01 / 1998
Oral testimonies from the people of Nellore District in Andhra Pradesh throw light on the way a mega-shrimp culture project has affected the daily lives of the people in several villages. These include one fishing village (Tupilipalem)and three agricultural villages (Andalamala, Jameen Kothapalem and Valamedu). arlier, in Andalamala, Jameen Kothapalem and Valamedu, three crops were raised in a year, using well irrigation. The eleven villages surrounding them had no access to irrigation and, therefore, raised only one crop a year. They were dependent for employment on these three villages-over 1,100 Dalit (oppressed social groups assigned a lower status within the social hierarchy of India)families dependent on agricultural labour found employment. The area was a rich source of rice, ragi, local cereals, groundnuts, vegetables, tamarind, chillies as well as
toddy from over 25,000 palm trees. The region also had a woodlot in the common lands-a source of fuel wood, charcoal and timber wood. The residents, in general, had adequate food all around the year and an average cash income of Rs10,000 (Rs35=1US$)per household per year.
Things changed with the development of a big shrimp project, initiated in 1992 by a powerful l ocal politician. The project, covering 1200 acres of land, is one of the largest shrimp units in Asia. The impact of the project on local livelihoods has been highly negative.
Promises of providing local employment remain unfulfilled. While more coastal labour from local villages were engaged in the first year for construction/excavation works, later only five local youth were retained as full time employees as feed boys, and twelve local women were engaged on a part-time basis as water carriers. While employment itself has come down in the unit- from over 600 to around 400-over 350 of those employed are from outside the region.
The locals now trek 10-15 km to find employment at Rs20-25 per day-a paradox in a place which earlier supported immigrant workers.
Of the 25,000 palm trees that existed 5 years ago, less than 5,000 survive now. While many were felled when the land was acquired, more than 7,000 withered on account of seepage from the 65 acre reservoir of the unit. Further, the over 80,000 cubic metres of sea water drawn everyday and stored in the reservoir before being transferred to the shrimp ponds, has resulted in the salinisation of over 100 acres of common land. This common land has now become wasteland- not taken over by the unit, yet not useful for the community.
One of the villages, Valamedu, with 520 families, had a good ground water table and hand pumps could draw adequate drinking water at less than 25 feet depth. Even borewells for irrigation did not go beyond a depth of 35 feet. Now, all the over-300 hand pumps in the village and 10 borewells in the cultivable areas, have become salinated. Over 1,100 Dalit families are also now under-employed on account of salinisation of land and water.
First hand accounts from villagers reveal a different picture to that projected by proponents of shrimp culture. It is often claimed that shrimp projects increase employment opportunities for local people. It is obvious that this is not the case in many situations. Not only did few local people find employment in the above project, many more
were rendered unemployed due to the decline in productivity of agricultural and common lands. The villages in this area are no longer employment providers, and out-migration is now common. It also significant that the people most affected were the already marginalised and poorer sections. There can be little doubt that in this situation inequalities have been exacerbated, and the poor have become poorer.
The text draws from a paper presented by Imre Csavas titled `Shrimp farming development in Asia’, Published in Shrimp ’88. Bangkok, Thailand, 26-28 January 1988. Infofish, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
CSAVAS, Imre, PUCL=People's Union for Civil Liberties, Report of the fact finding study on the status and impact of shrimp aquaculture industry in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Kerala, 1997