Frozen shrimp export companies have been playing a significant role in the economy as a foreign currency earner. It is also playing a leading role in marketing of Bangladeshi products abroad.
Thanks to huge demand of Bangladeshi frozen shrimps in the world market, the sector earned an amount of Tk 40 billion as foreign exchange in the last financial year. Hundred per cent of the exported frozen shrimp is cultivated locally. About 20 million people living in the southern region directly and indirectly benefit from the sector.
However, the sector is currently on the verge of collapse due to profiteering tendency of a section of dishonest businessmen amid an absence of clear sales policy. In the local market, some unscrupulous sellers are cheating with consumers by injecting impure materials to increase the weight of shrimps.
The shrimps are also being sold locally without bothering size and quality, as required for exports, leaving an adverse effect on export and cultivation of shrimps. We can export only 10-15 per cent of our shrimps despite the huge demand outside. As a result, foreign buyers are purchasing Vannamei shrimp from neighbouring India at low prices to meet their demand whereas we could have exported more shrimps.
Unsupervised supply of 'Black Tiger Shrimps' and 'Fresh Water Prawns' in the local market is a disincentive to farmers to preserve shrimps, resulting in production fall day by day. Frozen fisheries/shrimp exporting companies collect shrimps and fishes following proper regulations in government-operated labs as well as in their own labs, before exporting them -- a process which is not followed by the local market sellers.
Some dishonest traders are taking advantage of this situation by injecting materials in the shrimp that are harmful for human health. These shrimps are easily sold to ordinary people at high prices. Farmers, too, are selling them to local traders rather than supplying shrimps to exporters for extra profits.
As the shrimps being sold in the local market are mostly smaller in size, the farmers cannot supply them to exporting companies. Thus the exporters are are unable to supply shrimps as per demand placed by foreign buyers.
Business of the frozen shrimp processing companies is shrinking and employment opportunities are declining. To get rid of this situation, it is important to formulate and enforce specific policy that would prohibit sales of exportable shrimps in the local market.
Bangladesh was the fourth largest producer of white fish in the world, such as Pabda, Koi, Ruhi, Katla, Pangas and Telapia, which are enough to meet the local demand. As the country has seen a revolution in agriculture in recent times, fish farmers, too, are investing in increasing production by receiving credit from the government.
Poultry industry has also grown, meeting the demand for meat in the country. Bangladesh has a huge potential for catching fish from the Bay of Bengal.
Therefore, if foreign exchange earning shrimps are sold in the local market, it may soon have an adverse effect on white fish and poultry farmers. In order to increase export of frozen shrimps, we should take immediate steps to stop rampant sales of shrimps in the local market.
Also, shrimps are extremely high in cholesterol, so they are mainly categorised as winter staple food as it helps the people in northern hemisphere to stay warm in cold conditions. Most of our shrimps are exported to those cold countries.
In conditions like ours, people should be more conscious of healthy as diseases such as heart disease, lung cancer and kidney disease are increasing day by day. In view of public health risks, we must choose our foods judiciously.
It is important to attain a healthy development by boosting our economy and creating adequate jobs. Increasing exports can help us not only to earn foreign currencies but also make our economy stronger. Since our government has attached priority to export sectors, we can expect that necessary steps would be taken to revitalise the shrimp sector.
AKM Fazlul Haque is the Managing Director at Trust Seafood Industries Limited.