'We don’t have rice in our homes, any money in our pockets, and our crabs are dying everyday'
Hundreds of crab farmers in Barguna are immersed in huge debt and struggling to provide for themselves as crab exports to China have been halted due to the coronavirus situation.
“We don’t have rice in our homes, any money in our pockets, and our crabs are dying everyday. No export, no local demand- how will we eat? We have taken loans from NGOs, banks and Mahajans [lenders]; we can only kill ourselves in this situation,” said Manoj Baypari, a crab farmer of Hoglapasha village in Pathorghata upazila.
Like Manoj, around 500 crab farmers of 470 farming enclosures are suffering similar misfortune in Pathorghata upazila.
Crab breeding is popular in Barguna’s Pathorghata and Taltali upazilas. Previously farmers could sell their crabs at Tk2200 to Tk2800 per kg. Now the price offered is as little as Tk200 to Tk250 per kg.
Most of the crabs, farmed for three months, died at the enclosures as they couldn’t be sold in time due to the low price offered.
“Last year around 9,000 kg of crabs were produced in Barguna. Earlier, this year we had estimated a production of around 11,000 kg. But all of it will be fruitless because of coronavirus,” said Golam Morshed Rahat to Dhaka Tribune. He is an assistant value chain facilitator of a value chain development project called ‘Creating employment and increasing entrepreneurs’ income through expanding crab marketing and farming technology.’
Manotosh, one of the suffering farmers, said: “Each enclosure for crab farming can cost us between Tk2 lakh to Tk25 lakh. All of the money is arranged from loans by NGOs, banks, or Mahajans. Every year we could pay back the loans within February to March, but this year we are helpless. If the government does not support us, we will not be able to run our enclosures for long and bankruptcy will destroy us.”
Shimul Mondal, another crab farmer, said: “Coronavirus has become a curse for us this year. If the situation persists we will have to die without food.”
Along with the crab farmers, traders who supplied crab food and wholesalers who loaned money have also incurred a great loss.
Uttam Majumdar, president of Kakra Aratdar Samity [Crab Wholesalers Association], in Pathorghata upazila, said: “We provide Dadon [loan] for crab farming every year. But as exports were terminated, farmers couldn’t even earn a minimum wage, let alone paying back the Dadon. Most of the crabs died as the farmers were not able to sell in time. In this situation we can’t ask them to pay back the money nor can we help them.”
Pathorghata upazila Senior Fisheries Officer Jayanta Kumar Apu said although they could not provide financial support to the farmers, they are suggesting crab preserving methods. However, expressing concern, the fisheries officer said all of the production might be fruitless, as effects of coronavirus might not cease anytime soon.