Shrimp farmers in India’s Kerala hit hard by lockdowns

Published on
August 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected shrimp farming activities in the Indian state of Kerala, incurring losses for farmers, disrupting production, creating “panic harvesting,” and unemployment in the region.

According to a survey conducted by India’s Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA), farmers in Kerala have suffered a loss of INR 3.08 billion (USD 41.2 million, EUR 34.6 million) due to lockdown orders to contain the spread of the coronavirus, CIBA said in a statement on Thursday, 20 August.

The research institute found “unprecedented circumstances” caused by the pandemic, which have significantly driven down shrimp production in the state to 500 metric tons (MT) and brought about unemployment among local people.

CIBA Director K.K. Vijayan said Kerala has 3,144 hectares of shrimp farms with average output of 1,500 MT per year. The decline in shrimp production was attributed to the slowdown in farming activities and reduction in actual culture days during the lockdowns.

“Difficulty in availing seeds, feeds and labors, for which Kerala depends on other states, was the major reason which disrupted the farming,” CIBA said, adding that the increase in prices of farming inputs, along with market uncertainty, has made things worse.

The institute said about half of farmers in the state have abandoned all farming because of obstacles in purchasing high-quality seed and potential risks in production and market access.

In addition, the state has lost around 30 percent of its shrimp-farming acreage due to logistic issues, hikes in feed cost, and the unavailability of other farming requirements.

“The sector was badly hit as the lockdown restrictions affected transportation of shrimp feeds from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which caused a price hike in feeds,” the study said.  

Farmers in Kerala have chosen to carry out “panic harvesting” of small-sized shrimp to sell at lower prices, it said.

“Farmers were forced to do panic harvesting as diseases were reported in about 10 [percent] of farming areas and aqua-laboratories and professional services remained unavailable to the farmers due to the lockdown, badly affecting the pond and health management of animals,” CIBA said.

The study found that 10 percent of panic farmers harvested their crop after 80 days of culture, 25 percent sold their output just after 30 days of farming, and another 15 percent completed harvesting within 80 days.

The pandemic has also triggered an increase in unemployment in Kerala’s shrimp-farming sector. About 12,000 local people working in the shrimp farming, processing, and distribution segments lost their jobs for one season (or six months), which is equivalent to a loss of INR 1.08 billion (USD 14.4 million, EUR 12.1 million).

Vijayan said COVID-19-related lockdowns have resulted in a loss of USD 1.6 billion (EUR 1.34 billion) for India’s shrimp sector. He called on the central and state governments to provide financial support for farmers and work to ensure quality of shrimp seeds.

“The state needs to develop hatcheries for the production of vannamei seeds and adopt nursery rearing facility in the state to avoid the dependency on the neighboring states," he added.

Photo courtesy of Chuchai/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from Hanoi, Vietnam

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