‘Lanka’s fisheries sector has huge investment potential’

FAO meets Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development
Minister:

‘Lanka’s fisheries sector has huge investment potential’

The FAO communications team had the opportunity to meet Fisheries
and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne
recently. A brief summary of this interview:

Q: What areas do you see the FAO’s involvement as being
substantial and what areas do you think need more involvement from FAO?


Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne

A: I am very thankful to FAO in its efforts to provide
technical and project support for our development programmes and for
mobilizing donor funds to support the fisheries sector. The US $ 25
million tsunami rehabilitation package extended to Sri Lanka through FAO
is one of the largest contributions made by a single agency of the
UN-especially to the North and the East. We would be happy to have
continued FAO support in increasing fish production from the marine
sector as well by way of technical support in improving fish landing
facilities and fishery harbours (Oluvil, Dikowita etc) and investment
promotion in the marine sector.

Q: How could the fisheries sector be of any assistance to deal
with the global food crisis in the coming years?

A: Drought and extreme weather conditions have affected
agriculture production in many countries, including many developed
countries. Australia was hit by a serious drought. Now we see food riots
destabilizing many countries, including the Middle East. As you know,
for us Sri Lankans, fish is the main source of animal protein. It
provides about 70 percent of our animal protein intake. In fact that is
why we are joining hands with organizations such as Indian Ocean Tuna
Commission (IOTC), another FAO linked body, to ensure sustenance of our
resources. It was just couple of months back that the 15th session of
IOTC was held with the participation of nearly 250 delegates from 35
countries. We welcome continued cooperation of FAO in this regard.

Q: To what extent has FAO helped the government to increase in
the fish production from 2005 to 2010?

A: Several factors helped us achieve this increased production
and FAO played an important role. The post tsunami scenario gave much
emphasis for re-establishing the depleted national fleet.

We also received technical support and assistance in many areas
including fish handling and reduction of post-harvest losses. I am aware
that Sri Lanka will be benefited by an FAO Regional TCP on ‘Tuna
Handling and Market Promotion’ to be launched shortly. FAO also
supported the establishment of a fresh water pawn hatchery in
Kahandamodara, that is currently providing fingerlings to the whole
area. So we see FAO has very much supported the development efforts of
the fisheries sector.

We are thankful to FAO for the assistance.

Q: What are the principal policies the ministry hopes to adopt
in the export of fish and fish products?

A: This is a very hot topic right now. Our tuna exports have
grown significantly over the last few years and the export value now
stands at US $ 140 million/annum. It requires exports to satisfy several
environmental and safety criteria. Product and market diversification is
another area we wish to strengthen to add value to our exports rather
than exporting raw material.

We also need to find new markets. We don’t want to just continue
exporting. We like to broaden the product-base of our domestic market
too, so that our consumers as well as processors can benefit from this.

Q: It appears that there is considerable interest from the
investors both within and outside Sri Lanka in investing in the
fisheries sector. What are the areas that you would encourage for such
investment?

A: Our fisheries sector holds a lot of potential for
investors. We are an island nation, strategically located in the Indian
Ocean, blessed with vast, productive sea areas, with good air and sea
freight networks, skilled labour etc.

We also have large reservoirs freshwater areas and lagoons suitable
for aquaculture. One of the major thrust areas in our investment plan is
offshore fisheries development. Another is aquaculture.

By way of support we do a lot to facilitate financing (commercial
loans on eight percent interest with four percent subsidy), tax holidays
as per the schemes introduced by the budget, other BOI facilitation and
micro financing through donor funded (IFAD) projects.

Q: What are the obstacles you face in developing the fisheries
sector in the country and how best do you think FAO can contribute to
the government’s efforts?

A: As our aim is to increase fish production to around 686,000
MT by 2013 from the present 385,000 MT, we need much investment in the
production sector through both capture and culture.

This is the biggest challenge we have. We need an increase in
aquaculture production in the range of 75,000 MT to ensure we achieve
our targets.

Thus, as far as FAO support is concerned, we feel we would benefit
much from technology transfer and capacity building in areas such as
aquaculture and fisheries infrastructure development. FAO could also
facilitate donor funding for some of the developmental projects we have
planned.


[Supporting flood-affected farmers in the North and East]

Heavy rainfall in two phases, the first from late December 2010-mid
January 2011 and the second during late January 2011 caused devastating
damage to districts throughout the Eastern, Northern and North-Central
provinces of Sri Lanka. Since agriculture is the main livelihood
activity in the affected areas, FAO appealed for US $ 6.4 million under
the Flash Appeal 2011 to support flood affected farmers through
provision of seeds (paddy, OFC and vegetable) and repair of irrigation
tanks that were damaged by the floods.

To date, FAO has received US $ 4.6 million from the US $ 6.4 million
appeal, which is supporting over 30,000 flood affected farmers in the
North and East who lost their crops and have no means to resume their
farming.

During this Yala season FAO is vulnerable farmers who are recent
returnees. FAO is providing the following assistance:

* Over 141,060 bushels of seed paddy to plant approximately 47,020
acres (for 30,000 households)

* Other Field Crop seeds (green gram, cowpea, ground nut, maize,
black gram) for 10,400 households

* Over 30,000 vegetable seed kits for 30,000 households (1 kit per
household)

A detailed study of the damage caused by the floods to the
agriculture sector has been conducted by FAO and the Agriculture
Ministry in order to prepare a comprehensive rehabilitation strategy for
agricultural recovery in the Eastern Province.

Courtesy: FAO UPDATE

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