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Fisheries Development Board: How Colour-fast Is Blueprint for a 'Blue' Revolution?

The setting up of the National Fisheries Development Board of India to boost the fisheries sector in the country does not really address issues that persist in fish production, processing and marketing; neither does it engage in sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources through far-sighted institutional and legal reforms.


How Colour-fast Is Blueprintfor a ‘Blue’ Revolution?

The setting up of the National Fisheries Development Board of India to boost the fisheries sector in the country does not really address issues that persist in fish production, processing and marketing; neither does it engage in sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources through far-sighted institutional

and legal reforms.


he National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB), India, located in Hyderabad, was formed by a decision of the union cabinet on June 16, 2006. It has been registered under the Andhra Pradesh Societies Registration Act, 2001. Built on the assumption that rural livelihoods can be improved by connecting the “large untapped potential in fisheries and aquaculture” to the vast reservoir of fish consumers in the country, through “adoption of new and innovative production technologies”, the NFDB aims to increase fish production from aquaculture and culture-based fisheries, to enhance the value of fish ouput through better postharvest practices, and to provide effective marketing prospects and employment opportunities. In the process, the NFDB seeks to ensure better returns on investment to fish farmers, in particular, and greater availability of quality fish to the consumer. It envisages a “win-win” situation for the fish farmer and the consumer through efficient supply of inputs and effective fish marketing arrangements, and through “coordination of different agencies and public-private partnerships”. It also intends to undertake conservation and management of fisheries resources, as well as to provide diversified income earning opportunities for fishers, especially women.

NFDB Structure

The NFDB has a two-tier structure heavily dominated by government representatives: a governing body (GB) comprising 50 members, and an executive committee (EC) comprising 14 members. The union agriculture minister and the minister of state in charge of animal husbandry, dairying, and fisheries are members of the GB. They function as chairperson and vice chairperson respectively. It also includes the member (agriculture) Planning Commission, representatives of fisheries departments of the states and union territories (30 members); secretaries of the department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries (DADF), agriculture and

Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006 cooperation, agricultural research, and the ministries of commerce and industry, food processing industries and panchayati raj. It further includes the chairperson of the Coastal Aquaculture Authority and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), and nine representatives of fish farmers, fishing craft operators and exporters. Thus, while 18 per cent of the membership of the GB comprises representatives of the industry, 82 per cent comprises representatives of the government or its agencies. The GB meets at least once a year and it decides about the programme of activities of the board. It also supervises the functions of the EC.

The members of the EC include four senior officials of the DADF; one each from the Planning Commission, ministry of food processing industries, NABARD, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), state fisheries (i e, four states), departments or ministries, and the chief executive of NFDB. The secretary, DADF, is the chair of the EC. The EC meets at least four times a year, it prepares and executes the programme of activities of the board.

The activities of NFDB from 2006 to 2012 have been announced. Rs 91 crore has been approved for the financial year 2006-07, which amounts to 60 per cent of Rs 151 crore allocated for that year. Rs 2,000 crore has been allocated for the Eleventh Five-Year Plan period (2007-08 to 2011-12), although it is not clear what proportion of the allocation would eventually be approved. It equals the total outlay for fisheries development during the Tenth Five-Year Plan for both centre and state fisheries programmes, combined. Sector-wise, while 56 per cent has been allocated to aquaculture (this includes 49 per cent for the development of inland aquaculture and reservoir fisheries, 5 per cent for mariculture development, and 1 per cent each for seaweed farming and coastal aquaculture), less than 1 per cent has been allocated for marine fisheries (e g, sea ranching and promotion of deep sea tuna fishing). An allocation of 41 per cent has been made to the postharvest sector. This is mainly to develop infrastructure facilities and domestic markets, and to modernise, in particular, wholesale markets, and to introduce cold chains. The state governments are expected to submit proposals as per the norms of NFDB and once approved, the board is expected to expeditiously implement the schemes.

NFDB’s Hopes

The geographic scope of the NFDB activities includes disadvantaged regions such as the north-eastern states, islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. The scope of activities range from intensive pond culture and reservoir fisheries, including fisheries in ox bow lakes, to mariculture and seaweed farming, as well as the promotion of deep-sea fishing and tuna processing. A significant share of freshwater aquaculture subsidies has been earmarked for the benefit of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

In a period of six years, by 2012, the NFDB hopes to provide additional employment for 3.3 million people, of

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    Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006

    which nearly 80 per cent would be in the hinterland, mainly in intensive pond and tank culture and in reservoir fisheries. It intends to almost double the current level of fish production from inland waters by harvesting an additional three million tonnes, and to increase high-value marine fish production from mariculture and deep sea tuna fishing by another 7,00,000 tonnes. Coastal aquaculture is also expected to contribute to higher seafood production for the export market. Thus, it foresees enhanced fish production for both domestic as well as the export market.

