Whenever Sreeram Raavi visited his village in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, he used to hear a constant complaint — shrimp yields were inconsistent, friends and relatives would say.
This prompted Raavi, a software engineer who has designed semiconductor solutions for high-speed broadband, to find a solution to their problem.
Very often, shrimp farmers could not correctly estimate the volume of shrimp in a pond and so could not give the right amount of feed, he found.
"In some cases, the miss (in estimating the volume of shrimp and the feed needed) was as much as 20-50%," the founder of Eruvaka Technologies said.
So, Raavi went about building hardware and software to address the challenges.
In about 1,000 hectares (ha) of shrimp farms spread across Surat, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry, Eruvaka's products have been installed.
These include a feeder that dishes out feed based on the volume of shrimps in a pond and an underwater acoustics-based device - ShrimpTalk - that listens to the noise from shrimps to estimate their appetite and hunger. Eruvaka also has a device that measures the PH level (level of alkalis or acids) in water, to ensure that shrimps get the right amount of dissolved oxygen needed for their survival.
The entire data is fed on a Cloud-based solution that a farmer can access on his mobile app. "The farmers are seeing better yields," Raavi said.
Although this is not the first to attempt at finding a solution, Raavi has been able to build products that are user-friendly for farmers.
Eruvaka's products are sold in eight countries and installed in 6,000 ha of shrimp farms globally, the company said.
India produced more than 7,00,000 tonnes of shrimp in 2019 and exported more than 6,20,000 tonnes to the United States, European Union, Japan and China.
The production comes from around 1,70,000 ha of shrimp farms along the country's coast, with Andhra Pradesh contributing a major share — of more than 4,00,000 tonnes.
Shrimp farmers are gradually adopting technology to solve some of the pressing issues.
Aquaconnect, which launched an AI-driven advisory solution FarmMOJO, helps farmers improve productivity, predict disease and ultimately achieve higher income.
"Technology intervention optimizes the farm input usage and improves yields by up to 10%," said Rajamanohar Somasundaram, co-founder and CEO of Aquaconnect. "A data-driven approach is the key to addressing the challenges in shrimp farming."
FarmMOJO provides insights into optimizing water quality and Feed Conversion Ratio(FCR), two critical factors to successful shrimp farming, he said.
It provides shrimp farmers alerts and suggestions to improve farm productivity. The platform works with 4,200 farmers in states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
FCR is an important metric when it comes to shrimp aquaculture. Somasundaram said Indian farmers spend 1.5 kg of feed for every kilogram of shrimp, which was "unsustainable."
By using FarmMOJO, however, this could go down to 1.2 kg for the same quantity of shrimp, resulting in feed cost declining by around 40%, he said.
"The water quality management is extremely helpful," said 35-year-old Arul Prakash who has cultivated 14 tonnes of shrimp using the FarmMOJO app. "It (the app) indicates in red if the ammonia value has gone up and even recommends the medicine that can be used to bring down the level. The convenience of seeing everything on the phone is very helpful."
Gujarat-based Manish Tandel has cultivated 32 tonnes of shrimp using the technology.
"I am able to track things like the market price of shrimp, which is something that we earlier did not have much idea about," he said. "This information at my fingertips is very empowering. All the records are digitised and easily accessible, making it easier to compare, which was earlier a tedious process."
Disease is one of the biggest deterrents to shrimp farming, though.
In Andhra Pradesh alone, it is expected to have cut down production by 40% in 2019. Predictive analysis can bring down revenue lost due to pandemics like white spot disease.
The Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture has built an Android app that allows farmers to share inputs on their farms and get feedback on the type of feed needed and oxygen levels to be maintained. It provides real-time advisories on better farm techniques, besides methods to diagnose diseases in the shrimp, based on images taken and processed from the farm.
Experts say that sometimes there could be batches of shrimp where as many as six out of every 10 shrimp suffer from the disease.
"Population medicine, or epidemiology, is the only solution to combating one of the biggest constraints to shrimp culture — disease," said Professor Kenton Morgan of the University of Liverpool, who has over 40 years of experience in epidemiology. Morgan has tied up with Aquaconnect, IDH and The Sustainable Trade Initiative for a project to predict shrimp diseases by using machine learning.
"If farms adopt policies based on the epidemiological evidence, disease can be reduced by up to half, which is a significant economic gain, especially in a country like India where aquaculture is a sector with high economic value," he said.
While purchasing feed for shrimp, farmers who buy online have an edge over those who pick up their supplies from dealers.
"Farmers who buy from dealers have to pay at least a 10-15% crop credit," said Dr Cheran, a member of the Society of Aquaculture Professionals.
"The younger lot are extremely tech savvy and, while the online portals available to buy shrimp feed from are limited, they manage to get the feed from the few apps and websites that offer it at a much better price. The products are about 5-10% cheaper online, so that becomes an added saving for farmers who are willing to adopt technology for all levels of the process of shrimp cultivation," he said.
Aquaculture professionals said that there has not been much change on the supply chain side and that distance has been reduced by setting up more processing plants along the coast. Very few chemicals were being used to improve the shelf life of shrimps and grading was still being done by sieves with different sizes and not by cameras, they said.
However, efforts are on to streamline and digitise the supply chain.
In October, Walmart announced a pilot blockchain technology for end-to-end traceability of shrimp sourced in Andhra Pradesh and shipped to select Sam's Club locations in the United States.
The pilot project was the first known use of blockchain to track shrimp exports from farmers in India to an overseas retailer. It was aimed at strengthening the shrimp supply chain and enhancing food traceability and transparency for consumers in the US.
Walmart said that the introduction of blockchain in the shrimp supply chain could help improve the quality of information on the product for compliance and monitor food safety procedures throughout the growth and processing of the shrimp.
"Now, Walmart can have provenance on any product that is there on their shelves," said Vinayaka Pandit, STSM and Senior Manager of IBM Research, which partnered with Walmart on the pilot.
"Blockchain as a technology can really help transform the way food supply chains work today, both in terms of bringing much needed visibility and helping to eliminate a lot of inefficiencies that exist in food supply chains," he said.
The barriers to adopting modern technology are coming down significantly, he added.
"As long as a farmer has access to a phone that can take pictures, that itself is sufficient. Even if they have a phone where they can send a message, then also they can send information about their supplies through SMSes," he said.