Odisha – Blue Revolution 2036
by Aditya Dash
What is the most glorious aspect of our history? According to me, it would be our maritime trading links. Our holiest shrine, Shri Jagannath temple is in the coastal town of Puri. Even the world-famous Sun Temple is situated next to the sea. If we are to reclaim our glory days, we need to reconnect with our ancient maritime outlook. A literal “blue ocean” strategy.
The secret to Odisha’s prosperity lies in harnessing the economic might of the ocean. In this article, I will give a brief guideline for a ‘Blue Revolution’ that focuses on our capture fisheries and aquaculture. In 2006 when I joined the seafood industry, the total seafood exports from Odisha was around 500 crores INR. In 2022 Odisha would have exported almost 5000 crores INR worth of seafood. This huge jump has been possible due to the introduction of the Pacific White Leg Shrimp in India. A study conducted by Government of Gujarat found out that 1 hectare of shrimp farming creates 10 jobs across the value chain.
In the coming decade, active policy interventions can truly unleash a blue revolution that will result in job creation and overall rural development. For this the state government should focus on 5 major programs. Managing aquatic diseases to enhance productivity. Encourage species diversification and finance breeding programs for important species. Solve the infrastructure deficits that plague the aquaculture sector. Invest in a brand “Odisha” for aquaculture products sourced from Odisha.
Covid-19 showed us the importance of public health and how important it is to manage and contain a pandemic. In shrimp aquaculture, there are more than 14 different pathogens that cause diseases. These lead to mortality and overall reduce the profitability and productivity of the sector. The private sector solution towards tackling diseases simply burdens the farmer with expensive and time consuming tests and increased costs by using various additional inputs such probiotics and other supplements in the hopes of containing the damages done by disease. What is needed is a public health approach so that various aquaculture diseases are being monitored and appropriate actions are implemented. The number 1 strategy should be an effective testing strategy. Here it is important to note that with shrimp related viruses, more than expensive equipments you need qualified lab technicians to detect the various pathogens.
Genics a start-up based out of Australia, has commercialised a unique PCR based pathogen detection technology. This technology was developed by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) Australia. The fisheries department should explore collaborating with such companies so that our farmers can get affordable access to world class technology.
Apart from that active monitoring and management measures should be implemented every year, so that disease outbreaks are identified and appropriate measures such as dredging of creeks etc can take place.
Currently one can safely say that 70-80% of aquaculture output by value is contributed by only 1 shrimp species, that is Litopenaeus Vannamei aka The Pacific White Leg shrimp. Aquatic diseases ensure that productivity will be low as long as diseases are present. Apart from disease management measures the Government of Odisha should invest in a Vannamei and Black Tiger shrimp breeding program.
The private sector will not make the investment since the returns are too uncertain, apart from that there will be very little protection on the intellectual property developed by a private company. How can a private sector ensure ownership over the breeding lines they would have developed over a decade? A successful case study would Ecuador’s shrimp breeding program that was started in the 1990s following the devastating outbreaks of the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV). Unlike India and rest of the world that went on to develop Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) breeding lines of shrimps.
Ecuador developed Specific Pathogen Resistant (SPR) breeding lines. The results are there for everyone to see, Ecuador is now the largest shrimp producer in the world. Apart from sponsoring breeding programs for commercially important species such as Vannamei shrimps and Indian Major Carps. The state government should also establish a multi species hatchery to promote species diversification.
As of writing this article, an agreement has been signed between MPEDA’s (Marine Products Export Development Authority) research and development division and Odisha state fisheries department for the establishment of a multi species hatchery at Gopalpur on Sea.
Like any economic activity, aquaculture can get a big boost if the government could address the infrastructure deficits. The most glaring one is port connectivity. As of now, our products are exported either through Vizag port at Andhra Pradesh or Kolkata port at West Bengal. The ports in Odisha, do not have reefer cargo handling facilities. Farming, processing and maintaining the cold chain requires a lot of energy. Ideally this energy should be from electricity. However due to absence of 24×7 electricity facilities, a significant amount of aquaculture activities is powered by diesel generators and motors. This results in more pollution, it depletes India’s foreign exchange and it increases the cost of production. Farming and Processing of aquaculture products in neighbouring states such as Andhra Pradesh are not at all reliant on diesel, they enjoy good electricity connectivity.
Apart from port and electricity connectivity the government should focus on road connectivity. In this aspect, the credit should go to both the state and central government where the road connectivity has improved over the past decade.
