Shrimp farmers in India Empowering small-scale farmers

N.R. Umesh, A.B. Chandra Mohan, G. Ravibabu, P.A. Padiyar, M.J. Phillips,

C.V. Mohan, and B. Vishnu Bhat

Implementation of simple and locally relevant management strategies have reduced disease risks in shrimp farms significantly. Farmers have been able to sustain shrimp farming and gain multiple benefits by working collectively as a group. Active involvement and contribution of the many players involved in the sector is key to shrimp farming sustainability. 

Shrimp industry is a key sector in India’s economy owing to its significant contribution to export earnings and gainful employment. Presently, coastal aquaculture in India is synonymous with shrimp aquaculture and mainly carried out by small scale farmers. Small holders owning less than 2 hectares account for 90% of the total area utilized for shrimp culture contributing to around 80% of the total shrimp production.

Majority of the shrimp farmers do not have access to useful technical information essential for shrimp farming. The awareness levels of farmers are inadequate and neither the Government nor the farmers are geared to meet the challenges that are posed by issues, such as pollution, viral diseases, and traceability and food safety concerns. Vital extension functions at the grassroots level are quite inadequate, resulting in poor transfer of technology. With the conventional top-down approaches showing limited success in extension services, there was a need to promote the bottom-up participatory approach with effective coordination and convergence at the appropriate levels.

In response, to address the rising concerns about the sustainability of the sector, in the year 2000, the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), Government of India, with the technical assistance of The Network of Aquaculture of Centers in Asia Pacific (NACA), initiated the “Shrimp disease control and coastal management” project. The objective was to address disease and environmental problems in the shrimp industry in India, and ensure that small shrimp farmers of India meet high standards for biosecurity, food safety, and environmental protection. The project aimed to address capacity building in shrimp health and quality management at the grassroots level by organizing small scale farmers into aquaculture clusters.

 The beginning

In 2001, following the base line survey, a study involving 365 ponds in West Godavari and Nellore districts of Andhra Pradesh state, was done to better understand the key risk factors contributing to shrimp disease outbreaks and low pond production. The study results were discussed widely with farmers and other agencies in Andhra Pradesh, and some consensus was reached on the study findings and their practical application to improve performance of shrimp farming systems of Andhra Pradesh. Risk factors significantly associated with disease outbreaks and low pond productivity were then used to develop locally relevant management strategies and Better Management Practices (BMP) to reduce the identified risks.

In 2002, demonstrations were conducted in five selected private farms, involving ten ponds, in three villages in West Godavari and Nellore districts. The demonstrations were used more widely to disseminate information on risk management strategies to farmers. Although the adoption of BMPs did not completely eliminate shrimp disease problems, the outcomes were very promising. In demonstration farms, returns shifted from a loss in 80% of ponds in 2001 to a profit in 80% of ponds in 2002. During district level workshops in November 2002, with over 470 farmer participants from Nellore and Bhimavaram, farmers responded positively to the findings, and requested urgent support for more demonstration activities and initiatives to extend the concept of BMPs to the wider farming community.

In 2003, the programme was extended from individual demonstration farms to groups of farmers to promote adoption of BMPs widely within a village community. The core NACA/MPEDA team lived in the selected villages and supported farmers to establish the Aquaclubs or SHGs. Self help groups were formed and their capacities strengthened through various means. Weekly farmer meetings were facilitated for information exchange and “service provider – farmer” contacts were established, thereby trying to build up mutual trust among these parties.  The groups were thus enabled to collectively address common shrimp health and farm management problems using a participatory approach (collective planning, decision making, and implement crop activities).

 Expansion of the Program

Following the success of BMP promotion at the group level, the program moved one step higher and in 2004, promoted BMP adoption among clusters along a creek (their shared water source). Around 130 farmers with 254 ponds were assisted to organize into seven aquaclubs/clusters in Andhra Pradesh and BMPs were promoted at the level of clusters.

Each society consists of 20–75 farmers. Membership to a society is purely on voluntary basis. Each society has its own guidelines and implements them. The societies are audited every year by MPEDA for the implementation of guidelines and BMPs. Further, all society farmers agree not to use any antibiotics and avoid chemical use.

Members select a coordinator from among its members or from the community with a prescribed education level. The society coordinator is trained in society management, BMPs, and extension techniques by National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA). The coordinator is responsible for implementing BMPs in societies, and act as link between society farmers and NaCSA. Each of the NaCSA field managers coordinate and manage the activities of ten such societies. MPEDA’s society scheme provides partial financial assistance for farmers to employ a society coordinator for the first 2 years.

Field staff stay closer to farmer societies for the entire cropping season. Key farmers from other villages where MPEDA/NACA, NaCSA had worked previously are invited to new villages to share their experiences. Wherever possible, field visits are arranged for farmers to other villages for first hand information exchange among farmers. Farmers’ field days are organized at the end of successful crop cycles in societies to spread the message of success to more farmers.

Extensive awareness program through village level meetings, are organized for educating farmers about market requirements and promoting the benefits of implementing BMPs through organized societies. During 2007–2008, a total of 251 village level meetings involving more than 5,000 farmers were conducted. The concept of BMPs and its implementation through society formation and the market requirement are explained in detail to all the farmers in a given area. In the process, farmer leaders in each society who are willing to work for the benefit of the group have emerged.

 Stakeholder interactions and involvement

The government of India provided opportunities for local, national, regional, and international institutions, organizations, and agencies to take part in these projects. In India, MPEDA, State Department of Fisheries, ICAR and its relevant institutions particularly the Central Institute of Brackish water Aquaculture (CIBA), All India Shrimp Hatchery Association, Farmers’ Associations, Seafood Exporters Association of India, academic institutions like the College of Fisheries, Mangalore, ACIAR, and FAO all had various roles to play.

