Odisha Blue Revolution 2036
What is the most glorious aspect of our history? Our maritime trading links? Our holiest shrine, Shri Jagganath 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 maritime outlook. 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 by focusing on our capture fisheries and aquaculture. I hope we have another write up in this series about the need for enhancing our port and air connectivity in Odisha.
In 1976, my father started his business career by purchasing 2 trawlers for operations in Paradeep. I hear stories about the abundance of catch, how the average voyage days was a mere 2 to 4 days. The current scenario is bleak the average voyage days ranges from 20 to 25 days, and the catch is a fraction of what it used to be in the glory days of fishing. A classic tragedy of the commons and we are on a race to bottom as far as this vital resource is concerned. Financers of commercial trawling are more interested in other lucrative business like construction, you can well imagine what the condition of the traditional fishermen must be.
All is not lost, things were similar in Australia a few decades back. 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 zone will let the fishing stock thrive and repopulate the overfished areas. Apart from establishing sanctuaries we need an effective monitoring and enforcement activities. I am talking about more marine police stations, greater coordination with the coast guard. The current situation is that we have the boats but the government doesn’t have the money for the fuel. This needs to change, we need to realize that our fisheries are an important resource and we need to manage it carefully.
Photo Credit: nxtiot
The first thing we need to do is increase value addition. The way things stand now a bulk of the catch is simply going for fish meal processing, and in the local wholesale market. The export demand for sea caught products have decreased. The main reason being that in Europe and North America consumers want seafood with sustainability certifications apart from that 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, I feel 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, also it will give a huge boost to the local seafood value addition industry. The second intervention would be for Odisha government to attain a sustainability certification for one of its fisheries 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 Lake 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. A private company cannot do this since they do not have the legal mandate nor the resources. Some of the biggest seafood companies in Europe 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 the Odisha the government should adopt. The main difference is that Maharashtra takes a collaborative approach trying to find a right balance between conservation and livelihood, something that Odisha government is yet to embrace.
Aquaculture should be the industry that everyone talks about. Fish and shrimps are healthier compared to red meat and chicken. For those farmers who can, Aquaculture is a better source of livelihood compared to agriculture or livestock. In India Aquaculture is dominated by cultivation of Indian Major Carps as the dominant species by volume. If we were to go by value it would be the cultivation of Peneaus Vannamei (Pacific White Shrimp). Another species that has become very popular in India is Basa (Pangasius Stucchi), a fish that food snobs love to hate but consumers seem to love it and so do the hotel owners (it comes in fillets).
The current problems in the Aquaculture sector seems to me about over production (shrimps) and lack of other species and value addition in existing species such as carp or Tilapia. The industry is trapped in a race to bottom, with increasing over supply and lower prices. As far as Odisha is concerned we should focus on how we can be the next Andhra Pradesh but even better. Andhra Pradesh is the aquaculture capital of India. The reason for this is very clear when you see a satellite image of India at night. The brightly lit coastline of Andhra Pradesh compared to the barely lit coastline of Odisha. It is lack of finance in Odisha that has ensured that we haven’t achieved our production potential.
Here are some of the active interventions that are required from the government. More research and development activities in the aquaculture sector. Active collaboration between state government and private sector with national level research organizations. Some of these organizations are Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA), Central Institute of Brackish Water Aquaculture (CIBA), Rajiv Gandhi Center for Aquaculture (RGCA). They should actively support and invest in long term projects like genome mapping of existing and potential aquaculture species. Promote alternative species such as all female freshwater shrimp, Asian Sea Bass, Grey Mullet, Crab Fattening. Set up an Odisha Aquaculture Venture fund modeled as per Israel’s government backed venture fund. These active interventions will give the sector the boost of finance and technology.
A unique and innovative solution being pursued in Odisha is by Ram’s Assorted Cold Storage Limited (RACSL) the processing and exports division of the Suryo group of companies. RACSL in collaboration with Dutch NGO Solidaridad will implement a pilot project with the shrimp farmers of Jagatsinghpur district. These are the small and marginal shrimp farmers who are part of RACSL’s network of farmers. The aim of this project would be to organize these groups of farmers into Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs). Inform them about existing government schemes and help them in availing all the help in can. This in turn will help processors and exporters meet their traceability norms for markets in North America and Europe. There will also be active monitoring and guidance given to the farmers with accurate market information. This will enable the farmers to earn a higher income and make more informed decisions. Eventually we will also work on promoting diversification of species and building auction centers at these farming clusters. The ultimate aim is for everyone to win. The farmer with better guidance will lower their cost of production and earn higher income. The exporters will meet the traceability norms and can access lucrative retail markets. The North American and European importers would love such initiatives because they can showcase such a case study to their retail customers. So that customers in Europe understand that by consuming shrimps from Odisha, they are contributing towards the development of Odisha.
So why now? Because we have a jobs crisis and we have an agrarian crisis. Aquaculture is a viable and sustainable solution. A study in Gujrat concluded that 1 hectare of shrimp farming generated 10 jobs. Why invest now? Because 10 or 20 years ago the advances in bio-technology were not that thorough. 10 or 20 years ago consumer spending in India, South East Asia and China was not as high. Now they are, which means we have an export market. Also, another potential market is the rise in ethnic populations in Europe in North America. Which means there is a very viable export market for alternative species that did not exist a decade ago.
We need to have a maritime focus. Recent trends have been encouraging, from the Sagar Mala Project, to coastal highway to the recent announcement of a separate department of Fisheries in the central government. I sincerely hope that the Odisha government also creates a separate department of Fisheries, instead of clubbing it with Animal Resource Development which is currently the case. If Odisha is poor we must pray to Lakshmi Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, daughter of Varuna, God of the oceans. See the answer has been there right in front of us all along.