What is Sustainability in aquaculture?
Until yesterday, I didn’t have an answer to this question. I’ve never found the exact meaning of Sustainability, as nothing around me has stood the test of time in aquaculture so far. It seemed to me like everyone was trying everything, but the true essence of Sustainability was missing. So, not liking the uneasy state I put myself in, and with so many constraints, I stepped back. I rewinded my 2021 journey to find answers and solutions to my “wicked problem”.
Aquaculture around me during peak COVID – 19 – The problems
It was back in October 2020 when I got to see Indian Aquaculture up close for the first time. I saw a colossal sector worth 56,000 Crore in Andhra Pradesh alone. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land converted into aquaculture ponds and a struggling Vannamei Shrimp crop post a streak of enormous success. Unfortunately, only 45% of farmers are scientifically literate about their industry and practices, and the rest try to gain crop success out of sheer luck.
My visit to Bhimavaram rural (the central hub of shrimp culture in India) was appalling. A farmer was waiting for two days to have a technician visit his pond, or he had no other option but to use the product prescribed by the dealer. It seemed like nobody knew what they were doing and why. It seemed like a trial and error or loyalty to a dealer, blindly following his instructions.
Experience – The first step towards Sustainability
Unless you experience it first hand, you don’t understand the depth of the problem. And my team is never one to give up when it comes to ‘Understanding the problem at hand’. We got our hands dirty and started talking to as many farmers as we could every day. But the most we could meet and talk to, was an average of 15 farmers per team member per day. We need a quicker way to gain more insight into the farmers’ problems. A more rapid understanding was one goal and most importantly,
What could we do to gain insights and, more importantly, empathize with and solve the farmer’s problem in < 24 hours?
The answer? Royye Raju Toll Free – A New SOP in Indian Aquaculture
1800 123 99 33 33, a number every aqua farmer in Andhra Pradesh remembers by heart and gives a missed call if they have any problem in their culture. That was the ultimate “Eureka moment” for us at Matrix. We have built an industry SOP that aims to change how a farmer solves his aquaculture problems!
When the farmer senses a problem in his pond,
1. He picks up his phone, and in less than 10 seconds, finishes giving a missed call on Royye Raju Toll-Free number.
2. Within 3 hours, an aquaculture expert calls up the farmer and gains insight into the pond dynamics.
3. The expert talks the farmer through the situation and provides guidance on corrective measures.
4. A field technical executive follows up with the farmer, till the problem is resolved.
5. An online technical executive keeps track of the query progress and ensures a dedicated care to each pond case.
(The text in black reads, ‘From pond preparation to harvest, give a missed call to this number and get your technical guidance from the experts for free’.)
We started generating 200+ calls on an average every day, to my surprise. So the experiencing factor is very high, but now, handling capacities are a big problem.
Evolve – The second step towards Sustainability
At Matrix, the brainstorming sessions are never one-sided. It’s always a mix of options coming from farmer adoption issues, executability challenges and achieving Sustainability. We went back to our technician training and research roots at Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur. We started developing solutions for each problem that we received every day. Slowly, we got to a stage where 70 of the 100 issues are straight-up operational issues and can be solved through Good Management Practices.
And what can be a better way of making mass adoption of GMP than broadcasting on social media?
Royye Raju Digital Services – A social approach to evolve in aquaculture
The need for mass evolution and transformation has driven our team to first standardize the problem-solution statements. Then, the list of good practices was made, and we started broadcasting on Facebook. Every morning, the farmer sees a simple aquaculture tip. They end their day seeing an exciting fact about shrimp or fish species. Starting from ‘Ask the Aqua Expert’ to ‘Juice Corner’, an Organic approach to aquaculture, we ended up with a Facebook page to mass evolve aquaculture practices in Andhra Pradesh. We grew to 15000 followers in five months, with 10000 average daily visitors.
The tips started to work, and the word of successful practices spread like wildfire. 7 in 10 farmers across four aquaculture districts of Andhra Pradesh heard of us by now.
A small change can drive significant results!