I can have the best farm and the best factory, still I will not be able to sell my frozen shrimps at Disneyland USA or Wholefoods. The reason for this is that shrimp from India has been categorized as “avoid” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Seafood Watch publishes a list of species and their origins and educates consumers who are interested in being more aware about their consumption impact. It has ratings of avoid, good alternative, certified, and best choice.
As things stand now, Odisha and rest of India are in the avoid category. However, there is a pilot program being implemented in Andhra Pradesh and if successful it might lead to an outcome where product of Andhra Pradesh would be eligible for sale at prestigious outlets such as Disneyland and Wholefoods Market. Odisha has adequate environmental laws, and the measures are being implemented. This is why, it is imperative that the public sector such as the Department of Export Promotion take up the task of creating a brand “Odisha” as far as seafood and aquaculture products are concerned. To expect this from the private sector there are coordination challenges.
Just like Odisha has done a fantastic job with marketing Odisha as a tourism destination, we should also make an effort towards creating a brand for our seafood products. In 1976, my father started his business by purchasing 2 trawlers for operations in the waters off Paradeep. I hear stories about the abundance of catch and how the average voyage days was a mere 2 to 4 days. The current scenario is startlingly different with the average voyage days ranging from 20 to 25 days and the catch a fraction of what it used to be in the glory days of fishing. We are on a race to the bottom as far as this vital resource is concerned. With financiers of commercial trawling more interested in other lucrative businesses like construction, the plight of the traditional fishermen is dire.
All is not lost. Things were similar in Australia a few decades ago. However proactive government policies saved the day. Something similar needs to happen in Odisha.
The first thing we need to do is establish more marine sanctuaries. These no-fishing zones will let the fishing stock thrive and re-populate the overfished areas. Apart from establishing sanctuaries we need an effective monitoring and enforcement system. I am talking about more marine police stations and greater coordination with the Coast Guard. This needs to change.
We need to realize that our fisheries are an important resource that need to be managed carefully. The role of new technologies such as satellites can also be explored. We also need to increase our efforts at value addition. The way things stand now, a bulk of the catch is simply going for fish meal processing and to the local wholesale market. The export demand for sea caught products has decreased.
The main reason being that in Europe and North America consumers want seafood with sustainability certifications. Also, the lower cost of farmed shrimp lowers the demand for sea caught products. Two active interventions are required from the government. Recently the Odisha government announced a policy of including fish in the mid-day meal scheme. This is an excellent policy.
The government should go a step further and ask for a minimum quantity of ready to eat and/or ready to cook seafood products to be prepared in the mid-day meal kitchens. This will make the introduction of seafood in these schemes a safer and easier to implement option. Needless to say, it will give a huge boost to the local seafood value addition industry.
The second intervention would be for Odisha government to attain sustainability certification for one of its fishery resources. The certificate I have in mind (and which is in high demand) is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the fishery we should begin with is Chilika Lake.
Some excellent work has been done recently in Chilika with the removal of illegal prawn farms. The administration should go a step further and take steps to certify all the wild caught products from Chilika Lake. Private companies cannot do this since they do not have the legal mandate nor the resources. Some of the biggest seafood companies in Europe however are extremely interested in such a project and would be more than willing to actively contribute. Apart from that, the Maharashtra government has taken a very proactive and pragmatic approach towards mangrove conservation, which can be adopted in Odisha.
A collaborative approach in finding a right balance between conservation and livelihood has worked very well for Maharashtra and can be replicated in Odisha too.
We need to sharpen our maritime focus. Recent trends have been encouraging – from the Sagar Mala Project to the coastal highway to the recent announcement of a separate Department of Fisheries in the Central Government. I sincerely hope that the Government of Odisha also creates a separate Department of Fisheries, instead of clubbing it with Animal Resource Development which is currently the case. So the next time you are enjoying a lavish “Chad Khai” bhoji, try and find out about the curious stories of the Hilsa, the Bhekti, the Chingudi, the Khoinga and the Kankada.
If Odisha is to grow prosperous as per tradition we must seek the blessing of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity who also happens to be the daughter of Varuna, God of the Oceans. The answer has been there right in front of us all along!
(Author is the Managing Director of Ram’s, the seafood exports division of the Suryo group of companies. The Suryo group has been in the seafood industry for more than 40 years. Mr. Dash graduated from the George Washington University, Washington DC in 2006. He has also completed a certificate degree in sustainable aquaculture from University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He has an active interest in public policy and has completed a graduate certificate course in public policy from the Takshashila Institute, Bangalore. Mr. Dash is currently on the Board of MPEDA, India’s trade promotion body for the exports of marine products. In his spare time, Mr. Dash likes to read about Philosophy, History and Mythology. He also likes to Stand Up Paddle.)