Sustainable Aquaculture Initiative Demonstration Crop1.0
By Aditya Dash
Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions – Elizabeth King
The Sustainable Aquaculture Initiative (SAI), an aquaculture improvement programme by Solidaridad International and Ram’s, conducted a demonstration crop at Gadaharispur village in Odisha. We did it on a 1 acre pond at a cluster of 18 ponds. Our crop was successfully harvested with a net profit of Rs 15,000. This was a huge success given the logistical constraints imposed by COVID-19 pandemic. One should also note that while we successfully harvested our crop at 22 gms, the surrounding 17 ponds succumbed to the white spot virus outbreak and this resulted in a premature harvest at 12 gms. The losses were more than Rs 50,000 per pond. Our secret weapon? A more scientific and process-oriented approach towards shrimp farming.
Success has many fathers and for our crop we have a mother to attribute also — Sreerupa Guha, who heads the Aquaculture division of Solidaridad Asia. Apart from regularly monitoring the progress of the demo pond, she was instrumental in selecting a very suitable technical advisor, Ashish Mondal, through her network. Mondal led our team from the front and was instrumental in our success. I should also thank my friend Willem Van der Pijl, who started this programme. He has since opened his own shrimp consultancy firm. Also, a big thank you to Terrence Pradhan, who was initially heading this project and introduced the concept of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) to me. Bhalerkant Pati and Abhishek Dwivedy of Solidaridad have done a stellar job in mobilising farmers and forming farmer welfare societies. So far, we have 17 societies with more than 750 farmers. Srikrushna Mahapatra, the young and energetic team member from Ram’s, helped a lot in coordination and implementation. Also, received expert guidance from my aquaculture guru, Ashok Das, a veteran with more than three decades of experience.
So, what exactly was a scientific and a process-oriented approach? Our approach relied on regular testing of parameters, followed by appropriate remedial measures and regular soil and water quality tests, compared to the rest of the farmers who follow a more intuitive approach. Testing is essential. It is through testing of various parameters that we can detect and diagnose problems before we see visible symptoms. Midway through the crop around 45 days, there was a WSSV disease outbreak resulting in premature harvest of the surrounding ponds. However, we relied on our parameters and the advice given to us by Ashok Das and my friend Sathya Bharat, the investment banker, who is now a shrimp farmer. Based on their advice, we were confident that this disease could be managed and we could still come out with a good crop.
The Rs 15,000 profit figure could easily become Rs 100,000 if we calculate input costs at wholesale prices. These are the prices that large corporate farms procure their inputs like feed and seed. Unfortunately, due to a lack of access to institutional finance, smallholder farmers pay a steep price. The feed conversion rate (FCR) was an embarrassing 1.9, whereas we were targeting a 1.5 FCR. It appears that from Day 45 onwards, there were certain lapses in feed management, the confirmation evidence for this comes from the size distribution of the harvested material. Otherwise, we would be looking at a bumper profit within a range of Rs 300,000 to Rs 500,000.
For this failure, I take full responsibility. Yes, I have gone through the whole would have, could have, should have routine. Failures are good, because it simply means that SAI Demo Crop 2.0 will be a lot better. Like an aquaculture veteran once told me, when you wake up in the morning before going to work, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how can you make things better.
So, with great hopes, I look forward to our next demonstration crop. I eagerly appeal to hatchery, feed and other companies to join hands with me. I am also looking at collaboration opportunities with Aquaculture startups like Genics, XpertSea and AquaConnect. Our goal isn’t to simply have a bumper harvest but to fine-tune a process of aquaculture crop management and more importantly disseminate this knowledge. To a certain extent, we have been successful. MPEDA’s laboratory staff always mentions that majority of their customers are farmers from the SAI project. No one wants their crops to fail, the intentions are always there, but like the quote above, it is the process that we follow that will impact the outcome. If you want things done, you follow a process. That is what the Indian Army would do, and that is the lesson a Kisan should learn from a Jawan.
__ 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.