Shrimp from Bangladesh: a must item in your menu

Edition 1 February, by the Ambassador of Bangladesh, H.E. Sheikh Mohammed Belal

If viewed from above, on a moonlit night, Bangladesh is bound to strike an uncanny similarity with the Netherlands, its delta cousin, thousands of miles away, of glittering reflections from water all around. The difference is the canals and rivers in the Netherlands are as civil and tamed as one would wish to get compared to Bangladesh’s mighty rivers and roaring canals. In Bangladesh, where mighty rivers snaked through patchy lands, all the way from melting Himalayan glaciers in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south, the countryside looks like an extensive patchwork of agricultural ponds.

Thousands of farmers, through decade-long process of trainings on environmental and phytosanitary precautions, are now engaged in the production of shrimps that one would consider one of the best to get. It is, therefore, no wonder that shrimps from Bangladesh are in large demand in Europe and beyond as those are almost organic and ‘many people argue it is one of the best shrimps you can eat in the world.” Indeed, the unique feature of shrimps from Bangladesh is the culture of cultivation in a process which is as natural as one could get. Even harvesting is timed to the cycle of moon so that nature bestows the taste that you are unlikely to get elsewhere.

History of shrimp culture in Bangladesh

Shrimp farming in Bangladesh went through a challenging face from its inception in early 1960s. After the independence in 1971, interest in shrimp production grew with rising price and demand in international markets. Shrimp farms were established in peripheral lands near the mouth of coastal rivers where inundation of saline water is possible. The industry grew rapidly around mid 1990’s with the establishment of processing plants, ice plants and shrimp depots. Shrimp hatcheries were not established until the late 1990’s. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank financed projects to develop shrimp aquaculture in the 1980’s. Much of the emphasis was on construction of modern hatcheries. Private investors were also initiating similar projects to increase capacity and to introduce modern technology that would increase average yields.

Millions of government and donor funded money were thus channeled to train and raise awareness relating to environment, labor rights, phytosanitary issues, etc. This included new employee acquisition, employee training, sanitation audits, plant repair and modification, new equipment, new laboratories, and other costs. In order to address the problems of scale of marketing as well as trainings for “sustainable”, and “quality shrimps”, the government of Bangladesh laid out multilayered support systems for the shrimp farmers with partnerships from organizations like Dutch funded Solidaridad, USAID funded WorldFish, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, etc. This investment was worth making as Bangladesh government came to realize that conscious consumers’ fork will allure a bite only when they are certain about its quality and sustainability. Safety improvements over the last decades, with a major effort in the late 1990s, helped Bangladesh to offer herself as a destination of “quality” shrimps and fishes.

Shrimp farming in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has an extended coastal area covering about 25,000 sq-km of which 250 sq-mlie in tidal areas, which are naturally suitable for aquaculture. Coastal aquaculture in Bangladesh, which is dominated by shrimp farming, has grown considerably over the past 35 years. Shrimp production in Bangladesh is mainly carried out in coastal regions of the country where 275,000 hectares were devoted to shrimp cultivation in 2015-16. However, shrimp is also produced inland in Bangladesh. Total shrimp production in the country during the year 2015-16 was 239798.00 MT of which 40,726.14 MT was exported earning slightly less than half a billion US dollars. Over 80% of Bangladesh’s shrimp was exported to the markets of the European Union in 2017, especially to the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

The main types of shrimp and prawns produced by Bangladesh include brackish water shrimp Penaeus monodon, locally known as Bagda [Black Tiger Shrimp] and freshwater prawn Macrobrachiumrosenbergii, locally known as Golda. Shrimp ponds are harvested during full moon and new moon when shrimp would naturally travel from the sea to inland and back. Some shrimp will be caught in harvesting traps, which are made from bamboo and nylon net, in the corners of the shrimp pond. P. monodon shrimps harvested from ponds (ghers) are generally large sized and almost organic.

The shrimp industry, as a whole, employs about 0.833 million people and the sector’s contribution to the overall aquaculture sector is important in terms of income generation in the coastal region, poverty alleviation and generation of non-farm economic activities in the extended shrimp value chain. The multiplier effect of shrimp cultivation across the value chain helped Bangladesh establish host of supporting industries resulting in liberating a sizable number of poor farmers from the trap of poverty. With economic well-being, once vulnerable farmers have now become the foot soldiers to address the challenges of climate change as well. Bangladesh shrimp farmers mainly practice two types of production namely, extensive (traditional) and improved extensive systems. In the traditional farming practice, usually the ponds are connected to the estuaries and channels to direct the brackish water to the shrimp pond. In this system, ponds are stocked with post larvae that are either caught in nearby estuaries or are brought in the ponds with the incoming tides and trapped. No feed or extra nourishment is provided to the fries. In the extensive system, slight improvement to the traditional production system is made with small amount of stocking and some feeding.

What is next?

Although the present production in the shrimp sector of Bangladesh is much below its rich potential, there is an imperative need to modernize the sector and increase production at the grassroot level. The potentials for increasing shrimp production in Bangladesh of both the verities Penaeus monodon (Bagda) and Macrobrachiumrosenbergii (Golda) remain significantly high given that average per acre production in Bangladesh is quite low compared to other global producers which are presently doing well in the sector. However, Bangladesh also remained conscious of its preference for “quality” over the “quantity” and shall, therefore, exploring research based solutions with renowned institutions like Wageningen University and the likes.

To preserve the “quality”, the government of Bangladesh has already introduced SPF (Specific Pathogen Free) broods and PLs to ensure that shrimp produced in Bangladesh are of good quality, free from any health issue to meet the norms and standards relating to food safety, environmental sustainability and socially responsibility criteria. The rules and regulations governing the sector have been comprehensively elaborated and adapted and continuously being reviewed and updated with needed improvements as well as steps being taken for their enforcement. The Government of Bangladesh has also embarked on an ambitious process to modernize its shrimp sector and for that purpose a draft National Action Plan has been prepared. The main focus of the Action Plan will be on overcoming the serious supply side constraints impeding the progress in the sector and on branding and making available premier Bangladesh shrimp products for home and abroad. The government has already piloted e-traceability thereby providing consumers with the precise origin of the tasty shrimp they consume.

Other steps being taken by the Government of Bangladesh are to introduce the good aquaculture practices and continuing training process for the farmers and others involved in the sector both in the farms, hatcheries, depots and landing centers and processing plants. Bangladesh is also actively working to facilitate the third party certification of Bangladesh shrimp export to the external market. To meet the growing need of SPF, the Government is also keen to work together with the private sector and development partners to increase the production of SPF through concrete steps to upgrade existing hatcheries to be able to undertake SPF production.

Why Black Tiger shrimp must be in your dinner menu?

Because of the uniqueness in taste, appealing in colour, formidable in size, near organic in cultivation, the Black Tiger shrimp is the obvious choice of the conscious consumers at home and abroad. If she tasted it once, it is likely that she will always be on the lookout for tastefully wrapped boxes of Bangladeshi shrimps in the Dutch supermarkets or elsewhere in Europe. Stimulatingly, when one buys a box of shrimp from Bangladesh, she will also be contributing her moral dollar towards uplifting the life and living of those marginal farmers in the coastal areas of Bangladesh including women and children. To make it even more climatically compelling, consumers also pay for growing resilience of those climatically vulnerable farmers adding to their resilience to face the challenges of climate change. In the usual process of multiplier effects of enhanced income of marginal framers, benefits surely amplified to other non-shrimp farmers as well, through a process of snowballing of positive externalities. The unprecedented growth of Bangladesh’s aquaculture is a living testimony to this logic of economics and humanity.

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