The frozen fish sector is as potential as the readymade garment (RMG) industry today is, in fetching more foreign currencies for the country. Beside Bangladesh having countless rivers and rivulets for sweet water fish species, the Bay of Bengal in its offshore area offers huge and cheaper seafood, which has a vast market in the western countries. According to statistics, currently Bangladesh’s export trading depends on two products (75 per cent on RMG and 6.0 per cent on frozen food). The earnings could be raised to a higher amount, particularly in terms of net domestic value addition, if the country could have ensured quality and safety of its fish and fishery products.
In this context, the disclosure made at a recent seminar in Dhaka about Bangladesh setting up shortly a testing lab at Savar augurs well for its image as a fish exporter. The establishment of such a lab should brook no delay. It must also be well-equipped to win confidence of the foreign buyers, particularly in areas of quality of fish and fishery products that Bangladesh exports. It is high time that Bangladesh ended stagnation of the growth in the volume and value of shrimp exports. This can be improved by raising the volume, and/or expanding areas, of production. Ensuring better value for shrimp products will be considered yet another priority.
To increase the production volume, two strategies have been suggested by experts. These are reducing post-harvest losses and increasing the productivity of shrimp farms. Post-harvest losses can be reduced by increasing the efficiency in the supply chain. This includes strengthening the bargaining position of farmers with middlemen and exporters, improving the infrastructure in the supply chain (including cold storage facilities), developing proper ice factories and transport facilities, and also by providing training to both middlemen and traders. The productivity of shrimp farms can be increased by improving the quality of inputs and imparting proper training to the farmers about applying best aquaculture practices. Both strategies will result in an increased production as well as an improved quality of supplies of shrimp to the processing establishments.
Bangladesh needs to improve further frozen food processing facilities, although it has otherwise achieved the hygienic standard to a marked extent, over the recent years. Food and veterinary delegations the European Union (EU) regularly visit the country’s processing plants and accord them to the prior approval or certification for export to the EU market. The number of frozen food plants now exporting to the EU market stands at 68 including 27 in Chittagong and 41 in Khulna region. Moreover, the number of fish plants now operating and having local licence is 145.
Bangladesh now exports frozen foods to 16 countries including the US, the EU and the UK. Russia could be a new export destination of the country’s frozen food. Efforts should also be made to increase export of frozen food to countries like Australia and Canada where the expatriate Bangladeshis are living in substantial numbers. With hygienic processing facilities being rightly put in place, Bangladesh’s frozen food will be better placed to seize the opportunities in the world market because of its competitive prices.