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Wednesday, December 02, 2020
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The Blue Revolution

In a chat with SMART AGRIPOST, Dr J K Jena, DDG (Fisheries Science), ICAR tells about the high potential fisheries sector has in income generation and ICAR’s initiatives in fulfilling government’s vision for Blue Revolution. 

  1. What is the current position of fisheries sector in India?

Ans: If you look at the fisheries growth over last six and half decades since Independence, we have grown more than 14 times which is unparalleled.  In 1950, the production was less than one million ton, more precisely it was 0.75 million ton. Today it is 10.8 million tons.

If you see last three decades, aquaculture has been the major contributor to such high growth, and it is mainly the freshwater aquaculture in terms of quantity. Today we produce over 5 million tons only from freshwater aquaculture. Coastal shrimp farming although contributes only about 0.5 million ton today, it shares large chunk of country’s export.  Besides domestic needs, our exports have been also phenomenal. Today we export about 1 million ton of fish valuing US $ 5.5 billion, equivalent to more than Rs. 33,000 crores. The

This growth has been largely due to the contributions of the farmers’-friendly technologies through our research institutes, large-scale adoption of these technologies by our innovative farmer and appropriate policy initiatives. Everything has contributed to this.

I am sure, you know about the contributions made by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in providing all necessary technological support, be it for the open water fisheries management or aquaculture or development of post-harvest technologies.  We have eight fisheries research institutes, including Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) at Cochin and Central Inland Fisheries Research Institutes (CIFRI) at Barrakpur, Kolkata which were established in 1947, even before independence. They have been taking care all research aspects relevant to open-water fisheries and their sustainability.

Then coming to aquaculture, we have two major institutes, i.e. Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA), Bhubaneswar dealing with freshwater aquaculture and Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA), Chennai taking care of the brackishwater aquaculture sector, especially shrimp farming. Today, the size of shrimp export is to the tune of about Rs. 25,000 crores.

When you talk about aquaculture, it is not only farming practice. We need to have required quantity of seed, feed and right advisories on disease management.  When we talk of seed, it is also about type/species of seed, required quantity, appropriate size, and their availability in right time. We have been successful in providing technological back up in all these aspects. When we look at freshwater aquaculture, for example, 50 years ago, we were talking about only three species of Indian major carps. Today we have more than two dozens of species with us to boost diversified farming.  Besides major carps, there are medium/minor carps, catfishes, murrels, Koi, freshwater prawns and so on.

  1. We have witnessed phenomenal growth of fisheries sector. But, the growth has not reached to fishermen. They are still economically backward. Do you think that extension services need to be strengthened?

Ans: Yes, I agree to some extent and disagree to other aspect also. My disagreement on the points first. I would say, probably aquaculture is one such farming practice, where income is much higher than most of the other farming activities. For example- just from carp farming, the net income from one-hectare water area at any place is more than one lakh rupees. If you talk of shrimp farming in coastal areas, the net income can be Rs. 3-5 lakhs per hectare per crop of 4-5 months only. I assume very few farming sector can give such a huge income for the farmers.

But, about the extension as you told, there are hurdles. The country is so huge and expectations are too large, we have different group of stakeholders, high income groups, low income groups, who can invest more, who can invest less etc. Whatever we are doing is still not enough. So, we have to strengthen our extension machineries and extension programmes. We need to bring synergy among researchers, extension workers and the farmers. We have to work together. I assure you that all of us are committed to enhance extension works in coming years.

  1. Another area of concern is processing of fish products. Is ICAR working in this regard?

Ans: Let me tell you that out of eight fisheries institutes, we have one institute, Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT), Cochin which is totally dedicated to harvest and post-harvest researches. When I say harvest, it works on how you fish (crafts and gears), where you fish- all those aspects. Then, second important aspect this institute focuses on is post-harvest processing and value addition.

We have been able to develop several products which have gone to commercial market. Besides, we have facilities for start up. Several prospective entrepreneurs are being associated with our institutes, where we provide all necessary hand-holdings for start-ups.  While we have been able to make a significant contribution in the areas of post-harvest value addition, yes, still there are ample scope for future research in these areas.

