Crab farmers and traders in Bagerhat are in trouble as crab exports to China, the biggest destination for the crabs, have remained suspended and the price of crab has dropped due to the pandemic.
Hundreds of crab farmers in the district have stopped farming because of accumulating losses. However, the Department of Fisheries says the government will provide assistance to 1,063 crab farmers in the district.
Pinak Das, a crab farmer from Bhaga village in Rampal upazila of Bagerhat, said, "I have four crab farms on 1.4716 hectares of land. Now I have become destitute by losing my capital of Tk8 lakh. At present, I have stopped farming. But, due to the pressure from banks and mohajon [moneylenders] for repaying the debts, I cannot stay at home."
According to the Bagerhat Fisheries Department, there are 1,859 crab farms in different upazilas of the district. The number of farmers at these farms is 1,670.
However, the number of crab farms in the district is more than 8,000, according to non-government estimates.
In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, 2,629 tonnes of crabs were exported from Bagerhat. But the scenario started to change after the outbreak of Covid-19.
Khaled Konak, Bagerhat District Fisheries Officer, said, "The crabs produced in Bagerhat were exported to: China, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and Korea. Of this, 80% were exported to China."
"The exports stopped when the novel coronavirus suddenly spread in China. As a result, farmers and traders have been suffering. The government also lost revenue," the officer continued.
"In this situation, we are advising the farmers to be patient. Officially, the process of giving incentives to 1,063 farmers in Bagerhat is underway. At present, the farmers are worried as the price of crab has decreased due to the export of crabs to China through Thailand," said Khaled.
"Most of the crabs produced by Bagerhat's farmers were exported to China at higher prices. Farmers and traders have faced hundreds of crores of taka losses during the [novel] coronavirus period. About 6,000 crab farms have been closed down. If the government does not provide assistance to these farmers and crab exports to China are not resumed, the farmers will become destitute," said Ajay Das, general secretary of the Bangladesh Crab Supply Association.
He further said more than two lakh people across the country are involved in crab farming and trade.
Dipankar Majumder, who lost Tk46 lakh to crab farming, is now worried about repaying his debts. He said he fell into trouble when the crabs on his farms died because he could not sell them on time due to the suspended exports and reduced prices.
However, when the severity of the pandemic started to decrease towards the end of the last year, he began cultivating crabs again by borrowing money.
But the crab price dropped by half as the crabs were not directly exported to China, Dipankar said.
"As a result, not even the production cost is earned from the sale of the crabs," he added.
Regarding the current market prices, Sadhan Kumar Saha, a crab trader of Bagerhat, said that exportable crabs are usually sold in five grades. The prices have reduced by Tk600-Tk700 per kilogramme in each of the grades.
Crabs (female) weighing 200 grams each were sold at Tk2,200 per kilogramme whereas now they are sold at Tk800 per kilogramme.
The price of crabs weighing 180 grams each was Tk1,000 per kilogramme while now they are sold for Tk600 per kilogramme.
Each kilogramme of crab weighing 150 grams each was sold for Tk800 and now just Tk400.
Meanwhile, a kilogramme of crab weighing 100 grams each was sold for Tk600 and is now sold for Tk300.
"The farmers cannot make up their production costs by selling crabs at these rates, and the businessmen are also facing losses," said Sadhan Kumar.