farmers and others involved in prawn cultivation have not come to work because of the fear of contracting the coronavirus and also the lockdown that had also hurt transportation.
“There is a lockdown. Farmers are in panic because of the coronavirus outbreak. They did not buy our seeds. This means the crop for the summer season, which has already been delayed, is now dependent on how soon the lockdown is lifted and people return to work,” Satyanarayan said.
All India Shrimp Hatcheries Association (AISHA) president Ram Raj said the prawn farming sector involved seed development in hatcheries, farming in ponds spread over 1.7 lakh hectares, transportation of the catch under ice slabs, processing in plants and export to foreign countries.
India produces seven lakh tonnes of prawn a year, 42 per cent of which is exported to the US. Industry stakeholders now fear a dip in export because of the magnitude of the coronavirus outbreak in the US and the European countries.
Raj said the lockdown had initially crippled the transportation of seeds, feed and shrimp. But after AISHA took up the issue with the government, the states last week included shrimp and fish among essential items, allowing their transportation.
However, two more debilitating problems persist — the lockdown that has not allowed workers to go to the farms and plants, and the non-availability of seeds as the latest harvest has gone waste.
Seeds are grown in a cycle of 21 days. The seeds of the March cycle have already been drained because they went bad as there was none to shift them to ponds.
Laxmidhar Pradhan, an official at Falcon Marine Exports in Odisha’s Balasore, said the company had planned to process about 150 tonnes of prawn a day three months ago. The quantity has had to be reduced to 25 tonnes a day as around 70 per cent of the workforce has not been turning up.
“Because of the lockdown, workers are not coming to the factories and farms. Another challenge is the spread of the coronavirus in the foreign countries to which we export prawn,” Pradhan said.
Raj said AISHA had demanded the promotion of supply of shrimps to the domestic market. “We want a cold chain (smooth supply of ice) and reduction in GST to focus on the domestic market,” he said.
Not only shrimps, the cultivation and supply of freshwater fish like rohu and katla have also been affected.
Batakrishna Swain, a small farmer in Puri, said workers and drivers were not reporting for duty. According to him, demand for fish had also dropped.
According to the Draft National Fisheries Policy 2020, nearly 16 million people earn their livelihood from the fishing sector, which contributes 1 per cent of India's GDP.