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Dried fish project down, If Not Out!

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The state government’s project to harness solar energy for making and marketing its nutritious dried fish ‘Seafeast’ took off with a bang some years ago only to touch down with a whimper now.

Niroj R. Misra

Cuttack: The state government’s project to harness solar energy for making and marketing its nutritious dried fish ‘Seafeast’ took off with a bang some years ago only to touch down with a whimper now.

When the State Directorate of Fisheries (SDF) lags behind, Bhubaneswar-based private parties like ‘Kalinga Marine Exports’ (KME) and ‘Falcon Marine Exports (FME) are inching forward slowly to leap ahead surely in two years with their dried fish. The SDF and Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project’ (ICZMP) thought out of the box and went off the beaten track in 2011-12 to use solar driers to produce ‘Seafeast’ in Puri, Balugaon and Ganjam by roping in 99 self-help groups (SHG). It picked pace, but lost momentum later.

The thrust was thwarted, as SHG failed to get geared up, said SDF officials. The SFD and ICZMP had allocated Rs 7.3 lakh for each SHG. Nearly Rs 5.5 lakh of it was spent on the purchase of solar-driers from a Madurai-based organisation. Each SHG underwent training for six days that included two-day camping at Central Institute of Fisheries Technologies, Vishakhapatnam. The venture instantly hit it big, as 60 metric tons of ‘Seafeast’ sold off about two years ago at ‘Adivasi Mela’ at Bhubaneswar.

Inspired by it, ICZMP mooted the idea to step up production to about 700 metric tons. Then the buzz lost its pitch, as SHG slacked off and ICZMP packed up. “SHG did not sustain the impetus that impaired its pace,” said PR Rout, SDF’s deputy director (marine). “We are now thinking to involve private parties and NGOs to infuse new blood into it,” he added.

When SDF officials spin out a sob story, private parties like KME and FME have pulled up their socks to script success stories. “Solar driers keep protein, liquid iron and all micro-nutrients in dried fish (called ‘Sukhua’ locally) intact, while the ones, produced traditionally in unhygienic environment, are devoid of them.

This should be the marketing highlight that we continuously harp on. Now we sell 800 kilograms every month, but it will shoot up to 1000 kilograms per week after we stitch up deals with outfits like Malaysia-based ‘World Fish’,” Krishnananda Sahu, the marketing head of one-year-old KMEL. Similarly, thirty years old FME, which recently forayed into the marketing of dried fish through its new retail division ‘Falcon Chilika Fresh’ caters to the demand of the domestic market. It is now chalking out a plan to export dried fish to South Asian countries.

“If we dispatch one container to a South Asian country, it will be 50 tons. This proves how potential are its export possibilities,” said Swadesh Saranghi, the unit head of ‘Falcon Chilika Fresh’. Some attribute the lukewarm to solar drier fish to its ‘exorbitant’ price. Its per kilogram sale price is 30% to 40% higher than that of their traditionally produced counterparts which marred its market. Saranghi termed this contention as baseless.

“Traditionally ‘Sukhua’ ones weigh more, but number less. But the same weight of solar drier fish is 30% to 35% more in number. This offsets the price disparity,” he said. “It’s not price. It is entrepreneurs’ lack of initiative to tap government’s incentive,” he added.

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