News and Opinions  –  2018

Kerala, India: perspective of farmers and use of antibiotics in their aquaculture farms

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Over two dozen aquaculture farmers in the southern Indian province of Kerala discussed the use of antibiotics i their aquaculture farms and learned about appropriate use of antibiotics in a one-day workshop organized in June by ReAct Asia Pacific.
Over two dozen aquaculture farmers in the southern Indian province of Kerala took a pledge to follow the  "10 Commandments" of appropriate use of antibiotics in their farms at a one-day workshop organized in June by ReAct Asia Pacific. 

Participants at the one day workshop for aquaculture farmers held in Kollum, India.

The workshop held in Kollam, a coastal town in Kerala, with assistance from the Department of Fisheries, Government of Kerala, was also aimed at mapping the antibiotic use among aquaculture farmers.

Discussion on need to reduce use of antibiotics

The workshop had 34 participants, a fair mix of shrimp farmers, pangasius (a variety of catfish found in South and South East Asia) farmers, integrated farmers, cage farmers and in-land fish workers. The participants were also given a list of antibiotics strictly meant for human use; and there was a discussion on the need to reduce the use of certain antibiotics. The participants were given an outline of the possible methods which can reduce the need for antibiotics in aquaculture farms. Also, the attitude of the government towards this pertinent issue, was discussed with the participants of the workshop.

Professor Devika Pillai, Director of the School of Fisheries Environment at the Kerala Fisheries & Ocean Sciences University (KUFOS) who was one of the resource persons at the workshop says:

“Many farmers use antibiotics in shrimp farming, even though most of the crop failures are due to viral diseases. This may be due to ignorance, and there is a definite role for awareness building”

Other resource persons included Dr Sophia Margaret Joseph, Assistant Director, Department of Fisheries and Dr Philip Mathew, Consultant, ReAct Asia Pacific.

Perspective of farmers and use of antibiotics in their aquaculture farms

The group discussion at the workshop yielded rich information on the perspectives of farmers, towards the use of antibiotics in aquaculture farms.

  • Most of the aquaculture farmers are small scale entrepreneurs with farm sizes less than 2 hectares. This creates a situation where the farmers may not be able to afford the investment needed to install biosecurity measures in farms.
  • Most of the shrimp farms get their seed from outside the state, even though there are hatcheries in the state of Kerala. Therefore, a lot of antibiotics is used at the time of transport with an erroneous assumption that it can reduce the mortality in seeds during transportation.
  • In shrimp, most of the disease burden is due to White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) followed by Yellow Head Virus (YHV). As both these diseases are viral in origin, there is no significant benefit of using antibiotics routinely in shrimp aquaculture.
  • Chloramphenicol, Ciprofloxacin and Furazolidone are the most commonly used antibiotics in aquaculture in the state of Kerala.  Most of the antibiotic use is not supervised by any scientific personnel and is generally based on the experience of fellow farmers.
  • The policy of European Union to reject consignments of shrimp which has presence of antibiotic residues, has had a definite impact on the use of antibiotics in shrimp aquaculture. Now the shrimp meant for export market is raised without routine heavy use of antibiotics, in the fear that it may be rejected by the export companies or the regulatory agencies of EU.
  • A government agency called Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) is now conducting regular inspection of shrimp products, to ensure that it complies with export standards laid down by various international agencies. But this inspection is confined to the products meant for export market and those meant for local consumption is largely unregulated.
  • Farmers have brought down the use of antibiotics through a number of biosecurity measures. Proper pond preparation and liming is one of the most widely practiced methods. Some farmers also use potassium permanganate in cleaning the ponds before water is introduced. Water purification systems have been installed in a number of farms to control the purity and pH of the water used in farming.
  • There is very little antibiotic use in cage farming due to the complexity involved in administration. But in aquaculture farming other than shrimp, these is a significant use of antibiotics. This is because the products are meant for local consumption, and the market is highly unregulated.
  • In Pangasius farming and integrated farming, poultry waste and bird droppings are used as fish feeds. This gives rise to a peculiar situation in which there is antibiotic contamination of the aquaculture environment even without direct use of antibiotics, as poultry farming uses a high amount of antibiotics.
  • Many in-land fish workers accuse the aquaculture farmers of releasing the pond wash into freshwater resources, without proper treatment. They allege that this causes depletion of in-land fish resources and their catch has been progressively coming down in areas around aquaculture farms.

Took a pledge to follow “10 Commandments”

The aquaculture farmers took a pledge to follow “10 Commandments” of appropriate use of antibiotics in their farms. The Commandments, which provide guidelines on improving biosecurity and avoiding needless use of antibiotics in food-animal farming were developed by ReAct Asia Pacific as part of its campaign to sensitize farmers to the dangers of antimicrobial resistance.

Ten Commandments
(Of an Antibiotic-Smart Farmer)

  1. Thou shall consider antibiotics a valuable resource and use it prudently, for the health and survival of the human race.
  2. Thou shall not use antibiotics as growth promoters for thy chicken/cattle/shrimp.
  3. Thou shall not use antibiotics routinely for prevention of disease and restrict usage only for treatment of affected animals.
  4. Thou shall strive to follow appropriate withdrawal periods for antibiotics used for treatment before harvesting and marketing of thy farm produce
  5. Thou shall ensure the feed used in thy farm is free of antibiotics, and procured from good quality manufacturers
  6. Thou shall keep thy farm clean and hygienic, thereby reducing the chances of spread of infections and also the need for antibiotics.
  7. Thou shall dispose the waste generated in thy farms safely, so that it does not contaminate the water and soil resources around.
  8. Thou shall ensure accurate labelling of thy farm products, in all cases where antibiotics have been used.
  9. Thou shall not procure antibiotics without the prescription of a quality veterinarian
  10. Thou shall spread the above nine commandments among thy fellow farmers, and help prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance

Those who follow these commandments, will be blessed; and their flock shall multiply and prosper.