Kolkata: In Bengal, three and a half lakh people depend on prawns for two square meals a day. These are the families who earn bread and butter by farming prawns – a delicacy, which is in huge demand worldwide, and brings in over Rs 5,000 crore in exports.
The lockdown has hit them hard.
The fish auction market at North 24 Parganas’s Haroa, 50 km north of Kolkata, is known to sell an estimated Rs 1 crore on an average day.
However, the prawns are selling dirt cheap here.
Tiger prawns that should have sold at Rs 750 per kg, was being push-sold by farmers for whatever they could get — about Rs 250 to 300 per kilo. In short, at a loss of Rs 500 per kg.
Usually, the market is packed with exporters snapping up prawns to sell to the US, Vietnam, Japan and China.
However, the lockdown has stopped the exports completely – keeping the big buyers away from the market.
The farmers say that they are unable to sell their produce amid the lockdown and urge the government to help.
“Either give us an alternative livelihood or arrange to sell our current crop of prawns. Otherwise, all of us here will die of hunger,” said Prabir Pal, a prawn farmer and the president of Haro Market Association.
“The export units in Kolkata who buy prawns are shut down because of the lockdown. Their buyers are not coming to the market and prawns are not selling,” said Jahangir Alam, secretary of Haroa fish market.
Prawns are a big buck business.
In 2018-19, three Bengal districts exported 1.3 lakh tonne for Rs 5,376 crore rupees, surpassed only by Andhra Pradesh. Prawns also directly put food in the mouth of 60,000 farmers and their families or 3.5 lakh people.
On 11th April, both the centre and Bengal issued several relaxations for aquaculture and fishing. But kickstarting the system that has been in lockdown for three weeks will take time and the prawn farmers of Bengal are in for hard times.
Zakir Mollah and Zulfikar Ali have huge prawn farms and huge loans — over 50 lakh each. They need to sell to repay. But no one is buying. And not harvesting is not an option either. This is harvest season. If not netted, the prawn will die, pollute the water, spread disease and endanger the next crop
“The dead prawns will spread virus and infection in the water and the next crop will not happen. What to do in this situation? I have a huge loan and suicide may be the only option,” said Zupfikar Ali.
Md Zakir Mollah, a fellow prawn farmer, says, “I think my whole family and I will have to die. My debtors will gherao us. All is lost.”
Courtesy – NDTV