Aquaculturists in Punjab are facing losses of up to ₹4 lakh per acre even as the state has witnessed the highest average per acre yield of 3.3 tonnes in the last seven years. Harvesting of this annual acquacrop is almost over and the stakeholders attribute to the drop in rates as the USA has shifted to Ecuador to meet its demand for shrimp. Shrimp farming is undertaken in zero-earning saline areas of southwest districts of Punjab. It was introduced in Punjab in 2016 and this season, Punjab has produced an estimated 4,000 tonnes.

But enterprising farmers are upset over a drop of more than ₹200/kg being offered this year. Farmers say it costs between ₹7-10 lakh per acre for shrimp farming. Harminder Singh from Mansa said, in 2021, the average farm gate price was ₹480 per kg and several farmers were encouraged by good rates being offered for the aquacrop in the last few years. “But this year the exporters are paying the average rate of ₹260/kg and even less. This season, there was no serious outbreak of any disease and yield was also bumper,” he said.

US and China are the main importers of Indian shrimp and firms from coastal states of south India buy the crop at the farm gate in Punjab. Gurpreet Singh, a progressive farmer from Bathinda’s Nangla village said he has been earning up to ₹4 lakh per acre by cultivating shrimp for the last few years but this year shattered his expansion plans. “This season I added over 7.5 acres making it 10 acres under shrimp farming. I spent about 10 lakh per acre preparing additional ponds and the rates being offered are not enough even to recover the investment. I sold 3 tonne on Saturday at the rate of ₹320 per kg whereas a week ago, I was paid only ₹220 for harvest from another pond for a food quality produce,” he added. Shrimp produced in Punjab and other parts of the country are brought by exporters at the farm gate.

Rajveer Singh from Abohar in Fazilka, who has been trading shrimp since it was introduced in Punjab in 2016. “Andhra Pradesh is the main export hub of shrimp for overseas. This year, Ecuador had a bumper yield and the US preferred to buy the produce from it to cut cost,” he said. Punjab’ southern districts have almost 1.5 lakh hectares affected by high salinity levels and experts say this unproductive land can be converted into economically viable farms through aquaculture. An enterprising pisciculturist from Muktsar’s Jandwala Chadat Singh village Rupinder Pal Singh Dhillon is coming up with north India’s first shrimp processing unit and hopes the initiative will help farmers to store the export-oriented produce.

“With no mechanism to store shrimp in north India, farmers have no option than selling it to processors and exporters even at low rates. Punjab has immense scope to convert uncultivable saline and waterlogged lands into shrimp farming. A chain of processing units can be a game changer where processed shrimp can be stored for a longer period and explore export from the nearer port facilities in Gujarat,” said Dhillon, who himself is venturing in this direction after availing subsidy under Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana.