Estd. 2006
From farm to plate - Enhancing Domestic Fish Consumption

Sagar Mehra

IN THE VIBRANT TAPESTRY OF INDIAN CUISINE, one dietary component stands out for its nutritional richness and culinary versatility – ‘fish’. Beyond its delectable taste, ‘fish’ holds a profound significance in the Indian context, contributing to rich cultural significance and multiple health benefits. The intricate relationship between fish and Indian culture goes beyond the plate, influencing traditions, health practices, and economic prosperity. Consumption of fish has the potential to positively impact not just individual nutritional status but also contribute to the food and nutritional security of the country.

While globally, India is a front runner in fish production and exports, enhancing domestic consumption is an important area for sustained growth of fisheries sector in the country. Various programs and schemes have been undertaken by the Department of Fisheries (GoI) to holistically develop the Indian fisheries sector. One of the key steps is the launch of the flagship scheme Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) on September 10 2020with the highest ever total investment of Rs 20,050 crore. PMMSY focuses on undertaking projects for technology adoption, addressing value chain gaps and socio-economic welfare. In addition to various outputs of increasing production and exports, the scheme focuses on creating around 16.5 lakh direct and indirect employment. In its fourth year running, impactful projects worth Rs 18,000 crore (90%) have been approved pan India under the PMMSY scheme.

Traditionally, the focus of fisheries projects has been towards increase of fish production. As a cornerstone of transformation, PMMSY scheme focuses on balancing the demand and supply equation by diverting funds towards development of post-harvest infrastructure. As fish production has been consistently increasing to reach a magnificent 174 lakh tonnes under PMMSY, it offers immense potential to boost domestic fish consumption, value addition and exports.

Towards this effect, projects approved under PMMSY have ensured that 26,067 fish transport facilities including refrigerated and insulated trucks, live fish vending centres, auto rickshaws, motorcycles and bicycles with ice box are owned by beneficiaries for accessing markets and consumers conveniently to deliver fresh and quality fish. Most popular being the motorbikes and cycles with ice boxes have ensured convenient and faster access by small scale farmers to sales points.

To ensure more availability of quality frozen and fresh fish 6733 units of fish retail points in form of markets and kiosks are being developed. States like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Telangana have been at the forefront demonstrating increase of fish sales in northern India and well-planned distribution of scheme funds amongst coastal and inland states.

575 cold storage facilities have been well distributed amongst 30 states/UTs indicating post-harvest storage of fish is being done across India. 108 value added enterprises have been sanctioned for processing underlines the commitment for promoting entrepreneurial models, particularly emphasizing hygienic fish marketing through the establishment of a chain of fish vending kiosks. The proliferation of the value-added enterprises, particularly in southern India, is also indicative of the export prominence and demand of value-added fish in form of pickles, dry salted fish, fish chips, fish balls etc.

For the last mile connect to ensure that awareness creation, outreach and extension happens in the right way 2494 Sagar Mitrasfor coastal states/UTs and 79 Matsya Seva Kendraspan India have been approved. The extension services are expected to be instrumental in promoting sectorial schemes and fish consumption as an ‘super-food‘ packed with nutrition.

To benchmark and understand domestic consumption trends, GoI invested in ‘A Study of the Fisheries Sector in India - An Overview of Current Demand and Future Prospect’ by National Council of Applied Economic Research in March 2023.  The study highlights that expenditure on fish in proportion to total food expenditure has more than doubled as compared to that in 2011-12, monthly consumption of fish has increased due to increased demand in urban areas, 77% fish consumed are freshwater species – majorly Rohu and Catla while Sardines and Bhetki are preferred marine fishes. On a promising note, the estimated demand for fish is expected to reach 26 million tons in 2031. Hence such consumer preferences and indicators thus play a major role in defining marketing and branding strategies.

With the supply chain and distribution infrastructure at a level to handle the increased demand and sales points, the next priority step for Government of India is to create awareness amongst consumers on benefits of fish eating through appropriate branding and marketing. Traditionally, outreach events such as organising fish and seafood festivals with celebrity chefs and webinars with sector experts, celebrating Poshan Maahannually in September, launch of 75 fish recipe books to celebrate India@75 campaign under Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, broadcasting of jingles on benefits of fish, installation of outdoor hoardings and digital displays at strategic locations etc. are being continuously undertaken by National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB), Hyderabad.

While various digital initiatives, especially on social media platforms, have been undertaken many others initiatives are being planned for extensive outreach, mass marketing and branding. Consumer specific marketing campaigns and strategic initiatives in the Ho-Re-Ca (Hotel-Restaurants-Café) are being planned. Another critical step being prioritised is the policy framework of standards, certification, accreditation and traceability for the sector.

PMMSY thus envisages crafting a robust marketing ecosystem and strategy to bridge the gap between producers and consumers by ensuring a seamless supply chain and increased number of sales points. Consequently, this approach not only fosters overall industry growth but also positively impacts the health and nutrition of the population.

Therefore, importance of fish consumption in India extends far beyond the dinner plate. From fostering better health to driving economic growth and cultural preservation, fish plays a pivotal role in the nation's overall well-being. As India progresses, recognizing and harnessing the full potential of fish consumption will be key to unlocking a healthier, more prosperous future for all.

(Sagar Mehra, Joint Secretary, Inland fisheries and Administration, Department of Fisheries, MoFAHD)

February 22, 2024