Lack of quality seeds hits prawn production

During this biting cold what can be better than a dish of black-tiger prawns cooked in oriental style for dinner or just batter fried along with your evening drink. But then, be prepared to shell out a huge sum as black-tiger prawns supply is going down with stagnant production over the past several years. India is the leading producer of black-tiger prawns in the world but today the prawn farmers are faced with the problem of stagnant production due to lack of quality seeds and financial support from the government. According to I.P.R. Mohan Raju, president of the Prawn Farmers Federation of India, "Although India is the leading producer of black-tiger prawns in the world, the production in our country is stagnant for the past few years. The primary reason for the stagnation is the inadequate supply of quality seeds. The hatchery operators depend on the supply of wild brood stock for the production of seeds. The quality and quantity of this wild brood stock has deteriorated over the past few years.' The hatchery operators depended on the supply of wild brood stock for the production of seeds but the quality and quantity of this had deteriorated over the past few years. The federation, the first national platform for prawn farmers constituted by state federations of the 10 maritime states and union territories, would collaborate with the hatchery operators and the government to address this issue, he said. India has over 1,50,000 hectares under prawn cultivation with around 1.2 to 1.4 million hectares potential brackish water area available. More than 91per cent of the 1,00,000 plus farmers are small scale with land holding of less than two hectares. About 6 per cent of the farmers' own land only between two to five hectares and the remaining three percent own land over five hectares. Total production is around 1,35,000 tons with an average production of less than 1000 kg per hectare. Farming methods are mostly extensive or modified extensive with less than 20 per cent of the farms having electricity connections. Black-tiger (Penaeus monodon) is the major species cultivated constituting over 97 per cent of the total production. More than 90 per cent of the 135,000 tons produced and over 94 per cent of the value of exports come from small-scale farmers. Said V. Balasubramaniam, general secretary of the federation, "Lack of institutional finance and insurance coverage is a big deterrent for the growth of the small farmers. More than 90 per cent of the over Rs 3,000 crore invested in prawn farms in India is from the pockets of the small farmers or borrowed from unorganised money lenders. More over, more than 90 per cent of the production cost is financed by credit from the dealers of inputs and companies, since the farmer does not get any type of crop loan from financial institutions. "This drives the cost of production up by 20 to 30 per cent, since credit is involved at various levels in the chain of crop input supplies. If farmers get institutional financing and insurance coverage for their crop, the accrued benefits will make him more competitive in the world market,' he said.