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The latest decision of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to engage in public- private partnership in research, development and transfer of technology is a step in the right direction. Attempts to diversify and develop aquaculture technologies of species for the market must be based on investment required to produce the volumes that will service existing markets and generate new ones.
Therefore, it is necessary to involve business houses in technology development from the conceptualisation stage so that there is a smooth transition from experimental and field trials stages to commercial production.
India exported 17,35,286 tonnes (mt) of seafood worth ₹63,969 crore in 2022-23. The major constituent of Indian seafood exports continues to be shrimp, which recorded a production of 11.84 lakh tonnes and registered export value of ₹43,135 crore. India aims to raise its export earning to $15 billion by 2025 from $7.76 billion in 2021-22 and presently leads the world in shrimp exports to the US in 2022, with Ecuador closing the gap rapidly.
Volumes are essential for strengthening trade. While the pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) is the dominant species under culture in India and commands an attractive price in the international market, it is ravaged by serious disease problems that often leaves the culture systems devastated.
Mud crabs, seabass, tilapia, pangasius, cobia, pompano are the various species that have been listed by Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) as new exportable cultured species.
During 2021-22, India produced 2,04,666 mt of pangasius in 17,258 ha, 10,442 mt of tilapia in 7607 ha, 4753 mt of seabass in 15,444 ha, 3219 mt of mud crab in 2998 ha and 8.2 mt of cobia in 3.2 ha. In 2009-10, the production of pangasius was 3,01,066 mt (16063 ha), tilapia was 20 mt (5 ha), seabass was 279.70 mt (29,103 ha), crabs were 111.50 mt (462 ha).
The performance, both in terms of area as well as production is not consistent over years. Data on the performance of the species for the years in between are also not very encouraging (Table). It is also not clear if the year-on-year production data is from the same area under culture or from areas freshly brought under pond culture or are area as defined to be under cage culture of couple of these species. The volumes and productivity are not very encouraging.
Hatchery seed production of seabass (Lates calcalifer) has been a recognised as a standardised technology and the species was touted to partner black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) as it commanded a reasonably attractive market price in the domestic and export markets. But its hatchery phases as well as culture presented a number of challenges including a nursery phase, long culture period of about 18 months, cannibalistic nature, irregular growth issues, management intensive culture regimes as well as its high feed demand.
Therefore, it has remained less attractive for small scale private investment. The case of Cobia seems to be similar as well. Mud crab culture has been ever dependent on wild stocks which are fattened for the market. Tilapia and Pangasius pass the test for species that makes market merry as they are hardy species. The domestic species Indian white prawn, (Panaeus indicus) is also making a fresh come-back.
It is often seen that the technologies developed do not have takers owing to investment capital required and a lack of understanding of the new technology. This can only be ironed out by the parallel participation of the big business houses with the technology developers from day one.
Therefore, new investments should be targeted at generating volumes, quality, and value-added products in fisheries. Rural poverty in India has fallen from 32.59 per cent to 19.28 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Livelihoods, employment, and income will be the outliers of these investments.
If best of Indian engineering education can be off shored to Zanzibar and Abu Dhabi, business houses need to be encouraged by Chambers of Commerce to go big on fisheries technologies that could even be exploited to its best potential in foreign waters. NITI Aayog has noted fisheries has grown at 8.97 per cent during 2011-12 to 2020-21.
The PLI scheme can be extended to business houses investing in new fisheries and aquaculture technologies. The recently announced TechnoCommercial Readiness and Market Maturity (TCRM) matrix framework could perhaps be extended to cover the primary sector also if not already incorporated.
The pay-offs from investment in science is in the commercialisation of technologies in Atmanirbhar India.
Krishnan is former Principal Scientist & Head, ICAR – Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Mumbai; and Gopalakrishnan is Fellow and Former Head, Trade, Commerce and Strategic Economic Dialogue, NITI Aayog
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