Shrimp farmers are suffering from massive losses in the wake of falling prices of freshwater prawn amid sluggish demand from processors for export.
The price of the prawn, locally known as galda, dropped 30 percent year-on-year to Tk 500-550 a kg, said some growers and processors in Bagerhat.
The coastal district accounted for 29 percent of 46,189 tonnes of freshwater shrimps grown in Bangladesh in 2015-16, according to the Department of Fisheries (DoF).
“We are facing huge losses,” said Chinmoy Das, a shrimp farmer-cum-fish trader of Raripara union at Kachua upazila under the district.
Das said he invested about Tk 3 lakh to cultivate freshwater shrimp on nearly two acres of area. The production cost for a kilogram of prawn would be Tk 600.
“I could not sell even Tk 20,000 of prawn since the beginning of the season.”
Frustrated, Das has stopped catching the shrimp.
“Some traders even don't want to buy prawns,” he said, while fearing a loss of more than Tk 2 lakh this year.
Farmers and market operators said the prices of freshwater shrimp have been on the downturn for nearly two years now because of falling demand for prawns in the UK, one of the major markets.
The demand in the UK has declined owing to an increase in import cost in the face of weakening pound against the US dollar following Brexit, said Shoyeb Mahmud, general manager of Khulna-based Jahanabad Seafood Ltd, an exporter of shrimp and seafood.
Buyers are now offering $6.5 for per pound (6-8 pieces) of shrimps, down from $7.2 per pound at the beginning of the harvesting season, which was at the end of August.
Last year, the export prices hovered around $8.5-9 per pound, according to Mahmud.
Gopal Das, another farmer in Kachua, is also worried about losses.
He cultivated prawn on more than 6 acres of leased land after borrowing Tk 6 lakh from banks and microfinance institutions.
“If the market prices fall this way, how will I repay my loan and bear my family's living expenses? The government should monitor the market so that we get fair prices,” he added.
Fakir Mahitul Islam Sumon, president of the Bagerhat District Shrimp Farmers Association, said the majority of the people of the district are engaged in freshwater and brackish water shrimp farming mainly for exports.
The slump in prices of prawn would be a double-blow for farmers after disease affected black tiger bagda farms, he said.
Many farmers cultivate prawns by taking loans at high interest rate from banks, non-governmental organisations and moneylenders.
The prices of shrimps are fluctuating in the absence of government monitoring and surveillance. As a result, they are incurring losses, said Sumon. “Farmers have become frustrated. If the government does not take effective steps, this shrimp sector will be destroyed,” he added.
Mahmud of Jahanabad Seafood said the international market is likely to be sluggish this year. “Our buyers still have previous stock,” he said.
Bagerhat District Fisheries Officer Zia Haider Chowdhury said his office has informed the higher-ups about the price fall. He expects the prices to return to the previous level as 'they are taking necessary steps'.
Freshwater shrimp accounted for 19 percent of 40,726 tonnes of shrimp exported in 2015-16. Prawn shipment rose to 7,626 tonnes in 2015-16, up 15.78 percent year-on-year, according to the DoF.
Bangladesh produced 1.25 lakh tonnes of shrimp, mainly bagda, in 2.75 lakh hectares area in 2015-16.
Export earnings from shrimp slipped 1 percent year-on-year to $446 million in 2016-17, according to the Export Promotion Bureau.