Gaurav Phadke is a prawn farmer from Ganeshgule village in Ratnagiri tehsil in Maharashtra’s Konkan region. He started cultivating prawns over a year ago and this was his second season of farming them. However, the shutdown of domestic and international markets of prawns has posed a question to him – that of his survival in the business.
"It looks like I will lose out on this season entirely; a loss of between seven and eight lakh rupees. It is a huge amount for me," said Gaurav.
Gaurav has a fish pond over an acre. To dig the pond, one needs at least Rs 20 lakh. However, that is just the cost of investment. There is also the running cost of prawn cultivation with a season lasting from 120 to 140 days, close to three and a half months. For one acre of cultivation, the investor needs a minimum of three labourers, seeds of the prawns, feed for them, medicines, electricity and also the cost of upkeep. The final cost comes to between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 8 lakh for one season and over one acre of area under cultivation.
After they are cultivated, the prawns are graded according to their weight. Those that weigh less fetch a lesser price. Prawns that weight close to 40 grams fetch Rs 500 per kilogram. An acre worth of output fetches between 2.5 to 3 tonnes of prawns which go for about Rs 4.5 lakh. Thus, the total expected profit over an acre is about Rs 5 lakhs on an average and there could be two seasons a year, resulting in a profit of around Rs 10 lakh to the investor.
With a lockdown in place, the going rate of prawns has nosedived. At present they fetch about half of what they did, between Rs 250 to 300 per kg. That is also dependent on quantity and the quality of production. Gaurav would get around Rs 250 per kg if he sells at the current rate. So, for three tonnes, he would get Rs 6,75,000; the amount is Rs 50,000 lesser than his investment for the season.
"I cannot keep the produce in the pond any longer because prawns get bigger and need more feed. Feed costs around Rs 90 per kg and we need around 30 kg of feed per day which costs about Rs 2700. If one includes medicines and labour, the daily expenditure is almost Rs 3000. If we do not get good rates and with no sign of the international markets opening, why we would keep increasing the production cost? So, I will sell now to avoid further losses," said Gaurav.
There are almost hundred prawn cultivators like Gaurav in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg district who are new to cultivation and have farmed them over one to two acres. For them, the lockdown is breaking the backbone of a new business.
Pravin Gavkar, another prawn farmer from Ansure village in Rajapur tehsil in Ratnagiri district has ponds over two and a half acres. Since seeding the ponds on December 31, he has invested about Rs 10 lakh so far. "When I enquire about the rates in local markets as well as in Goa, the markets mention a figure between Rs 280 and Rs 300. How will we even get back our investment cost? I am in a dilemma whether to sell or not. Someone told me that markets in Goa may open after May 17 (the last day of the third phase of the lockdown). So, I may get good rates then, if they open," said Pravin. The fate of his business rests on when the lockdown is lifted.
Pravin has not sold his prawns yet but Liyaqat Narvekar from Chinjakari Someshwar in Ratnagiri district sold his produce on May 3. He had four ponds spread over 8 acres. Narvekar had waited for 165 days but with no sign of the lockdown being lifted, he sold almost eight tons of prawns to a local company for Rs 270 per kg.
"I had no other option; I had already waited for an extra 20 days. But there was no sign of the international market opening. We are told that Singapore and all other major markets are closed too. What we can do?" he asked. Narvekar said that he had sold his produce for Rs 380 kg last year. “I lost almost Rs 100 per kg which is about seven lakh rupees," he said.
Narvekar has been in the business for almost a decade, having seen its ups and downs, especially in the international market. Though the current situation is unprecedented, he still used his contacts in the domestic market to sell his produce and survive. But other cultivators like Gaurav or Pravin are faced with the challenge of surviving in the business.
The more pressing concern for them is also a lack of government data. Maharashtra has a fisheries department and has also promoted prawn cultivation in the state. However, few people have taken help or a subsidy from the state government because of the complicated procedure in place.
"We have primary information about the losses faced by prawn cultivators. As of now we have not taken a decision about offering immediate help to them, but we are planning on gathering information about their losses and demands. To help them for the next season, the government could subsidise the seed, feed or even electricity supply. As soon as the lockdown is lifted, we will start getting official status reports and only then will the government be able to comment on the matter," said Aslam Shaikh, the state Fisheries Minister.