It is heartening to see that the NDA government in its second term continues to pay special attention to the country’s fisheries sector. This became evident when it constituted an independent Ministry for Fisheries.
Later, it also echoed in the Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who reiterated the Centre’s commitment to usher in a new Blue Revolution by strengthening the fisheries sector.
A new Blue Revolution is an achievable target. But if the lessons from the first Blue Revolution between 1987 and 1997 are not learnt then the new Blue Revolution can become counterproductive. The Blue Revolution 2.0 will succeed only if its growth revolves around sustainable forms of aquaculture.
India currently ranks second in the world in aquaculture production at 4.7 million tonnes per annum while China is way ahead at a whopping 60 million tonnes per annum. India’s aquaculture sector, however, has the potential to upstage China and, in the process, create greater employment opportunities, increase the volume of exports, strengthen the rural economy and contribute substantially to the country’s GDP. But, to raise its game, India will need fresh strategies or rather a 2030 Master Plan for this important sector.
The key strategy of the 2030 Master Plan should lay special thrust on increasing productivity in inland fisheries along with full utilisation of the country’s deep sea fishing potential. It is true that China has the innate advantage of more than twice the coastal line of India and has larger areas of inland water resources and reservoirs. But, that should not deter India because it has one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) areas of over 2 million sq km compared to China’s 0.88 million sq km. The development of EEZ calls for new systems and large-scale deployment of offshore aquaculture activities of high value species. Ocean ranching is one area which will yield rich social dividends, without damaging the ecosystem. India also needs a single uniform national data on marine fisheries because authentic data truly reflect ground realities which in turn help in efficient planning for the future.
A few dedicated satellites for the management of fisheries would be an icing on the cake. It is relevant here to note that China has already brought in 5G technology to its offshore aquaculture activities to increase output and promote tourism.
Further, stringent laws and their enforcement ensuring habitat protection should be part of the 2030 Master Plan, as also a quality policy protecting the names of specific species uniquely linked to the country’s geography using geographical indication (GI). India’s approach to inland fisheries too needs a dynamic policy shift to align with the 2030 Master Plan because the sector continues to suffer from under-utilisation and poor yield stemming from traditional fish culture practices. For better utilisation of our coastal, brackish and inland resources, India needs to create broodstock banks for the diversification of cultivable species. It also needs to introduce cost-effective open-pond re-circulatory system and integrated multi-tropic, multi-species farming. Biosecurity, aquamimicry and biofloc are other innovative aquaculture practices which can be put into use to achieve higher yields at reduced cost.
Farm upgradation and automation using AI/IOT, instrumentation, sensors, underwater telemetry and other cyber-physical systems of production are important for the industry.
The country should also look at the cultivation of macro and microalgae since it requires limited space. Growing at 10 times the rate of terrestrial plants, algae matures quickly and results in a comparatively higher yield. Additionally, the nutritional value of algae supports its potential use as a main ingredient in feeds. This will take away the dependence on fish meal for production of animal feeds.
Increased area of cultivation and yield is one thing while product marketing is another. Achieving the former would be of no use if the products are not market-ready. It is here we need to factor in processing and value addition. Currently, India does value addition only to a negligible 10 per cent of the total catch while the rest is sold as a commodity, susceptible to the exploitation of the primary producers by the middlemen.
Role of logistics
Food processing and marketing cannot become complete in the absence of logistics. A robust logistics support requires complementary infrastructural facilities like cold chain and storage facilities to handle peak harvests. Creation of cold chains can help reduce spoilage losses which are currently at 30-35 per cent. Marketing infrastructure and cloud-based market intelligence should also be put in place.
Last but not the least, India should also take the lead in empowering the discernible fish fans across the world by allowing them to trace the back history of the fish it cultivates as to how they were grown, what they were fed with and the methods by which they were caught and processed. It means a quality certification authenticating globally accepted good management practices involving the twin elements of sustainability and traceability both for the marine and inland sectors.
Sustainability being the pivot of 2030 Master Plan, there should also be efforts to integrate aquaculture and agriculture to boost farmers’ income. No master plan can be worth its salt unless it improves the lot of the poor and marginalised.
The goal of producing a sustainable, alternative protein to alleviate food insecurity is within our grasp. Attention to the Sustainable Development Goals, as we move towards this goal, will ensure feeding 8.6 billion people by 2030 while simultaneously achieving the other objectives of the global community. All these, however, need long-term investments in research and development and technology upgradation.
Before India unveils its 2030 Master Plan for Blue Revolution 2.0, it is imperative to sync the thought processes of various stakeholders including the Central ministries and State governments, under the close monitoring of the Prime Minister’s Office .
India exported fish worth ?45,000 crore in 2017-18 and has the potential to scale up this figure to ?4,50,000 crore. Also the world’s appetite for fish and fish-related products is growing steadily and the $232-billion industry is expanding at a rate of 6 per cent annually. But, the country needs a definite roadmap, a clutter-free direction, and loads of fresh ideas to navigate its way to reach the goal of the new Blue Revolution.
(The writer is Chairman and Managing Director, Kings Infra Ventures Ltd.)