Black tiger shrimps, locally known as Bagda, have seen their prices slump, handing losses to thousands of farmers in the southwestern region, the main belt of export-oriented shrimp and prawns in Bangladesh.
The price has declined by as much as Tk 700 per kilogramme over the last one month in the face of declining demand in the major markets in the West for higher inflation and the growing fear of recession, said farmers and shrimp processors and exporters.
Frozen shrimp exporters are now buying and storing them at a lower price. However, owing to strong demand in the local market, the price of small-size shrimp is comparatively high.
Shrimp cultivation has been the only source of income for tens of thousands of farmers in Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat for years.
Saltwater shrimp farming started commercially in Khulna in the 1980s. As high as 90 per cent of the shrimp produced in the region are exported to 32 countries.
After the improvement in the coronavirus pandemic at home and abroad, farmers had hoped to recoup the losses, but the current low prices driven by a fall in consumption in the export markets have shattered their hopes.
The industry now faces a challenging situation due to various reasons, including natural calamities and the increase in the price of fish feed and fish fry.
Due to the decrease in the prices in the global markets, more shrimps are being sold in the local market.
Biprodas Bairagi, a semi-intensive shrimp farmer in Choksoilmari village of Batiaghata upazila in Khulna, has been growing shrimp for the last seven years.
He has cultivated shrimp in a 50-decimal pond. Last year, he sold shrimps at Tk 1,200 to Tk 1,300 per kg. Now, it is fetching Tk 730 to Tk 800 for him.
In the first week of September, the 44-year-old sold medium-sized shrimps for Tk 1,260 to Tk 1,350 per kg and small-sized shrimps for Tk 950 to Tk 1,100. But within two months, the price decreased sharply.
“Buyers did not show any interest in buying shrimp from our ponds. So, we were bound to sell at lower prices,” Bairagi added.
Bairagi bought a sack containing 25kg of fish feed for Tk 3,600 in May. The same feed is being sold at Tk 4,325, up 20 per cent.
In the past four months, the farmer has spent more than Tk 8 lakh to purchase fish feed and medicines and pay for labour and other costs.
“I would have made a profit if I could get a fair price,” he said. Now, he worries if he will be able to repay loans.
Monoj Bairagi, a farmer in Khalashibunia village, has cultivated shrimps in 85 decimals of land.
The farmer, who has been cultivating semi-intensive shrimp for the last five years, has spent Tk 22 lakh for the current season. He borrowed Tk 8 lakh from microfinance institutions and relatives, but does not know how he would pay them back.
“How will I survive in this situation?” he questioned.
More than 250 shrimp farmers in Khalashibunia village are staring at losses for the low prices of shrimps. Most of them have borrowed money from banks or microfinance institutions, said Pabitra Roy, a member of the local union council and a shrimp farmer.
“We were dreaming of profits. Now, I am worried because the price has fallen.”
Farmers in Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat say buyers are reluctant to visit shrimp enclosures to make purchases directly from local fishermen although they used to do so in the past. So, fishermen are trying to bring shrimps to the markets in the district town and the doors of frozen food companies.
Many farmers have been compelled to sell at a low price in the local market in a bid to narrow losses.
At least five businessmen told The Daily Star that they were not buying shrimps now.
Insan Ali, a businessman in Khulna, said most shrimps go to European countries.
“However, we have been informed that exporters are not able to send shrimps for two months. For this reason, companies are constantly reducing prices.”
Inflation in the eurozone hit 10.7 per cent last month.
He is sending small-sized shrimp to local markets of the country as its rate is good though the price is decreasing day by day.
Inflation has remained at elevated levels in Bangladesh for several months as well for the war-induced crisis. It stood at 8.52 per cent in October.
Tariqul Islam Zahir, director of the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association, and managing director of Achia Sea Foods Limited, says the demand has decreased in the international market.
“Due to higher inflation, we are not getting orders. Prices have fallen as the risk of the world falling into recession is growing.”
Atul Kapali, a farmer in Betaga of Fakirhat, has cultivated lobsters in four ponds spanning 95 decimals of land.
He received Tk 800 to Tk 1,000 per kg this year against Tk 1,200 last year. He has sold 10 maunds of lobsters so far this year.
Bagerhat District Fisheries Officer ASM Sohel said thousands of farmers are in a dire situation due to low prices of shrimp.
Joydeb Paul, district fisheries officer in Khulna, says the government is implementing a project with support from the World Bank so that farmers can increase production.
“We need to focus on national and international markets where shrimp farmers can sell their products at a fair price.”
Farmers cultivated shrimps in 59,322 enclosures covering a total area of 31,135 hectares in the Khulna district. Some 33,271 tonnes of shrimp were exported from Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira in the last financial year.
Md Tofazuddin Ahmed, deputy director of the fisheries department in the Khulna division, said generally, prices remain low from October to January. After February, it will rise again.
He said due to lower rainfalls this year, the production has decreased. Also, farmers have not got quality fish fries.
“We have resolved the problem by increasing the production of good fries from three hatcheries to eight hatcheries.”
The fisheries department has trained 7,000 shrimp farmers in Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Jashore, and Gopalganj under the World Bank-supported Sustainable Coastal and Marine Project. It is providing shrimp fries and funds to 3,000 farmers.
“They will benefit from it to some extent,” Ahmed added.