Indian Aquaculture: Poised for a Quantum Leap


Shaji Baby John Shaji Baby John

The times have never been better than now for the fisheries, seafood processing and aquaculture sector in India. It’s less than an year after the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a financial package of Rs 20,000 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY), to help address the critical gaps in the fisheries value chain and for the integrated, sustainable, inclusive development of the marine and inland fisheries and aquaculture sector- both development initiatives of wide impact and significance. Of the total allotment, the minister explained that Rs 11,000 crore will be exclusively for activities in the marine, inland fisheries and aquaculture and Rs 9,000 crore for development of infrastructure of fishing harbours, cold chain and markets etc. What was strikingly different about this relief measure was that the funds set aside for aquaculture industry were estimated based on the sector’s long-standing needs: new technology and research-based production, higher quality breeding stock, modernisation of the infrastructure and related development aspects. Finally, someone did stop to hear the cries that arose from the hearts of the thousands of marine and inland aquaculture farmers, investors and their large workforce of hardworking labourers, who were together seeking and praying for a listening ear of the powers-that-be at the Centre for quite some time. Not surprisingly, the measures were received as a big relief by the stakeholders who were struggling to survive after the devastating effect of Covid-19 pandemic which had ravaged the country for nearly the whole of 2019, with considerable unemployment and recession. The special PMMSY funds flow has since been hailed as a major boost for the industry which is now fast-gearing up for a quantum leap into capacity expansion, diversified growth and for creating a larger footprint in the export markets of the world with its range of processed sea foods and freshwater aquaculture specialities. As an indicator of the importance that the Government is extending to this sector, Sitharaman also announced in her speech the formation of a separate Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying headed by a Minister of Cabinet rank, and backed by a special budget of Rs 3,737 crore for its formation. With this Ministry in operation, under the able leadership of Giriraj Singh, there’s a huge potential for growth coming in the fisheries and allied industries and the Government’s target of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022 would move closer to reality, given favourable circumstances to follow. Singh is perfect for heading the ministry considering his in depth knowledge of the field and also his past performance in this sector as a minister in Bihar. As one leading management expert on industry pointed out, “Bringing allied sectors such as fisheries in focus can help the development of fishing communities and fisheries as an occupation.” Indeed, it’s not business as usual that’s happening, here. Quite truly, the flagship development model of the Modi government- Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, is acting as a powerful catalyst to the country’s Blue Revolution, which continues to be a national agenda.

India ranks second in the world in fish production with a capacity of about 9.6 million tonnes per annum. This amounts to over 10% of the global fish diversity and much of it’s credited to the country’s inland fisheries and aquaculture infrastructure. With an employment base of 145 million individuals the fisheries industry contributes 1.07% of the nation’s GDP, generating an equivalent of Rs 334.41 billion in export earnings. It is estimated that the present production capacity in the industry of 9.6 million metric tonnes per annum (FY20) would attract a quantum leap over the next two years to meet the estimated demand of nearly 11.80 million metric tonnes by FY21. Of the total fish production in India, the share of freshwater aquaculture is at 55% and the major contributor to this segment is the smallholder inland fish farmers, supported by the culture fisheries institutions. The announcements made by the Minister for Fisheries and Animal husbandry highlights the Centre’s recognition of the several concerns faced by the industry, especially over the multiple challenges of the biodiversity and geographical conditions that affect the industry. It is estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of Indian freshwater fish have been brought under feed-based farming and the majority of freshwater aquaculture still has scope for converting to this system, which if properly addressed will contribute more to resource savings and at the same time increase fish production in the country. Modernisation also means adequate improvements in the cold chain and distribution system in the country and this has been recognised as a priority area for investment, and attracted new budget allocation.

Considering reasonable time for the relief package to trickle down to the grassroots an enhanced production of 70 lakh metric tonnes of farm-fresh fish can be estimated within the next five years. The expansion in fisheries industry would attract direct and indirect employment in the region of 55 lakh job opportunities while the export potential would touch Rs.1.0 lakh crore by the end of the coming half decade, say industry analysts. There is no reason to doubt that our seafood and freshwater fish farm industry can usher in revolutionary transformations in growth and content performance in the coming decade considering the major improvements which the country has already achieved in the fields of infrastructure, technology, manpower quality and with the opening up of the world markets as the gateways for additional performance. It is estimated that only about 10% of the 2.36 million hectares of available land with its water bodies suitable for aquaculture is being actually put to good freshwater aquaculture farming, matching industry standards. The land offers immense potential for growth in this industry which is highly profitable if managed well and with prudence.

Digital is the new frontier in the fisheries sector. Much has been discussed about the arrival of digital technology in the agro-farming industries and fisheries development. Today, the time is ripe to shift gears and move into modernisation of the farms with the hi-tech. Smart technology-related software including Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Big Data are heavily being researched upon in this sector, and as reports last came in, the day is not far when even the small holder fish farm worker shall be equipped with infrastructure facilities and training to utilise the research benefits as a way of life. Organic farming is the third platform for development of the sector. This technique is also fast taking over as part of good farming practices. So much work has already gone into this area, with awareness of climate change, pollution and effects of water-table contamination that right from the fish feeds to maintaining the water quality and soil preservation has taken precedence in the industry. Many progressive aquaculture projects have switched to organic feeds and farming inputs which again has opened avenues for biofertiliser as a by-product out of fish waste which is direct boost for farms to multiply their organic vegetables and crop production.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now projected an impressive 11.5 per cent growth rate for India in 2021, making the country the only major economy of the world to register a double-digit growth this year amidst the Covid pandemic. While this projection is for the entire economy of the country, it is safe to assume that the marine and freshwater aquaculture sector shall also receive reasonable buoyancy with the rising of the overall verticals. With the latest projections, India regains the tag of the fastest developing economies of the world. “What we see is that transition, combined with policy support, seems to have worked well,” according to the IMF chief who has assessed that India is “almost where we were before Covid …meaning that economic activities have been revitalised quite significantly”. With all this and more happening, the starry-eyed hopefuls of the seafood and the inland aquaculture domain are watching and waiting – for, it’s curtain-raiser time to begin a whole new colourful performance in production capacities and financial revival – à la the fishing industry! Aquaculture industry today is at the same growth stage where IT industry was 20 years ago. The industry is waiting with bated breath for the new budget where a slew of measures are expected to give further momentum to the growth to fulfill its true potential. As a sign-off, the much-favoured slogan of the entertainment world comes to memory- let the show begin!

(The writer is the chairman & managing director of Kings Infra Ventures Ltd, Kerala)

Sunday, 31 January 2021 | Shaji Baby John

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