Opinion

Swimming in Circles

RAJAMANOHAR SOMASUNDARAM | 1
11744
| December 23 , 2017 , 19:54 IST

We have always been known as an agrarian economy from time immemorial. Characterized by highly fertile lands and abundant natural resources, India is a major contributor to the production of agricultural and allied products in the global market. But in the recent times, the changing global climatic conditions, soil infertility and high dependence on monsoons as an irrigation system, which mostly leads to either severe drought or excessive floods, have rendered agriculture to be an unproductive and fruitless livelihood option for farmers.

India, being a country surrounded three sides by ocean and a coastal line of about 7515 km with a vibrant aquatic ecosystem, provides a vast scope for aquaculture. With gaining importance of seafood around the world for its nutritional value and food security it has brought about a shift in the dietary patterns in consumption worldwide. The recent The Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) statistics indicate that there is a surge in the seafood export revenue, promising that promotion of sustainable aquaculture practices can help the farmers overcome the vicious cycle they are caught in.

The southern state of Andhra Pradesh has set a lead in promoting Aqua culture industry by framing fisheries policy in the year 2015 thereby providing incentives and subsidies to aqua farmers and transforming it as the “Aqua hub of India”.

With increasing awareness about the nutrition requirements, aquaculture promises high financial returns similar to traditional agriculture activities. While the average profit for an acre of land in agriculture is just twenty thousand rupees, an acre of aquaculture farming can earn about twice or thrice. The less dependence on weather patterns and predictable production cycles makes it an attractive and viable alternative farming practice.

According to a recent report of Coastal Soil Salinity Research Institute, 17 lakh hectares of agricultural land is saline in nature, confirming that aquaculture will be more profitable and productive than agriculture in those regions. For instance, a chronic drought-prone area like Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, there are 160 licensed shrimp farmers who harvest about 4 tons of shrimp per hectare in brackish water.

With the existence of well managed hatcheries (institutions that provide seed, that is, enable reproduction of the species) and educational research in the fields such as marine biology, zoology and aquatic sciences has given us a positive outlook, as farmers with just a minimum level of training can effectively make use of the water bodies around them. The discovery of new species has helped farmers to engage in and gain from a wider variety of markets. Such research and training can help the farmers in enhancing their businesses through establishing their own hatcheries and breeding houses.

Community-based aquaculture, wherein the farmers are organized into groups, enables efficient use of the available resources to ensure that maximum benefits accrue to the local farmers and encourages collective self-employment and entrepreneurship. The women are also organized into groups for the production of certain species, mainly seaweed, which acts a catalyst in empowering them and integrating them into the male-dominated commercial market.

The flip side of these advantages is the shortcoming in maintaining sustainable and eco-friendly aqua farming practices. Although aquaculture is accused of increasing salinity, saline water percolation and harmful interaction with other aquatic species, appropriate and timely initiative by the government to create awareness and educate farmers about sustainable aqua-farming practices can elevate the standards and minimize the issues associated with it.

Sustainable development of the fisheries needs clear policies, planning and administrative support that is inadequate due to the presence of fisheries functioning as a division under the Ministry of Agriculture. A separate Ministry for Fisheries and Fisher Welfare at the Central Government will strengthen the position of the aquaculture sector in the government policy-making process and will also drive sustainable aqua farming along the coastal regions of India.

Rajamanohar Somasundaram is a serial technology entrepreneur with an extensive experience in building Internet and Mobile technology enabled businesses. Currently, He heads Socialabs, a Hexolabs Interactive spin-off that advises non-profits / social businesses on technology foresight and appropriate technology development to reach out to marginalized groups across the world.
World Economic Forum recognized Raja as a ‘Young Global Leader in 2012’; and in 2016, he was also offered Draper Hills Fellowship at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development. 
He co-founded Aqua Connect, South Asia’s largest Aqua farmers’ network. Aqua Connect aims to champion the ‘Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs)’ set by the United Nations and supports Aqua farming communities on Sustainable aqua farming practices.

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