Chennai: Kerala’s shrimp production suffered a considerable loss of around Rs 308 cr owing to COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA).  In a survey conducted by the CIBA to study the impact of COVID induced lock down on shrimp aquaculture,  Chennai head-quartered research institute found that the unprecedented circumstances following the pandemic led to significant reduction of shrimp production in the State up to 500 tonnes, leaving thousands of people unemployed.

Drop in production
The study revealed that the shrimp aquaculture was hit mainly due to reduction in farming activities and cut in days of culture during the lockdown period. Difficulty in availing seeds, feeds and labours,  for which Kerala depends on other States, was the major reason which disrupted the farming. In addition, price hike in farming inputs and market uncertainty worsened the situation, the study said.

“About 50% of farmers gave up the practice, even after they prepared ponds prior to the farming, as they faced difficulty in accessing quality seed and uncertainty over the culture and market. In addition to constraints in sourcing seeds  due to logistic issues, increased feed cost and difficulty in accessing other farming requirements caused a substantial reduction in farming area to the tune of 30% . The sector was badly hit as the lockdown restrictions affected transportation of shrimp feeds from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh which caused a price hike in feed”, the study said.

Panic harvesting
Fearing larger financial losses over disease outbreak, farmers who had a standing stock resorted to ‘panic harvesting’ of small-sized shrimps and sold at lower prices, the CIBA said. “Farmers were forced to do panic harvesting as diseases were reported in about 10% of farming areas and aqua-laboratories and professional services  remained unavailable to the farmers due to the lockdown, badly affecting the pond and health management of animals. Only 10% of farming ventures completed 80 days of culture, while around 25% of panic-stricken farmers harvested their crop within 30 days and another 15% of  farmers did the harvest within 80 days. Shrimp healthcare products including nutritional supplements, probiotics and pond management inputs are crucial for successful shrimp farming”, according to the study.

The study also threw light into the huge rise of unemployment in Kerala’s shrimp farming sector. According to the CIBA, around 12,000 people who engaged in shrimp farming, processing and distribution became jobless for one season (6 months), making a loss of around Rs108 cr. Shrimp supply chain heavily depends upon labour and offers a wide range of job opportunities in farms, hatcheries, processing units, manufacturing and marketing sectors and wholesale and retail businesses etc.  

Dr K K Vijayan, Director of CIBA said that it was estimated a probable loss of 40% in Indian shrimp sector due to COVID-19 lockdown and the total loss in value terms was estimated to be 1.60 billion USD. “However, both the Central and State government stepped in to take proactive measures such as notifying aquaculture as an essential activity, easing the restrictions for the movement of farming inputs and people and ensuring minimum procurement price for the farmed shrimp”, he said, adding that additional efforts are required to implement the plans at the ground-level and follow-up the initiatives using government mechanism.

“In Kerala, shrimp farming is practised in about 3144 ha with an average production of 1500 tonnes per annum. The State is dependent on the east especially Anadhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for accessing seed, feed and other supplements. Hence, inter-state movement of seed, feed and farmed produce for processing and export are of utmost importance for sustaining shrimp aquaculture in the State”, he said.

Financial support
He suggested for providing credit and insurance support for the farmers through Central and State government channels and financial support for crop loss due to natural disaster. He  also stressed the need for strengthening aquaculture quarantine facility to ensure the quality of incoming shrimp seeds.  “The State needs to develop hatcheries for the production of vannamei seeds and  adopt nursery rearing facility in the State to avoid the dependency on the neighbouring States”, he added.