Shaji Baby John
A section of the media headlines highlighted India targeting export earnings of Rs one trillion from marine products a week ago. Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal speaking to media persons in Kochi after holding a series of meetings with stakeholders of the fisheries sector happened to be the trigger for the Rs one trillion export target. The minister, no doubt, has made a realistic assessment of the country’s potential by aiming to double the export earnings from the current levels in the next five years.
KingsInfra Ventures, pioneers in semi-intensive aquaculture in the country, is in a position to vouch that a carefully calibrated policy would easily enable the country to be a leader in global marine products trade and production. Actionable projects based on the Blue Economy Framework integrated with the domain expertise gained in the sector should be the way forward for policy making. According to Goyal, “sustainable fishing, ensuring quality and variety, promotion of coastal shipping and aquaculture, and by supporting the entire fisheries ecosystem” would be the key ingredients in doubling the earnings in five years. The minister has fixed the target after a careful scrutiny of the sector is clear from the issues flagged by him for doubling the earnings.
It is gratifying to note that ‘sustainable fishing’ topped the priority in Goyal’s scheme of things. It is well known that the traditional fishing community in India follows sustainable fishing practices compared to their global counterparts. Nevertheless the changes in agro-climatic conditions and coastal ecosystems under the influence of climate change have made sustainable practices inevitable in everything linked to human-nature relationships. The issue of sustainability assumes further significance
in the background of the increasing evidence of resource depletion. The sharp decline in the availability of certain popular fish species in the Indian coastline can’t be ignored any longer. The fall in the availability of oil sardines in the Kerala coast and Hilsa fish in West Bengal are two obvious examples.
The idea of sustainable fishing is also equally relevant in aquaculture. The spreading of aquaculture in the Indian coastal states has helped to usher the blue revolution in the country. Aqua farming has also helped to offset the resource crunch faced by the seafood processors due to the decline in the availability of captured fishes.
The time has arrived for taking a deeper look at the progress made in the aquaculture sector in the last three decades. There is no doubt that the country has made rapid gains in achieving a critical mass in terms of aquaculture production and processing with frozen shrimp contributing to nearly 70 per cent of the export earnings from the marine products sector. The question is whether the same model could be sustainable in the long run. The answer obviously is not fully positive. The country needs to have a relook at the whole aquaculture practice from farming to processing in the background of the fast changes taking place in the food industry across the world. Apart from concerns over environmental sustainability the global food industry is governed by stringent quality standards that include traceable supply-chain logistics and zero tolerance limit for pesticide residues etc. The Indian aquaculture sector needed to revamp in the light of the above developments to sustain its global presence.
The protocols for ecological friendly and sustainable aquaculture, already available in the country, needed to be widely adopted for bringing a total revamp in the sector. Apart from assuring our presence in the global market such changes would help the country to emerge as one of the important hubs in the marine products sector. The demand for quality seafood is expected to witness rapid growth within the country in the next few years with the increase in the number of people belonging to the middle class and upper middle class income segment.
The diversification of product portfolio is another important area seeking the attention of the policy makers. At present bulk of the Indian export income is mainly driven by frozen shrimp of a single variety. India, known for its diverse agro-climatic coastline cannot afford to remain captive to a ‘mono-crop’ system of fisheries based on Vannamei shrimp for export business. The country needs to develop commercially important species and varieties that would have demand in the global markets. The diverse agro-climatic conditions in the coastline provide enough and more opportunities for developing multiple varieties of such commercially important species.
Goyal has chosen to have interactions with various segments of the fisheries sector including seafood exporters, representatives of fishing community and researchers augurwell for the sector in the background of the importance placed on the blue economy potential of the country. The seafood industry, fishing community and researchers needed to take concrete steps to realise the ideas discussed during the interaction with the minister into actionable projects. As I have mentioned in an earlier column the opportunity for India to emerge as the global hub of marine products is quite tangible. We have the technological knowhow, human resource base and a vast coastline of nearly 8,000 kilometres to chart a new voyage of ocean based economy and prosperity. The aim of Rs one trillion export income is only the first step in that long voyage.
A series of innovations and protocols linked to eco-friendly aquaculture developed by Kings Infra during the last couple of years provides a roadmap to the transformative potentialin the sector. The SISTA360 Protocols, Mariculture Tech Park, Indoor precision aquaculture, initiatives to create a network of 10,000 aqua farmers for sustainable aquaculture practices are some of the key projects initiated by the company to develop the next generation aquaculture based on the principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability in the country. These projects also have the potential to be the catalyst to the policy initiatives and schemes of Commerce and Fisheries Ministries to double the income generation in the sector.
(The author is the chairman of Kings Infra Ventures Limited who also writes on the blue economy and sustainable food production system. Views expressed are personal)