We all know the tussle between locals and the government at Tundurru near Bhimavaram about the environmental concerns arising out of the Mega Aqua food park. But what does the aqua park, which is part of a broad based attempt to increase marine and fisheries exports, mean to Andhra and its economy ??
Economic Times reports that farmers in Andhra coastal areas are abandoning rice cultivation and moving to farming exotic shrimp to get a slice of booming seafood exports which gives much higher income and has lower risk. An exotic breed of shrimp called litopenaeus vannamei has triggered a boom that saw the state grab a 45% share of the Indian seafood exports which have escalated to Rs 30,000 crs.
Official data shows that area under paddy in the state has been progressively decreasing over the last few years. Paddy cultivation shrank 10% in 2015-16 after dipping 7% in the previous year, mostly in coastal districts. “The prime reason is that income from a shrimp farm is five times higher than paddy. Another reason is shortage of labour. While an acre of paddy farm requires 45 workers, the labour requirement for a shrimp farm is much less,“ said Dr P Satyanarayana, director of Andhra Pradesh Rice Research Institute.
The conversion of paddy fields is rapid in coastal districts of east and west Godavari, Krishna, Nel lore, Prakasham and Guntur, where floods and cyclones have ravaged paddy in the past. “Increasing salinity has affected paddy cultivation,“ he said. Paddy’s loss in aquaculture’s gain. As per state data, area under fish ponds grew 9% to 1,22,916 hec tares in 2014-15 on top of a 4% expansion in the previous year. Farmers turned to seafood after exports jumped 60% to Rs 30,213 crore in 2013-14. Vannamei shrimp led this staggering growth.
Marine Products Export Development Authority (Mpeda) chairman A Jayathilak compares the silent revolution to the boom in the Gulf jobs that happened in Kerala. “The initial investment in a shrimp farm may be as high at Rs 12 lakh per hectare. The income is Rs 6 lakh by the the first year and in second year the entire cost of investment can be recovered and it is profit from the third year onwards,” he said.
Mpeda reckons that the estimated potential area of brackish water land availability for aquaculture in Andhra Pradesh is 1.5 lakh hectares, of which the state has used up about 57%.