Export earnings from the frozen food sector decreased drastically over the last six years thanks to declining production capacity, absence of scientific culture method in the country and lack of policy support.
The continuous decline in export earning has made the investors of the sector, once the second largest export earner of the country, worried about the future of the industry.They said if the local supplies of export-oriented fish do not increase, the sector will fall into deep crises.
“The export earnings are falling gradually as the production of shrimp and other products are very low. Though the sector holds huge potential, the growth has become stagnant at a point,” said BFFEA director Rezaul Haque.
He said the sector needs concerted efforts from both the public and private sector stakeholders to overcome the stagnation in exports.
According to data from Export Promotion Bureau and Department of Fisheries, foreign exchange earnings from the frozen food sector stood at $526 million ($52.6 crore) in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
The figure was $611 million in 2010-11, $579 million in 2011-12, $543 million in 2012-13, $638 million in 2013-14, $568 million in 2014-15 and $535 million in 2015-16 FY.
The frozen foods sector contributes around 4 percent to the GDP and 23.81 percent to the agriculture exports.There are around 106 shore-based export-oriented fish processing plants across the country — mostly Khulna, Chittagong, Jessore, Satkhira, Bagerhat and Cox’s Bazar.
The plants produce Fresh Water shell On (FWSO), Ser Water shell On (SWSO), Peeled and Deveined (P&D), Peeled and Undeveined (PUD) shrimp products.
Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) sources said that among the frozen foods, the country mostly exports shrimp, which contributes around 90 percent to the sector.
The other items are frozen fillets and steaks of fish, sharks shells skates, salted and dehydrated fish, dry fish and live crabs.
BFFEA data show currently shrimps are being cultivated on around 275,000 hectares of land mainly in the saline-prone southwestern coastal region.
Of the total export earnings of $526 million from this thriving sector in last fiscal year, $446 million came from shrimps only.
The key destinations of the Bangladeshi frozen foods are Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, Canada, France, Russia, Japan, Korea, China and Saudi Arabia.
Sector insiders say the growth of the sector has remained in the negative territory for different reasons including man-made challenges, non-adoption of new method and lack of infrastructural development,
Sources concerned said Bangladesh is lagging behind its competitors because of its practising traditional method of shrimp cultivation unlike the competitors such as Vietnam, Thailand and India which follow scientific method.
BFFEA Rezaul Haque stressed the need for adopting scientific method of shrimp cultivation to raise the production.
Haque, also the managing director of Modern Seafood Industries Ltd, said they are encouraging the farmers and investors to opt for scientific method for increasing production volume from the same cultivation area.
Sector insiders said Bangladesh’s competitors are producing Vannamei variety of shrimp whose yield is 2500-4000 kg per acre of land while Bangladeshi farmers are cultivating Black Tigers and Fresh Shrimp whose yield is around 200 kg per acres.
The price of frozen shrimp and fish also dropped during the last couple of years around the world and exporters said they had to sell their products at lower prices to retain the international buyers.
BFFEA president Amin Ullah said the production of shrimp has declined and Bangladesh needs to focus on new cultivating method and new variety.
She seeks government policy support for the farmers and exporters to this end.