Can the Philippines become a major shrimp producer again?
By Rick Alberto
Is the Philippines in a position to become a major producer and exporter of shrimp in Southeast Asia? The chair of the Philippine Senate committee on agriculture, Cynthia Villar, thinks so.
Senator Villar told the recent 10th Philippine Shrimp Congress last month that the Philippines targets to produce 130,000 metric tonnes of white shrimp, or more than double its total shrimp production last year, still modest compared with shrimp-exporting Thailand's estimated production of 328,000 metic tonnes in 2014.
She claimed that large producers in General Santos City—which is also the Tuna Capital of the Philippines—and nearby Sarangani province are already in the position to compete with the major shrimp producers in the region including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Still, according to Philippine Shrimp Congress president Roberto Gatuslao, the value of Philippine shrimp production has remained flat at 2.35 billion pesos (US$50 million).
Historically the Philippines was once a major shrimp producer. Shrimp farming boomed in the Philippines in the mid-1980s after wealthy families on Negros island started converting their sugar plantations into shrimp farms, which they saw as more profitable than their sugar plantations. Shrimp became a top product export from the Philippines, earning around US$300 million during its peak in 1992. By 1994 the Philippines was ranked as the world's third-largest shrimp producer. Subsequently diseases, particularly luminous vibriosis, and poor pond management strategies caused a significant decline in production by 1997. Shrimp production has since remained low.
Cultured shrimp in the Philippines included giant black tiger prawn and other penaeid prawns, Indian white prawn, banana prawn and greasyback shrimp.
Allowing white shrimp
In 2004, then Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap gave in to pressure from shrimp farmers and feed producers, and allowed the importation of broodstocks of P. vannamei for experimental trial culture at its Fisheries Technology Center in Dagupan City in Luzon.
The experimental trials were successful so that by 2007 the ban on the importation of Pacific white shrimp was lifted, and the government planned to aggressively propagate it to increase shrimp production.
In 2008 at the 6th Philippine Shrimp Congress, foreign and local experts reached a consensus to ensure the success of white shrimp culture.
As of 2011, the top five shrimp-producing provinces are Pampanga, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Lanao del Norte and Bulacan, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.
At present, three registered hatcheries—Charoen Pokphand Foods Phil. Inc., the Oversea Feeds Corp. and the Dobe Export Inc.—import L. vannamei from Hawaii, USA. As of June 2014, the Philippines has 27 accredited hatcheries producing L. vannamei seed.
Despite the lifting of the ban on the importation of L. vannamei, production has remained anemic. As of 2013, white shrimp production is less than 10,000 metric tonnes.
Total production of shrimp in the Philippines in 2012 reached 56,411.58 metric tonnes from the previous year's 54,340.12 metric tonnes.
Problems to tackle
According to a research paper authored by May Flor S. Muege and Jane S Geduspan, both of the University of the Philippines, and Christopher Marlowe A. Caipang of the Singapore's Temasek Polytechnic, the production of shrimp in the Philippines is still low compared with other shrimp-producing countries.
The Philippines should be taking advantage of its being disease-free while Thailand and Vietnam are grappling with the early mortality syndrome, or EMS, which caused large shortfalls in farmed shrimp supplies in 2013.
But according to the researchers, the Philippine shrimp industry has other problems to tackle: low farm gate price, deteriorating rearing environment, and poor climatic conditions. "The cost of feeds and other inputs especially electricity are also contributing to the slow recovery of the industry", they added.
They urged the Philippine government to strategise policies and programs to encourage investors in shrimp farming, as well as to further strengthen the country's shrimp research and development program to help in the recovery of the industry.
Villar, in her speech in November, urged local producers to invest more in shrimp production. She also bared plans for the Philippine government to set up hatchery plants in each of the country's coastal regions to help boost production.
After all, she said, intensive white-shrimp production has barely scratched the surface of its potential as a top dollar earner, noting that demand from the US and Japan continues to grow.