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Bleak Outlook for Bangladesh Shrimp Farmers

by Ellen Hardy
22 January 2008, at 12:00am

BANGLADESH - Nearly 400,000 shrimp farmers face an uncertain future two months after Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh's southwestern coastal belt.

Some 6,000 shrimp farms and hatcheries in the four southern districts of Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat and Patuakhali were washed away.

Bangladesh's shrimp exports are the country's second largest foreign exchange earner (after ready-made garments), earning US$515 million from exports during the last fiscal year (July 2006-June 2007).

The Bangladeshi government was hoping to earn over $1.5 billion from shrimp exports annually by 2010.

In Morrelganj, Sharankhola and Mongla sub-districts of Bagerhat District, over 90 percent of some 5,000 shrimp enclosures were destroyed by the cyclone.

Farms in the affected region are well known for their Black Tiger shrimps that grow in salt water and are cultivated on 130,000 hectares of land, while freshwater shrimps are cultivated on another 40,000 hectares of land.

"We have suffered an estimated loss of about $36 million," said Kazi Belayet Hossain, president of the Frozen Food Exporters Association (BFFEA) of Bangladesh, in the capital, Dhaka.

Maqsudur Rahman, vice-president of BFFEA, said almost all the shrimp enclosures, hatcheries and processing plants in Bagerhat, Satkhira and Khulna districts, where 70 per cent of shrimps were produced, were severely damaged by the cyclone which struck the country on 15 November.

Shrimp farms in Barguna, Pirojpur, Madaripur and Gopalganj districts, where fresh water shrimps are cultivated, incurred 30 percent of the losses, Rahman said.

In debt

Individual shrimp farmers, many of whom lost everything and were already heavily in debt, now face a particularly bleak future, with many wondering how they will care for their families.

Extremely poor, many had borrowed money from shrimp exporters and need to repay them.

"We need interest-free bank loans so that we can provide more loans to the farmers," Belayet Hossain said, adding that the government should also offer direct support to the farmers immediately.

The government had fixed an export target of $600 million in the frozen food sector for the fiscal year 2007-08.

"According to our initial estimates, the loss may be around $3.5 million," said Mokammel Hossain, the Directorate of Fisheries (DoF)'s director-general; a figure significantly less than what shrimp producers are claiming.

EU aid?

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU), a major buyer of Bangladeshi shrimps, has hinted it is ready to offer assistance to help the shrimp farmers recover their losses.

"We'll certainly look into how we can help," Stefan Frowein, ambassador and European Commission (EC) delegation head in Dhaka, told the media recently.

"It would be decided once the damage is assessed," he said.

Frowein said the EU discussed possible assistance for the shrimp farmers at last month's Bangladesh-EC sub-group meeting on trade development, capacity building and economic cooperation held at the Ministry of Commerce in Dhaka.

Ellen Hardy