A newly-commercialised variety of giant prawn is fast becoming an important source of income for inland fishers in the Northern and Northwestern Provinces.
Seafood producer and exporter Divron Bioventures recently gathered the fishing community, Local Government authorities, and its business partners in Vavunikulam to celebrate its successful exporting of giant freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) to several high-end international markets.
The event was attended by Victoria Coakley, Australia’s Head of Development Cooperation in Sri Lanka and a delegation from the High Commission. Market Development Facility – Australia’s flagship private sector development program in Sri Lanka – has been a key supporter and facilitator of Divron’s business expansion over the past few years. Also present at the occasion were Shanthi Srikandarasa, MP, and Kandiah Sivanesan, Northern Provincial Council Minister of Fisheries.
“We knew we had a business case when some Thai buyers we’d met showed a major interest in the prawns. They said they just don’t grow to these sizes anywhere else in the world!” said Shan Meemanage, a Director at Divron. He and fellow Director Dr. Tim DeJager have built a successful and sustainable business centred on the rearing and harvesting of a special variety of giant prawn. The giant freshwater prawn lives up to its name – growing to large sizes, with some individual prawns weighing over half a kilogram.
Divron has a nursery in Negombo, where it mimics the prawns’ natural habitat and grows prawn larvae. When Divron realised it would need access to inland waterbodies to let the prawns grow to their potential – giant – size, it looked to the ideal conditions of the Northern Province.
Divron then began to stock selected reservoirs with the partially-grown prawns. “During the drought, there were hardly any fish,” says Gemeniganeshan, one of the fishers in Divron’s supplier network, “So, whatever little I could catch, I would spend on essentials. But prawn money, I could save for the future.”
Gemeniganeshan is one of the many fishers in Vavuniya with whom Divron works. Under the advice of Divron’s Extension Officers, these fishers catch and store the full-grown prawn, and sell it to Divron at premium prices versus what they get for their fish catch.
For the fishers, being a part of this value chain has been an essential livelihood provider, especially during dry spells when their regular fish catch is low. For Divron, the fisher network provides a reliable and fresh supply of giant prawn that they can export or supply to the domestic market. The business model relies on the successful cycle of stocking, catching and buying back the giant prawn.
“What was really important from MDF for us was that they could support us in all the key elements, given the vision that we are developing – that is, the sustainable base, community participation, and the market opportunities,” comments Director Dr. Tim DeJager.
MDF encountered Divron as the program began operations in Sri Lanka, in 2015. As Dr. DeJager says, “the value chain existed in small fragments,” but Divron needed support to connect the dots. MDF was able to step in to strengthen the links in the value chain – through helping Divron to establish a Regional Centre in Vavuniya, which acts as a hub for the transport of both of baby prawns (to the reservoirs) as well as full-grown prawns (from the reservoirs), and by adding to its transport network by cost-sharing on the purchase of the trucks necessary to move the fresh product from point to point.
Over the duration of the successful business partnership, MDF has supported Divron to expand its cold storage facilities, provide reliable information to the fishers on harvesting and post-harvest best practices, and connect more local fisher communities to the network.
Why Divron? MDF works with the private sector to stimulate growth in key areas relating to tourism and authentic Sri Lankan goods, and the giant prawn is making a name for Sri Lanka in both the tourism and export markets. Giant prawns are in hot demand in Eastern Asia, Thailand in particular, and Divron is working further with MDF to ramp up production. In addition, Divron supplies to a select few high-end restaurants in Colombo, where the giant river prawn is a must-have on the menu.
Australia has a keen interest in developing tourism in Sri Lanka, not only because of the massive potential available for the growing sector to become a conduit for economic growth in post-war in Sri Lanka, but also because tourism involves a large swathe of people across the country and has been found to be a pathway out of poverty for those engaged in it. In addition to being part of the development of the Government’s Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020, Australia is working with a number of public and private entities to energise the sector.
Head of Development Cooperation Victoria Coakley noted: “Australia is committed to partnering with businesses like Divron that have the potential to take world-class Sri Lankan products and produce to the international market. The giant prawn is becoming a must-have on the list of tourists in Sri Lanka – and we believe products like this are flag-bearers for the authentic Sri Lankan experience visitors to this country are looking for.”
The event ended with a demonstration of Divron’s products.
MDF is a multi-country private sector development program funded by the Australian Government, operating in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Timor-Leste, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, MDF has created close to 145 jobs and increased household income for approximately 5,000 people between 2016 and 2017. MDF works to stimulate business growth in the sectors of tourism and authentic Sri Lankan goods, partnering with public and private entities across the island.
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