Lockdown hits aquaculture sector in Andhra Pradesh; ready-to-harvest shrimp worth over Rs 1,200 cr lying in ponds
The aquaculture sector, which is linked to the international market, is now at a standstill.
Amaravati: The ongoing lockdown on account of COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time for the aquaculture sector that earns million of dollars through export of shrimp.
At the peak of the season, the lockdown has pushed the sector into jeopardy, with farmers, industrialists and exporters each facing their set of problems and an uncertain future as shrimp is seen as a luxury product.
Ready-to-harvest shrimp worth over Rs 1,200 crore is now lying in the ponds predominantly in East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh.
The shrimp processing units in the state are not functioning to their capacity due to acute shortage of manpower even as the Marine Products Export Development Authority said it would invoke Clause 43 of the MPEDA Rules, 1972, and de-register the licences if processing of the produce was not done.
Exporters are advised to remain supportive to the farmers in these difficult times so that they continue to engage in shrimp farming, which is the principal commodity of marine products exported from the country in terms of value, MPEDA secretary B Sreekumar told the processors and exporters.
In the absence of export orders and little scope for processing, farmers fear their produce would only perish.
Though China, one of the major markets for Indian shrimp, relaxed the restrictions for import, the exporters are unable to take full advantage of it as the processing is not happening adequately.
In the last one week, close to 3,000 tonne of shrimp was shipped to China. Andhra Pradesh has a 50.41 per cent share in the country in shrimp production and earns close to 53 per cent of the overall revenue.
In 2019-20, shrimp production in Andhra Pradesh was around four lakh tonnes and about 2.55 lakh tonnes of it was exported between April and December 2019, according to the state government data.
That fetched a revenue of Rs 13,960 crore to the aquaculture sector.
Exports had stalled since the outbreak of COVID--19 in China and the lockdown in various countries only aggravated the crisis, at a time when the Indian exporters were readying to ship the produce at the end of January- February slack period.
Shrimp from Andhra is exported mainly to EU countries and the US, apart from China.
The aquaculture sector, which is linked to the international market, is now at a standstill. Exports to China and the US have just re-started and our government is able to sort the problems out by taking up the issue with the Centre, state animal husbandry and fisheries minister Mopidevi Venkata Ramana said.
The state has 72 units processing seafood but they are not functioning even to one-third of their installed capacity.
Essentially, a lot of manual labour is involved after the shrimp is harvested and before it is processed. Over 50 percent of the workers are migrants and because of the lockdown they went away to their respective states, P Ramachandra Raju, an exporter, said.
The local workers were not coming to work because of the restrictions imposed by their respective village heads to check the spread of the pandemic.
In East Godavari district, for instance, of the total 11,000 workers only about 2,000 were attending duty, that too after persuasion by the government authorities, according to Agriculture Minister K Kanna Babu.
The state government has taken a pro-farmer stand and been focusing on getting the aqua produce harvested and purchased by the industry.
The processors and exporters, however, are in a predicament.
Most of the containers that set sail with shrimp in early March, days before the lockdown, were stranded either at sea or in the port of arrival.
At the same time, the shrimp market overseas has also shrunk because of the lockdown, leaving little scope for further export.
Farmers want us to buy the stock even through deferred payment but the uncertainty in the export market will only be detrimental to the entire sector in the prevailing scenario, an exporter said.