    To achieve higher production goals, NFDB proposes to more than double pond productivity from the current level of 2.2 tonnes to 5 tonnes per hectare per year in an area of 8,00,000 hectares of ponds and tanks, i e, one-third of the total area under ponds and tanks in India. It further aims to enhance reservoir fishery productivity from the current level of 20 kg to 150 kg per hectare per year in 1.5 million hectares, which is nearly one-half of the total area under reservoirs in India. It aims to bring an additional 1,00,000 hectares under shrimp farming to the existing 1,87,000 hectares (an increase by nearly 50 per cent), and to bring another 50,000 hectares under brackishwater finfish culture. The NFDB also envisages leasing out coastal areas under public-private partnership for mariculture, which would cater mainly to the export market.

    The NFDB lays special emphasis on training. Nearly 2,50,000 persons would be imparted training in aquaculture and seaweed farming. While 1,50,000 persons would be trained in intensive aquaculture in ponds and tanks, 60,000 persons – perhaps women – would be trained in seaweed farming, 25,000 persons in coastal aquaculture, 10,000 persons in reservoir fisheries and 10,000 fisherwomen in the fish dressing activity. The majority of them would be imparted training in the financial year 2006-07, especially in pond and tank culture and seaweed farming.

    The subsidy regimes are chosen to extend the largest share of subsidies to increased fish production from the inland sector, which is for the domestic market. Producer subsidies would be granted in the Eleventh Plan period for new pond construction and for pond renovation (maximum 50,000 hectares in each category) as well as towards meeting input costs (maximum 1,00,000 hectares), under intensive pond culture. There are limited subsidies for freshwater prawn culture, running water fish culture, integrated fish farming, fish feed units, new hatcheries, fisheries enhancement in reservoirs, and for finfish/ shellfish seed production. There is limited equity participation proposed in open sea cage culture as well as in the modernisation of wholesale markets.

    The single largest infusion of funds is to be made in improving fish landing and handling facilities in harbours to enhance fish quality and product safety. Facility enhancement at fishing harbours alone accounts for Rs 4,000 million (US$ 90 million) over a period of five years, and hygienic landing centres have been allocated Rs 1,530 million (US$ 34 million), over a period of six years.

    Issues for Consideration

    Most of the proposed programmes of NFDB, especially under aquaculture and reservoir fisheries, and development of deep-sea tuna fisheries are a continuation from the Tenth Five-Year Plan, with enhanced financial allocation. These programmes would, therefore, most likely be weaned away from the list of centrally sponsored schemes (meaning schemes where 75 per cent of financial resources are contributed by the centre against 25 per cent originating from state governments) under plan expenditure. The plan schemes would, as a result, be confined, inter alia, to the marine fisheries sector, especially to programmes dealing with construction of fishing harbours and landing centres, development of capture fisheries in territorial waters (e g, motorisation of traditional fishing craft) and welfare programmes such as providing housing and drinking water, and ensuring safety of fishers at sea.

    (i) Clarity in role of state governments: According to the Indian Constitution, fisheries, including inland fisheries and fisheries within the territorial limits, and excluding fisheries research, is a state subject. The programmes proposed by NFDB, with the exception of deep-sea tuna fishing, therefore, would fall within the jurisdiction of respective state governments. The success of NFDB would, as a result, depend mainly upon the interest taken by the state governments in the activities of the board.

    The implications of restructuring programmes should be looked into to ensure that the objectives of fisheries and aquaculture development are best served under the new regime. However, unlike centrally sponsored schemes, the state governments might benefit from NFDB schemes since they are not expected to make any financial contribution towards the implementation of approved schemes. But that this process might rob state fisheries administrations of their flexibility in developing and implementing fisheries programmes should also be reckoned with.

    (ii) Problems with the NFDB structure: As far as the structure of the GB and EC of the NFDB is concerned, there is no mention of what the rights and duties of the NFDB members are, particularly of the representatives of fishing craft operators, aquaculture farmers and exporters. Also, there is no mention of how members, representing the industry, are chosen: whether or not they will be nominated by the government, or nominated/elected by the industry. Further, no worker representative from fisheries or aquaculture is on the GB. It also lacks any representation from irrigation and environment ministries. The EC is also conspicuous by the absence of any industry representative on its membership.

    It is worth pondering over the potential effectiveness of an agency such as NFDB, which has only a minority representation of principal stakeholders and which is heavily dominated by representatives of the union and state governments. This is quite unlike the board of National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), which has only a minority representation from the government. The NDDB also lays special emphasis on the technical competence of its directors.

