01 / 1998
Shrimp is described as `pink gold’. People often shift to shrimp farming in the hope of quick profits. In the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh, many paddy cultivators shifted en masse to prawn culture in the early 1990s, attracted by the tremendous difference in profitability. While in paddy cultivation, an annual profit of Rs10,000 per acre was considered good, in prawn culture, on the other hand, the same acre could fetch up to Rs100,000. The profits made in the first year were often used to buy or lease more land for the next season. Most of the farms, owned by medium and small farmers, ranged in size from 2 to 20 acres.
In 1994, however, due to a viral disease that affected most aquafarms, the entire industry in the region collapsed. Badly affected were the medium and small farmers who had borrowed heavily to invest in shrimp farming. Some of those who could not repay their debts even committed suicide. Large-scale dispossession and loss of land is a distinct possibility for these farmers.
Similarly revealing is a close look at the situation in Ameen Nagar village and its surrounding villages in Prakasam District, Andhra Pradesh, which ventured into shrimp production.
In this village over 450 acres of salt pans were assigned to 160 members of two salt producers co-operative societies. An additional 2,500 families from the neighbouring hamlets were dependent on this salt land for their wage employment- providing manual labour in the field and working as loaders and transporters. In 1992, one member of the co-operative society converted 80 cents of his salt pan land into shrimp ponds and had a bumper return of Rs90,000. As this compared very favourably with salt panning, all other members converted their salt pans to shrimp ponds by 1993. After two to three years, however, most have reverted back to salt panning.
Only around 15 of the members could make a profit. Another 70 still hope for a recovery. The rest, however, are in the doldrums. Having borrowed heavily to start farming of shrimp, they are now deep in debt. They have borrowed money from traders by pledging to place the shrimps produced at their disposal. Says Durga Rao who lost Rs700,000 each time on two successive attempts: "I’ve had enough. You can’t lure me back even with a million rupees."
People maintain that salt could at least guarantee a no-loss situation---give a profit of Rs68,000 in the best of times and Rs14,000 in the worst of times. It could, at the same time, provide employment of 360 person days in a year at Rs30-35 per day-compared to 4 months of employment for 1 person in shrimp (120 person days).
The experiences of small shrimp farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh shows the illusory nature of `quick profits’ from shrimp culture. Disease outbreaks, and even the high cost of inputs, have affected profitability. Many paddy farmers are deeply in debt, and face losing their land. The conversion from salt panning to shrimp farming has also proved problematic. While profits, in most cases, have not been up to expectations, the availability of employment opportunities for people in the area have also come down. The long-term environmental costs of shrimp farming, due to the salinisation of land and drinking water for example, are likely to be even higher. It is evident that shrimp culture, as it is practised today, has several undesirable social, economic and environmental consequences. Such costs are rarely considered while computing the profits from shrimp culture. If this were done it is likely that the `pink gold’ will lose its glitter, and that the very rationale for shrimp culture will be in question.
PUCL=People's Union for Civil Liberties, Report of the fact finding study on the status and impact ofshrimp aquaculture industry in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Kerala, 1997, Also useful to refer to the article by V. Vivekanandan, titled `Muddy waters', in Samudra No. 17, March 1997, ICSF