Third World Communities Fight the `Blue Revolution’
01 / 1998
Between the 1970s and the 1990s, global production of cultured shrimp, mainly the large "tiger prawns", grew substantially. In 1990, countries in the Asian region produced 556,500 tonnes of shrimp or 80% of the world output, from approximately 820,000 hectares of farmland along the coast. Most of the output went to rich markets like Japan, the USA and Europe, where cultured shrimps have become a fashionable part of the cuisine and fetch a high price.
However, because of the wide range of environmental and social ill-effects, the so-called `Blue Revolution’ may head the way of the once-lauded Green Revolution. Already, protests are mounting in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. Problems have also been reported from Taiwan, Vietnam, China and, outside Asia, in Ecuador.
In Bangladesh, thousands of rice farmers have lost their paddy fields to aquaculture pond owners who have managed to buy these mostly infertile lands very cheaply. In the Satkhira region, around 300,000 people were displaced from their farmlands by aquaculture. The remaining lands have been badly affected by seepage of salt water from shrimp ponds.
Conflicts, sometimes violent, have broken out between farmers and shrimp pond owners in parts of Bangladesh. NGOs like Nijera Kori are helping these communities organise to defend themselves. In September 1994, villagers forcibly took over 32 shrimp farms in the Khulna region.
Along the east coast of India, a strong grassroots movement, aided by organisations like LAFTI and PREPARE, has successfully prevented the construction of shrimp ponds in coastal states. In Andhra Pradesh, villagers in Kurru attacked and destroyed aquaculture farms by uprooting the pumps and breaching the mud walls of the ponds. Indian activists fighting aquaculture recently won a Supreme Court order banning any new aquaculture activity in coastal states. According to a cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the Supreme Court, the
social and environmental costs outweighed the economic benefits by a ratio of four to one in Andhra Pradesh, while in the state of Tamil Nadu, the losses were one and a half times more than the gains from aquaculture.
The clearing of mangroves and river pollution caused by aquaculture ponds along the coast have caused huge declines in catch for fishermen in Malaysia. In Kerpan village, hundreds of farmers blocked bulldozers which had come to clear their paddy fields after the state government had compulsorily acquired their land.
In Ecuador, which is the world’s fourth largest producer of cultured shrimp, a boycott campaign has been organised among consumers by the environmental group Accion Ecologica which was essentially concerned about the destruction of large tracts of mangrove forests in the coastal regions.
In many Asian countries the output from shrimp farms has also fallen as a result of disease and environmental degradation. In 1987, Taiwan was Asia’s leading producer of cultured shrimp, with 90,000 tonnes. The next year the production dropped to 40,000 tonnes and then, in 1989, to 25,000 tonnes. This was mainly due to disease of epidemic proportions caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Also contributing to the shrinking production was the indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals and antibiotics.
Similarly, in India, from late 1994, a mysterious viral disease, called the `white spot disease’, spread along the eastern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. It wiped out large parts of the shrimp crop. In Nellore, a centre for aquaculture, entrepreneurs were forced to declare a crop holiday. The lethal virus ultimately spread to West Bengal too, where aquaculture farms account for more than a third of India’s output.
A newly discovered virus attacked prawn farms in the state of Kedah, Malaysia, soon spreading to 40 farms in the neighbouring state of Perak, destroying almost the entire crop of prawns. In Ecuador, too, contamination of water by pesticides led to the outbreak of a disease locally called the "tauro syndrome". In the Gulf of Guayaquil, 12,000 hectares of shrimp ponds had to be closed.
From the experiences of farmers in several Asian countries, it is apparent that the benefits from intensive aquaculture are of a short-term nature. More significantly, the ultimate benefits - economic and social - of this form of aquaculture do not go to the local community. On the other hand, as is often the case, the local population - farming and fishing communities - find themselves at the receiving end off the calamity that
often strikes aquaculture farms. Not only do they find themselves bereft of land, they discover that whatever land is left has been rendered useless and uncultivable in the aftermath of aquaculture operations.Small-scale farmers and fishermen have practised aquaculture for centuries. The crucial difference, however, between traditional forms of aquaculture and modern practices lies in the intensity of the application of inputs and farm management practices. In traditional Asian aquaculture, the scale of operations was usually small and farmers did not use inputs like chemicals, antibiotics and processed feeds. Traditional aquaculture farmers depended on tidal action for the natural exchange of water in their ponds. In some countries like India, Bangladesh and Thailand, rice farmers used to rotate paddy cultivation with shrimp cultivation, so that rice was grown for part of the year and shrimps reared in the same paddy fields for the rest of the year. Such a low-yield, natural method, called extensive aquaculture, proved sustainable over long periods. It may now be time to reassess the modern methods of intensive or semi-intensive aquaculture.
Articles and files
KHOR, Martin, The Aquaculture Disaster: Third World Communities Fight the`Blue Revolution' in. Third World Resurgence, No.59