Farmers are being linked to hatcheries, input suppliers, processors, scientists, Research Institutes, Government institutes, banks, and others. Bank loans for working capital, which are not available now for most of the small scale farmers, are likely to be made available once the societies are linked up with the market. MPEDA is extending financial assistance in the form of the society scheme to kick-start the formation of the clubs and implement the BMPs. There is better flow of valuable information from field to research institutes.


The project has made significant progress, increasing from five farmers who adopted the cluster farm approach in 2002 to 730 farmers (813 ha) in 28 aquaclubs in five states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu) in 2006. The production of BMP shrimp through the program has increased from 4 tons in 2002 to 870 tons in 2006.

Implementation of simple, science-based farm level plans (e.g. BMPs) and adoption of cluster farming through the participatory concept reduced disease risks in cluster farms significantly. The prevalence of shrimp disease in the demonstration farms was reduced from 82% in 2003 to 17% in 2006, while in non demonstration ponds, the reduction in disease prevalence was limited during the same period. Compared to surrounding non demonstration ponds, there was a 30% increase in production, 8% increase in size of shrimp and 30% improvement in survival. 10% random BT samples from society ponds tested negative for presence of antibiotics

Farmers adopting BMPs have higher profitability, lower cost of production, and are able to produce quality and traceable shrimp without using any banned chemicals. In the demonstration ponds for every Rs. 1,000 invested by a farmer, around Rs. 520 was earned as profit in 2006.

The program also led to reduction in other aquaculture-related risks. The environmental risks were also reduced by the decrease in pollution resulting from efficient use of resources (energy and feed), reduced use of chemicals, antibiotics, and limited discharge of sediment and water exchange. In addition abandoned ponds are being revived.

There has been an increased social responsibility. The social impacts of group farming include reduction in risks to livelihoods and improved awareness of biosecurity and environment integrity among cluster farmers. Some of the key indicators of increased social responsibility among cluster farmers are: Regular information sharing among farmers during weekly meetings; Cooperation in selecting/testing and buying seed through contract hatchery seed production systems;  Increased cooperation in sharing common facilities-deepening inlets, drains, etc.

The initiative has helped to create change towards policies that are more favorable to the small scale shrimp farmer. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, as soon as 100 societies were registered, all the society farmers gave a representation to the Chief Minister of the state requesting to intervene in helping small scale shrimp farmers with favorable policy changes. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has approved a scheme for implementation through MPEDA on registration of Aquaculture Societies for adoption of code of practices for sustainable shrimp farming, with a total outlay of Rs. 25,000,000 during the 10th and 11th plan period.  

Self propagating nature of the model

Indeed, today we are seeing the emergence of numerous farmer societies throughout India because of the farmers’ confidence in participatory group farming and the concept becoming mainstreamed. Cluster organization is progressing very well, which is mainly due to the belief among the farming community that if they have to succeed as shrimp farmers, they have to organize themselves. The reasons for this confidence in group farming according to a farmer are, “we are strong as a group, we can address issues affecting us, but alone we cannot progress especially in shrimp farming.” Grassroots action in India demonstrates that group activities of the farmers can improve their well-being in many ways that individual approaches cannot. Farmer organization as groups is generating improvements for the individual producers in the following areas:

  • Enhancing their incomes, self-respect, and bargaining power in markets. Clusters offer economies of scale, buying inputs and improve market power when dealing with suppliers and selling product.
  • Clusters improve information exchange and sharing of experience among participants.
  • Farming skills and technical knowledge.
  • Ability to articulate demands and interact with markets and market forces, other political, and social actors.
  • Access to financial services and ability to manage funds.
  • Knowledge and tools to use information on markets, services, technologies, and rights.
  • Self respect, social esteem, and relationships to authorities and other social actors.

With better informed farmers and the spreading awareness building about the society concept, more and more farmers are approaching NaCSA to help themselves organize as societies.

 Way forward

For the small scale shrimp farmers to continue to advance, we need a new approach to development. Similarly, for poor and marginalized farmer groups to access benefits of poverty reduction efforts, the position of the farmers in relation to public and private institutions has to change. The farmers must move from being passive recipients of information, services, and regulations to a situation where they take full responsibility for their own development and use public and private institutions as resource providers.

Effectively, engaging with the thousands of aquaculture producers in India and helping them to develop farm level plans for sustainable development will not be a small task, but it is one that can only be achieved with the involvement and contribution of the many players involved in the supply chain, from producers to consumers. The farmers, especially in the current market economies, need the strength that groups can offer for their economic and social advancement. Linking small farmer clusters to sustainability conscious buyers will go a long way in sustaining small farmers’ livelihoods.

Society produced shrimp and selling the same with a unique brand name, thereby giving a premium price to the product, which would motivate the farmers to grow the shrimp to the buyer specifications and ensure steady supply of best quality, chemical free, traceable shrimp. This market recognition for the society produce will help us to spread the message of “sustainable aquaculture” far and wide to more areas across India, and will help in sustaining shrimp sector, thereby contributing to a new vision for the aquaculture sector in support of small farmers’ livelihoods in India.

N.R. Umesh, A.B.C. Mohan, G. Ravibabu, P.A. Padiyar, M.J. Phillips, C.V. Mohan, and B.V. Bhat
National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture, 69–17-8, SBI Officers Colony, Rajendra Nagar,
Kakinada-533003, AP, India; e-mail:

Longer version of this article appeared in S.S. De Silva and F.B. Davy (eds.), Success Stories in Asian Aquaculture, © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009. The article can be downloaded from



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