    (iii) ‘Top-down’ decision-making process: The future of the NFDB would depend on how far the activities proposed up to 2012 would succeed. Considering that the NFDB activities were developed in a “topdown” process by the union ministry of agriculture, without adequate consultation with the state governments, let alone the principal stakeholders such as fishers and fish farmers, how far the programmes would really succeed is open to question. It has not developed a set of strategic activities in consultation with the principal stakeholders to demonstrate success in the initial, but critical, phase.

    (iv) Sociological factors: Moreover, the proposed activities of NFDB do not take into account sociological factors, including culture and caste that are critical in determining access to water bodies and in marketing and consumption of fish.

    Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006 They do not take into account regional variations in fish consumption, and factors contributing to such variations.

    (v) Long-term rights of fish farmers: The issue of long-term rights of those who participate in NFDB activities in relation of culture fisheries has not been dealt with. This has been one of the intractable problems even for the Fish Farmers Development Agencies (FFDA), right from its inception in the 1970s. The obligation of aquaculture farmers to participate in a programme that is essentially conducted on public property without any guarantee for their investment is not clear. There is no assurance that they will not summarily be evicted from their aquaculture activities once there are conflicts between irrigation and aquaculture, or between an industry and coastal aquaculture. It is further complicated by the absence of any representative of irrigation or industry departments on the GB of NFDB. There is also no dispute settlement mechanism proposed to handle problem areas that might arise amongst different participants in NFDB programmes and between NFDB programmes and other activities.

    (vi) Practical problems in implementing NFDB programmes: Considering higher land prices in coastal areas, some doubts have already been expressed regarding the feasibility of finding land for coastal aquaculture. There are further doubts how far commercial banks would extend credit to fisheries and aquaculture programmes even if NABARD would give them the green signal. The feasibility of publicprivate partnerships has also been raised. The MPEDA, for example, had such a bad experience with equity participation in deep-sea fishing in the 1980s and 1990s that it was forced to discontinue this programme. There is no hint so far on how the beneficiaries would be selected and whether there would be guidelines to this effect.

    Further, cross-sectoral issues such as potential conflicts between aquaculture and culture-based fisheries, and irrigation, have not been addressed within the framework of NFDB. Similarly, state governments are yet to develop a leasing policy for marine waters. How potential conflicts between mariculture and other uses of coastal waters would be addressed is not clear.

    Further, issues arising from environmental degradation such as soil erosion, siltation and pollution are also to be addressed.

    (vii) Conservation and management: Although conservation and management of living aquatic resources, including fish stocks, is an important objective of the NFDB, no financial provision has so far been made to meet this objective during the Eleventh Plan. Effective management of fisheries resources is one way to enhance the value of existing fish production and to ensure a better income to fishers and fish farmers. This is an important requirement in all types of fisheries and aquaculture that should be addressed by the board.

    (viii) Lessons from history: There is an element of déjà vu about the formation of the NFDB and no attempt has been made to take critical stock of existing, or past, activities for increasing fish production from aquaculture and fisheries both in private and cooperative sectors at the behest of the state, or even otherwise. Perhaps with the exception of programmes to upgrade wholesale markets and facility enhancement at fishing harbours, all other

    Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006

    proposed NDDB programmes have a history in Indian fisheries and aquaculture. The allotted funds, including subsidies, for many of those programmes had not even been fully utilised in the past. To reintroduce similar programmes with significantly enhanced budget allocation, therefore, gives the wrong impression that the failure of those programmes in the past was a result of paucity of funds.


    In the age of globalisation, time alone can tell how far a “productionist” initiative led by the state would succeed in bringing about in greater availability of fish for the consumer and greater employment in rural areas. Rather than addressing the glaring gaps in fish production, processing and marketing as well as in sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources, through far-sighted institutional and legal reforms, the wisdom of creating a top-heavy structure with poor stakeholder consultation and participation, and without incorporating the right lessons from history under the assumption that what really matters is the adrenaline of technology and capital, is questionable. The lessons from the past, especially with regard to the Trawler Development Fund and FFDA should not easily be forgotten.

    The NFDB has often been compared to the NDDB but it should be recognised that the NDDB laid as much emphasis on building up cooperatives in production, processing and marketing and ensuring an incentive price to primary producers of milk, as on promotion of technology and enhanced production of milk. The fishery cooperatives in the country are in a terrible state of affairs and the challenge that should be taken up by the NFDB is to intelligently revamp them and to make them effective vehicles for increasing – or improving – fish production, processing and distribution within the limits of sustainability of fisheries resources and without harming fish habitats.

    The NFDB should help fishing communities in the inland and marine sectors to pull themselves up by the bootstraps by suggesting creative and time-tested programmes, rather than reinventing the wheel and proposing programmes that have already been a failure in the past. Here lies the real challenge for the newlyformed NFDB.



    Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006

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