Raising the bar for India’s marine exports

• With a coastline of about 8,118 kilometers, India is the second largest producer of inland fish in the world and accounts for about 10% of the global fish diversity.
• Fish and fish products stemming from India constitute around 10% of total global exports and almost 20% of agricultural exports.
• Despite faring well in global export markets, India’s marine industry lags in areas like value addition due to critical gaps in supply chain including the seasonal nature of wild catch and low average utilisation of processing capacity.
• In order to take India’s seafood exports a notch higher, the stakeholders must consider measures to add value to India’s seafood and ensure that it adheres to global quality standards.

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Enveloped by a coastline of about 8118 kilometers, India’s placid tropical waters are the quintessential breeding ground for a rich variety of marine life. It is hardly surprising that India is touted as the second largest producer of inland fish in the world and accounts for about 10% of the global fish diversity. The sector is particularly significant to India, not merely from the prism of its nutritional value and food security, but also for its economic contribution. Estimates show that aquaculture provides gainful employment to about 14 million people and contributes roughly Rs. 45,106.89 crore (0.91%) to India’s GDP.

Over 50 different types of fish and shellfish products are being exported to 75 countries across the globe. Fish and fish products constitute around 10% of total exports and almost 20% of agricultural exports. India’s exports of fish products (chapter 3) declined by 8.7% YoY to reach US$ 6.3 billion.

The government and facilitating agencies like Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) have already taken a few steps to address these challenges. For instance, MPEDA is quite active in taking initiatives such as participation in international fairs, engaging in buyer-seller meets and joining hands with FAO’s INFOFISH to disseminate information by organising seminars on latest happenings in seafood sector. It has also been instrumental in offering financial assistance to the industry for subsistence.

Despite faring well in international export markets, India’s marine industry lags behind its global counterparts in value addition. Share of value-added products in terms of volume in India’s exports is only 5% against 64% for Thailand, 35% for China and 26% for Vietnam. Experts are of the opinion that if India wants to capitalize on its advantage of having a rich marine biodiversity, then value-addition to marine products is the way forward. This is critical given the short shelf life of marine produce. Making ready-to-cook retail packs of fish and shrimps of different types like pickles, canned tuna, fish soups, etc. elongates the life of these products. But due to critical gaps in the supply chain including the seasonal nature of wild catch, the average utilisation of processing capacity is only 25-30%.

Indian seafood exports are also crippled by challenges in intercontinental markets due to serious concerns over quality. For instance, European Union had raised the sampling frequency for Indian exports from 10% to 50% in 2016. This added to costs for exporters and affected their competitiveness. This measure was born out of fears in the trade block that inadequate measures related to quality were being practiced in some aquaculture farms in India. Further, there has also been a rise in India’s border rejection rate on the grounds of hygiene issues, antibiotic residues, advancement in scientific knowledge, and apprehensions by consumers. Sometimes, political pressures such as ‘tit for tat refusals’ result in higher border rejections of India’s marine exports too.

Facts on India’s fisheries sector
 Present fish production (Capture) 7.0 MMT
 Inland 3.2 MMT
 Marine 3.8 MMT
 Potential fish production 8.4 MMT
 Fish seed production 40,000 million fry
 Hatcheries 1,604 units
 Fish Farmers Development Agencies 429
Brackishwater Fish Farms Development Agencies 39

Source: National Fisheries Development Board

In addition to these steps, India can take its seafood exports a notch higher, by investing in adding value to its marine produce. With the rapid rise in urbanization and the rise in the number of working couples, ready to eat products such as lobster curry, fish pickles, marinated prawns, shrimp soups, etc. would be in great demand not just globally, but also in India. Initiatives must also be taken to impart knowledge and training to those involved in aquaculture pertaining to the global standards of quality. They should also be supported in their endeavours to market this value added produce in domestic and global markets.

India should build on both intra- and interdisciplinary knowledge and methods. At the same time, India must also negotiate with key partners like EU to lower the 50% benchmark limit set for sampling frequency. Measures such as the certification of farms and hatcheries would help build international confidence in the robustness of India’s hatcheries. The industry could also tackle the seasonal nature of the produce by importing raw material for value addition and re-export. This will have trickle down effects like enhancing employment generation, improving profit margins and helping judicious use of resources.

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Dinesh K Vanik
Dinesh K Vanik
1 year ago

Great potential in fishing sector

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