A growing number of shrimp farmers and processors are giving up traditional farming practices and turning to improved aquaculture to boost yields and exports.
Acreage of shrimp under a modern farming technology -- semi-intensive shrimp farming -- rose to 1,100 hectares this year from 800 hectares a year ago.
The improved farming practices were seen only on 10 hectares of land in 2002, said Prafulla Kumar Sarker, district fisheries officer of Khulna, a hub for shrimp farming and pioneer in modern practices.
In traditional shrimp cultivation, less than 25,000 juveniles are farmed per hectare. But in semi-intensive farming, up to two lakh juveniles can be cultivated per hectare. Traditional farming is done in lowlands and canals. But semi-intensive farming requires carefully laid-out ponds in controlled environment.
It also requires shrimp feeding equipment and diesel pumps for water exchange, which entail more investments.
"People were encouraged by high production in these farms," Sarker said. Farmers are showing renewed interest in improved shrimp cultivation years after a section of entrepreneurs had suffered losses for disease attacks on their semi-intensive farms established during the 1990s.
"None incurred losses for disease attacks on their semi-intensive farms in the last couple of years, which is why fresh investments are coming," Sarker said.
The modern technique requires Tk 20-22 lakh of initial investment per hectare that yields 5-6 tonnes of shrimp. But in the traditional or extensive method, on average 300 kilograms can be produced with an investment of Tk 1 lakh each hectare, he said.
"We are getting good response from large farmers. Semi-intensive farming will boost export earnings," Sarker said.
Currently shrimps are being cultivated on around 2.75 lakh hectares of land mainly in the saline-prone Southwestern coastal region, according to the Department of Fisheries.
As yield is low in the traditional method, export-oriented processing industries can utilise only one-fifth of their processing capacities of nearly 3.5 lakh tonnes.
Stakeholders said the improved farming practices that are spreading fast in the Southwestern coastal region would boost supplies to the processing industries.
"The shortage of raw materials (shrimp) often results in competition among factories that leads to a price hike. Increased production will reduce such competition," said Md Rezaul Hoque, managing director of Modern Sea Food Industries Ltd, a shrimp exporter based in Khulna.
Hoque recently set up a semi-intensive shrimp farm -- Modern Scientific Shrimp Culture Ltd -- at Rampal in Bagerhat, a southwestern district, with an initial investment of Tk 2 crore. Operators of two other processing factories -- Achia Seafood and Salam Seafood -- have followed suit.
"Those who started such farming earlier saw a good profit," Hoque said.
Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association also opened a semi-intensive shrimp farm in Cox's Bazar on a pilot basis. They started harvesting from June 27 and got 4.5 tonnes of shrimp each hectare.
"Semi-intensive aquaculture has been growing for the last two years. New entrepreneurs, having a strong capital base, are coming to invest here," said Md Abdul Malek, a shrimp farmer who went for semi-intensive farming three years ago.
Stakeholders said the number of farms that have adopted the new technique is around 200 now.
Sarker, the district fisheries officer of Khulna, said the Department of Fisheries encourages farmers to improve their existing farms. "These practices are spreading fast as farmers are replicating the model in their farms," he said.
Nittya Ranjan Biswas, principal scientific officer of the fisheries department, said improved farming that saves land will increase in the days to come as many canals are drying up.
"Farmers will not be able to make profit without improved farming practices," he said.
However, rising semi-intensive shrimp aquaculture calls for better monitoring to save the environment and aquatic biodiversity, according to Khondaker Habibur Rahman, a former principal scientific officer at the department.