Over the last couple of years, export earnings from shrimp, grown mainly in the southwest coastal districts for shipment to the developed economies, have been falling consistently in the face of competition from low-priced vannamei shrimp.
The declining shipment has sent not only processors and exporters into losses but also dented the dreams of tens of thousands of farmers, who bet on shrimp farming to make a fortune.
And the pandemic-induced demand slump has further increased the woes of growers.
"Prices of prawn have fallen drastically this year from that of a year ago," said Chinmoy Das, a shrimp trader in Kachua upazila under Bagerhat, one of the main shrimp producing districts in the southwest.
Farmers could large prawns at Tk 1,300 per kilogramme (roughly eight prawns) last year. Now they have to sell prawns of the same grade at Tk 600 per kg.
Prices of smaller sized prawns also dropped, creating worries among many farmers of losses.
"Both farmers and small traders like us are on the verge of losses," Chinmoy said.
Gopal Das, a farmer in the same upazila of the district, echoed the same.
Growing shrimp in three enclosures, he said current the prices of prawn were unlikely to bring any profit for them.
"We have to spend nearly Tk 350 to produce one kilogramme of prawn," said Gopal, adding that the cost excludes land rent and other expenses including his pay.
He said unfavourable weather affected the growth of prawns in his farms. Hence, most of the prawns have not grown big enough to help him get the highest prices prevailing in the market.
Gopal said most of the prawns were small in size and it would take 10-20 to make a kilogramme. The average price of prawns would be Tk 450 per kg, he said.
"This is going to be a loss," he said, adding that losses would total Tk 500,000 after meeting all his dues.
His peers, Litu Chakrabortty, Dipon Das from Kachua and Abhijit from another upazila of Fakirhat, are also suffering from low prices for their produce, a major source of their livelihood.
Dipon suffered losses of Tk 40,000 from his prawn farm this year.
This year, many shrimp farmers suffered losses owing to cyclone Amphan in May. Their woes increased as the pandemic devastated global demand.
Bangladesh fetched $550 million from shrimp exports in fiscal 2013-14 and exports have been falling consistently in the subsequent years owing to competition from the cheaper vannamei shrimp farmed mainly in China, southeast Asia, India and some Latin American regions.
Export earnings were $333 million in fiscal 2019-20, data from the Export Promotion Bureau showed.
And exports dropped 9 per cent year-on-year to $163 million in the July-November period from that of a year ago, increasing the woes of more than eight lakh farmers who grow shrimp on 2.72 lakh hectares of land for the EU and US markets.
Kazi Belayet Hossain, president of the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association, said processors tried to continue exports even after accepting reduced prices resulting from a demand slump for coronavirus havoc.
And there been some demand for prawn in its main market in the UK owing to stimulus offered by the UK authority to support restaurants. The stimulus ended in September, he said.
"We got orders for until November. From the first week of December flow of new orders has been dry amid fresh lockdown owing to second wave of the coronavirus," he said.
"We are suffering from continuing losses and we have to wait until mid-January to see whether demand picks up," added Belayet.
Fakir Mahitul Islam Sumon, president of the Bagerhat District Shrimp Farmers Association, said shrimp farmers were facing losses repeatedly as a result of natural disasters.
He urged the government to provide support to growers including providing loans on easy terms and training.
Bagerhat District Fisheries Officer Khaled Kanak said the government would provide support between Tk 10,000 and Tk 18,000 to 28,414 marginal shrimp and crab farmers who have less than 3 acres of land as well as fish feed traders.