The institute has developed several commercial products from fish/shellfish wastes. Development of technologies of surgical sutures from fish intestines, chitin & chitosan from shellfish wastes, etc. are a few examples. Any fish market we go; we find huge accumulation of fish wastes posing problem of their disposal. Technology of composting can be as an important tool for the management of these wastes into wealth.

  1. The Prime Minister has called for Blue Revolution to strengthen fisheries sector, enhance income of the farmers, etc. So what is your view in this regard? How does ICAR work in this regard?

Ans: Yes, this is a very wonderful step taken by our honorable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi Ji. He has rightly visualized the huge potential of the sector, not in terms production & export, but also in nutritional security of the masses.

No doubt, our growth has been phenomenal, but, the potential is still huge. Today, we produce 10.8 million metric tons, and our goal is to produce 16 million metric tons by 2030 and 20 million metric tons by 2050. I am sure, you would agree that it would be a herculean task. It would not be that easy, but we all are committed.

In freshwater aquaculture sector, it would be possible to increase our average pond production from present level of about 3.5 tons/ha to 5 tons/ha with large-scale adoption of right kind of scientific technologies. In brackishwater sector we have been using about 10-12% of the resources available with us. We have huge potential for mariculture and cage culture in our open seas. So, the Prime Minister has seen the potential of the sector and the call for Blue Revolution is a remarkable step forward. In this direction, DADF, the central Government department, with NFDB has come out with several programmes for enhancing production, not only from aquaculture but also from open water fisheries.

In this direction, ICAR institutes are committed to provide all necessary supports in terms of technological backups.

I sincerely think the future production will be more of knowledge-based productions, a switching over from the input-based production. When we say knowledge-based production, it is the technology which would be most important, and all our ICAR Fisheries Research Institutes would be providing whole support to the DADF and NFDB in different programmes. We have already initiated several pragrammes for increasing seed production for diversified species, system diversification, new programmes on wetlands, and having right data base for appropriate strategies, focus on fish health management, etc. Government has come out with several appropriate policy decisions. The marine fisheries policy of the country is in place. Government has also initiated action for development of Inland Fishery Policy. I think all these policies will really help in bringing blue revolution in coming years.

  1. What is the vision of ICAR towards the fisheries sector ?

Ans: As I told, in next 30-35 years or by 2050, we expect to double the total fish production of the country. So we need to take multiple approaches. One approach is exploring for horizontal expansion, i.e. bringing more area into farming, especially bringing unused waterbodies in freshwater and brackishwater sectors and utilizing coastal openseas for cage culture. Although bringing more new inland areas may not be feasible under fish farming, I find enormous scope for use of inland saline areas which are not used for any economic purpose. Further, we need to increase productivity per unit area. In this direction, first important thing is quality seed and diversified species.

Quality improvement fish species through selective breeding programme is an important area. We are trying to take the selective breeding programmes on numbers of commercially important species having higher growth potential. Then, we want to ensure round the year seed availability. In this direction private-public collaboration is an important aspect.

One of the major concerns today in aquaculture is fish disease. Disease has been causing severe loss everywhere. So we have been emphasizing on National Fish Disease Surveillance Programme with the financial support of NFDB & DADF, Govt. of India and developing required diagnostic kits and other formulations for disease management. Only if we are able to tackle the issues of disease, we can save huge resources. We also want to bring cutting edge areas of science into the farming.

Value addition will be definitely given emphasis. Quality human resource is also vital at every level. When I talk about quality human resource, it is for all levels – starting from the top level researchers to unskilled farmers/fishers. We are trying our best in providing quality higher education through our deemed university, the Central Institute of Fisheries Education at Mumbai and also develop/upgrade skills of the growers/fishers through training programmes at all our institutes. We have a Institute at Lucknow, the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (NBFGR), which works on conserving our rich fish biodiversity for posterity. The Directorate of Coldwater Fisheries Research (DCFR) at Bhimtal is also committed not only providing support in our coldwater resources but boosting high value trout production and also conservation of Mahseer- the pride sport fishes of the country.

At the end of the day, we think real Blue Revolution will possible only if we bring synergy of our different departmental programme and we need to hand hold our farmers. Being an optimist, I sincerely feel that we will able to meet the expectation of our honorable Prime Minister in bringing real Blue Revolution in the country in coming years.