Savannah Shrimp: far from the sea, Brazil’s Cerrado is producing prawns

. Aug 20, 2020
Savannah Shrimp: far from the sea, Brazil's Cerrado is producing prawns Xavier Family: producing shrimp thousands of kilometers away from the sea. Photo: Emater

Where once it was seen as an infertile wasteland, the Brazilian Cerrado — the vast tropical savannah spreading across the center of South America — became the biggest source of grains in the country, helping turn agribusiness into the driving force of the domestic economy. As we have shown in previous articles, the tiny Federal District, home to capital city Brasília, has some of the highest agricultural productivity rates in Brazil, and potentially the entire world. Farmers have begun planting specialty coffee and grapes for winemaking in a region that was, until the 1970s, almost completely unused, with locals believing nothing could grow there.

However, one family of agricultural producers from the surrounding state of Goiás has gone one better, investing in freshwater shrimp farming. The results have been so promising that the government plans to expand this experimental project to other cities in the Central-Western state.

Entitled Camarão do Cerrado, freely translated as ‘Savannah Shrimp,’ the project began a year and a half ago, when a husband and wife farming team from the city of Águas Lindas took a course in aquaculture, sparking an interest in farming shrimp. They decided to further their studies, in order to identify the best shrimp species to cultivate in their home region. Sirlei Xavier managed to convince her two siblings, Charles and Shirlei, to take another course in Rio de Janeiro, to learn about the Macrobrachium rosenbergii, most commonly known as the giant river prawn or Malaysian prawn.

shrimp cerrado
Camarão do Cerrado, freely translated as ‘Savannah Shrimp.’ Photo: Emater

With guidance from experts at the Goias Agency of Technical Assistance, Rural Expansion and Farming (Emater), took freshwater shrimp farming techniques to the interior of the state, over 1,300 kilometers from the sea. One of the professionals that assisted the family, farming technician Daniel Pereira said that he and his colleagues helped in the methodological phases, such as choosing the area to build the farm, the excavation of tanks, the preparation of soil and fertilization. “We also gave them guidance regarding environmental legislation, water grants, and adequate licenses,” Mr. Pereira explains. Three tanks were built to house the crustaceans.

The young shrimp were put on a natural diet, with the microorganisms present in the water, moss on the edges of the tank, as well as fish feed. After six months, around 3,000 kilograms of shrimp were taken from the three tanks. In total, the farmers spent around BRL 25 per kilogram of shrimp, overheads which are likely to decrease after each farming cycle. After the first harvest, stocks were replenished with an even larger number of baby shrimp. They hope to sell the crustaceans for BRL 35 per kilogram, depending on the time of year. “As they are freshwater shrimp, they have no iodine, reducing risks of allergies,” says Charles Xavier. “The taste is the same as seawater shrimp, with less smell.”

Mr. Xavier and his siblings intend on selling the shrimp to retailers and directly to consumers. Meanwhile, Emater wants to expand this successful experience to the almost 2,000 fish farmers in the state, which restrict their production to freshwater fish, in a region where recreational fishing is popular.

Goiás could become major shrimp producer

Emater studies show that Goiás has the potential to produce 6,000 tons of farmed shrimp per year. The state government wants to invest in similar farms in the northern region of the Serra da Mesa lake, the fifth-largest in Brazil, flanked by 60 municipalities, including the country’s biggest nickel producer, conveniently named Niquelândia.

Made up of the Tocantins, Almas, and Maranhão rivers, the man-made lake occupies an area of 1,784 square kilometers at 460 meters above sea level. In terms of water volume, it is the largest lake in Brazil, with 54.4 billion cubic meters.

Despite being suitable for living in all of Brazil’s regions, freshwater shrimp do not thrive in areas with long winters, which is certainly not the case of Goiás. Ideally, they live in high temperatures, of between 28 to 30ºC, as they are unable to withstand environments below 15ºC.

Costs on feed and labor are the most significant when it comes to shrimp farming, as tanks require constant maintenance and fish food is expensive. However, being a highly sought-after animal protein, they have a high commercial value.

Brazil is the sixth-largest producer of shrimp in the world, behind Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Ecuador. The Northeast region of the country is home to 99.4 percent of Brazil’s shrimp, as, beyond freshwater farming, they can be caught off the coast in Atlantic waters.[/restricted]

Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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