But one question still runs in our heads. Is 15000 farmers evolution sufficient? Our data shows that 15% of ill practices are enough to destroy aquaculture in an entire village.
So what do we do next to make 15000, 100,000?
Educate – “The final Boss” to defeat for true Sustainability
It is evident that one farmer evolving isn’t sufficient. Aquaculture is more about your neighbour pond being disease-free, despite being extra careful with yours. One best way of achieving mass success is education. Our 15000 farmers have to become 100,000, and everyone needs to know their part in the story.
Matrix Aqua Vignana Kendram – Local Broadcast of Global Knowledge
Many farmers from our follower base have seen results like never before. It is a surprise to see ponds under our watch surviving, while the rest are being wiped away by diseases and calamities. So we went back to our board again, and this time, the decision was to make the successful farmer a torchbearer in his area.
Let the success spread by itself.
Reviving the Entrepreneur Development Program started by Matrix Sea Foods in 2016 through Acharya Nagarjuna University, is one clear path we can take. We invited our successful farmers to establish Matrix Aqua Vignana kendrams in 10 villages. Each Vignana Kendram embodies our Digital and Offline services localized to perfection. Each centre houses a dedicated technician, an aqua lab, a digital library and every information required by a farmer to yield the best results.
(Here is Mr Elia Kandikatla, our senior aqua consultant performing weekly pond audits, as a part of dedicated technician services offered at every Matrix Aqua Vignana Kendram)
In 7 months, three centres became ten, and currently, the number is at 35. Each Matrix Aqua Vignana Kendram has an innate responsibility to educate every farmer within a locality and achieve 100% aqua literacy. An educated farmer understands what has to be done, and this cumulative effect of best aquaculture practices always lead to Sustainability.
Mana Badi – EdTech in Indian Aquaculture
Having 30 knowledge centres and reaching 10,000 farmers is just 10% of the requirement. We need to increase our pace of education and make the know-how of aquaculture more accessible. More than accessibility, it has to be a holistic approach towards aquaculture education. And when it comes to availability and a broader reach, edTech is one of the best options available now.
Bringing all the farmers to the classroom might not be possible. Let us take the classroom to farmers.
Mana Badi, the first of its kind edTech in aquaculture, takes its birth with this idea in mind. Academicians, Researchers, Technicians and experts across the world are abstracting their knowledge and contributing to our content.
(Manabadi induction at Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur)
Building a curriculum that every farmer can understand and realize is the aim. While the offline classes at Nagarjuna University, Guntur are in place, the online courses are taking shape, aiming to allow every farmer to educate themselves at their farm-gate
Royye Raju Mobile App – Learn aquaculture the Alpha way
With over 13 months of consistent learning regime and objectifying the observations, we compiled the daily needs of an aqua farmer. We became aqua farmers and realised what we need to learn daily, weekly and monthly to make our culture more sustainable.
What can be the easiest way to educate than an app installed on every smartphone
From real-time weather updates, knowing the diseases around you, and market price trends, to, talking to an expert directly with the click of a button, the farmer requirements document is now carved into a mobile application,
We are also making our social feed, Mana Badi and aqua school functionalities available to every farmer Free of Cost. ‘Install the app, and Aquaculture becomes Simplified’, is what we are telling our farmers today. And more the installs, the closer we move towards Sustainability, is what we tell ourselves.
(Source: Matrix – Royye Raju Farmer Drive in Andhra Pradesh; United we stand)
Nevertheless, Sustainability is more of a behavioural change than a physical process. Every stakeholder in the industry, starting from a seed hatchery assistant, feed boy, farmer, to an entrepreneur, should understand their job roles and responsibilities. A herd knowledge should exist, where no person misses out on their ownership. If this mass literacy is achieved, I firmly believe that Aquaculture can attain true Sustainability.
Sustainability to me is – ‘Today’s crop success, without damaging or causing any reason for the damage of Future Crop success’.
And one successful way towards attaining Sustainability that we witnessed is through ‘Experience, Evolve and Educate’. First, understand the problem and make it yours. Then, find a solution and evolve. The more you educate, the better is your herd evolution and more the chances of sustainable growth.