By Aditya Dash, Bhubaneswar: Being a coastal area where agricultural and horticultural prospects are weak, aquaculture is the proverbial low hanging fruit that is ripe for plucking in Kendrapara. Odisha exported over Rs. 1800 crores in seafood exports for the year 2013-2014. Over 80% of the seafood raw materials were procured from neighbouring Seemandhra. This deficit is not restricted to high value prawns/shrimps it is also the trend for the fresh water fish consumed in the domestic market. The recent spurt in freshwater fish farming in pockets of Odisha are the result of migration of Telugu fish farmers. I will make the case for promoting aquauculture in the area by focusing on infrastructure development, implementing well designed policies and modifying existing subsidy schemes so as to reach targeted beneficiaries.
In the infrastructure segment the greatest benefit would come from a boost to road connectivity, electrification of rural areas and construction of sanitation infrastructure. The benefits of these investments wouldn’t be restricted to the aquaculture sector alone. Better road connectivity leads to less spoilage of the produce. Greater electricity connectivity will give farmers in a power surplus state such as Odisha a distinctive cost advantage over their peers in Seemandhra, Thailand, Ecuador and Indonesia. A proper sanitation infrastructure in rural areas would ensure that raw products are not contaminated with Salmonella, this problem worsens during the monsoons. It is a big detterent towards the export of certain items such as the Freshwater Prawn.
Aquaculture sector assets such as establishment of hatcheries should be encouraged by the government. The recently released fisheries policy of the state has a scheme for encouraging existing hatchery owners to diversify into other species. Crop diversification in aquaculture makes for good economic and ecological sense by distributing the risks involved in aquaculture production and markets. It is discouraging that imported Vietnamese cat fish (Basa aka Pengasius) has become the rage in the Hospitality sector across India. The main reason for that is the vast availability of Basa fillets. Till the output does not increase substantially it would not be prudent for an entreprenuer to establish fish fillet processing unit, since it will run at sub capacity levels. Odisha can focus on establishing culture of species such as Barramundi and Grey Mullet which are superior in terms of taste and nutrients.
Designing and implementing an effective fisheries/aqauculture policy would go a long way in increasing production. The recently released Odisha Fisheries Policy 2014 is a well drafted document. Especially because it ropes in corporates and makes them eligible for availing subsidies. From a financial point of view the structure of the aquaculture processing industry is similar to the sugar industry. However the aquaculture sector lacks the involvement of banks and government support. This is because aquaculture is not viewed at par with agriculture.
Individual farmers and other targeted beneficiaries simply do not avail existing subsidies. They lack the soft skills to complete the tedious paperwork and most of them do not have a bank account, hence they do not avail a loan. This is where a party such as the BJD can bridge the gap. Using educated volunteers to set up wareness camps and assist the farmers in availing such subsidies. One cannot expect a population with low literacy levels to prepare the documentation and more importantly to be aware about such policies.
The government should also give subsidies to the private sector. The recently introduced interest subvention scheme for the creation of aquaculture assets (such as ponds) excludes the private sector, private or public companies cannot benefit from this scheme. Being a capital and skill intensive sector, the government must realise that in order to boost aquaculture production it needs to partner with the private sector.
Apart from this another great initiative that the government can take is to promote Eco Labelling. In the developed markets there is a big demand for eco labelled products. Due to the free rider effect and non enforcement of contracts, corporates will not invest their resources in getting an eco-label for a particular region or for a group of farmers. The state government through effective implementation of existing regulations verified by a third party will result in getting an eco label for the aquaculture produce, for the entire region. This will lead to higher prices and higher income for farmers.
Environmental concerns over aquaculture usually target two issues, one is habitat destruction and the other is pollution from the effluents of farms. As far as habitat destruction is concerned I must say that our forest department is doing a good job. Most farms were formerly paddy fields in saline soil, which at best would yield one crop of paddy a year. With aquaculture the exisiting farmer has multiplied his income tenfold. Other fears about habitat destruction can be tackled by the fact that a registration from Coastal Aquaculture Authority is required to engage in aquaculture in the coastal area. The state pollution control board along with the forest department have ensured that the destructive side of aquaculture as seend in countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are not repeated in India.
Effluents from farms may lead to eutriphication if the nitrogent content is too high. However this only happens in highly intensive aquaculture systems, most of the aquaculture practiced across Odisha are the low intensity extensive type. The effluents from such a system do not harm the sorrounding environment. The farms engaged in highly intensive aquauculture have to abide by central and state government guidelines which make it mandatory to invest in an effluent treatment system. The additional benefit is that the effluent treatment system result in creation of wetlands and thus give a boost to the sorrounding ecology and biodiversity.
Us non vegetarian Odias need to match up to our vegetarian Gujrati brothers and sisters who are amongst the most productive and efficient aquaculture farmers in India. Is it because of Modi? Ofcourse not, I hope that by 2015 we can show that even a BJD Sarkar can weave magic through aquaculture.