Skill Development for Odisha Aquaculture Industry

Skill Development for Odisha Aquaculture Industry

By Aditya Dash

A time will come when people will ask, “Are you Skilled or are you Skilled-In-Odisha?” – Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

The Odisha Skill Development Authority (OSDA) is currently not offering any courses catering to the aquaculture industry. An industry that exports almost Rs 5,000 crore of products and supports almost 500,000 households. The OSDA has been in the news for all the right reasons and it is time they focused on the crucial aquaculture industry, which will not only lead to more jobs but will also enhance farmers’ income.

In the last 15 years, I have seen the rapid expansion of the aquaculture industry, which has made India one of the largest shrimp producers in the world. The private sector cannot be expected to fill this gap on its own. Please bear in mind that for an export-oriented sector, learning on the job can translate into costly rejections and a fall in perception as far as the Made in India tag is concerned. The demand for skilled personnel isn’t just limited to the processors, the shortage is felt across the value chain. Starting from the hatchery sector, which is perhaps why more than 95 per cent of Odisha’s seed requirement comes from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

To the farming sector, where lack of scientific knowledge will cost the smallholder farmer a huge amount, keep in mind for this expensive crop he would have most likely borrowed from the village moneylender at 36 per cent interest rate. It affects how we respond and tackle the various aquaculture pandemics. We need skilled and competent PCR technicians so that farmers can detect and diagnose diseases at an early stage.

The Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) recently inaugurated a state of the art quality control lab in Bhubaneswar. Recruiting lab technicians required for this lab might result in some poaching from the private sector. Apart from that, there are budgetary constraints in hiring the required calibre and number of talent to meet the huge demand for testing.

What if MPEDA and OSDA join hands and address the skills deficit in the aquaculture sector? An immediate scope for collaboration could be at MPEDA’s network of labs. Where a set number of graduates will volunteer and get on-job training. To encourage this, OSDA could provide a stipend to the students. After one year of on-job training, the candidates will get a certificate and more importantly, they would have acquired skills the employers are eagerly looking for. Let me tell you degrees and certificates are cheap but real skill is very tough to find in aquaculture industry.

The collaboration outlined above shouldn’t be just restricted to lab technicians. The OSDA can collaborate with MPEDA and revive Odisha Shrimp Seed Production and Research Centre (OSSPARC) hatchery at Gopalpur-on-Sea. Again, out here the same formula can be used, where MPEDA or a competent third party can operate the hatchery and every year they should take in 20 or so trainees who get on job training followed by a certificate. This model needs to adopted for model demo farms in various shrimp farming clusters such as Balasore, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak and Kendrapara districts.

This will not only create the much-needed farm technicians, but these trained candidates will learn the principles and more importantly the application of scientific aquaculture methods. The multiplier effect on the productivity would be huge, and this would be one of the best antidotes to counter the snake oil salesmen who peddle the use of banned antibiotics. The OSDA should also partner with the Seafood Exporters Association of India (Odisha Region), SEAIOR. The collaboration with SEAIOR would be in the processing side. We have a huge demand ranging from industrial refrigeration to grading and don’t even get me started on our nonexistent filleting capacity.

It is better that OSDA takes a collaborative approach as opposed to simply opening an Aquaculture ITI or something along those lines. The main reason is that MPEDA and SEAIOR members have the expensive assets and the operational capability to give actual training to the students. Simply relying on the private sector to meet their own needs, which we have been doing results in a lot of unseen costs. I am sure that OSDA, led by the charismatic and dynamic Subroto Bagchi, will start something in this sector. Let me end this piece on an interesting note. In the 70s and 80s, most of the seafood workers in Odisha used to come from Kerala. Today most of the seafood workers across India come from Odisha.

__ The author is an “Authority Member” of Marine Products Export Development Authority. He is also Managing Director of Ram’s Assorted Cold Storage Ltd, the seafood exports division of Suryo Group. He is passionate about aquaculture and writes frequently on it.

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