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Tuesday, Jun 14, 2005

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Farmers exiting freshwater prawn culture — Shifting to agriculture, cane cultivation

R. Balaji

Chennai , June 13

FRESHWATER prawn culture has taken a beating as farmers are exiting this line of aquaculture for agriculture.

Shrimp industry representatives blame lack of good quality prawn seeds for the problem. Over the last season, scampi — a popular variety of freshwater prawn — failed due to outbreak of disease.

In recent years, farmers in Andhra Pradesh had taken up scampi culture enthusiastically bringing thousands of hectares under cultivation.

According to a Nellore-based exporter, Mr Shaik Abdul Azeez, farmers who have been culturing scampi have shifted to paddy or sugarcane farming.

The main reason is that farmers are not able to source disease-free prawn seeds from the hatcheries.

Scampi culture had been on the increase over the last few years with Andhra Pradesh emerging the major centre.

Estimates of areas under culture ranges between 50,000 and a lakh hectares.

According to Mr Azeez, more than half the farmers who had opted for scampi cultivation have now taken up agriculture.

A Chennai-based exporter, Mr Ravi Reddy, said during the peak season two years ago it was quite common for harvests to range around 30-40 tonnes a day, but now arrivals have dropped to less than a quarter of that amount.

Mr Azeez said a kg of scampi fetches about Rs 600 for 20 count (20 prawns together weighing a kg) headless.

While those who opt for paddy can get back to prawn culture after a few months, the main concern is of those who opt for sugarcane, as it would mean that their fields would be unavailable for at least three years.

The development was regrettable considering that scampi farming had emerged more attractive than the marine shrimp and black tiger, as an export item. Scampi did not face the problems that black tiger faced - bacterial infection in export consignments or anti-bacterial residues. While the entire South-East Asia was a competitor in the black tiger segment, scampi farmers in India had only to contend with Bangladesh exports.

The problem, according to Mr Azeez, is that despite the obvious advantages little effort has been put into scientific culture systems or culturing mother prawns for quality seed stock.

The brooders are often selected from the culture ponds of farmers and they are under severe stress. They could not be a source of healthy seeds, he said.

Mr Reddy said it wasimportant that research and development are directed towards developing healthy prawn seeds.

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