the Case of Paikgacha Region, Khulna District
11 / 1997
In Bangladesh, a rotational shrimp/rice system has traditionally been practiced in low-lying areas. However, this sustainable time-tested system is gradually being changed to more profitable shrimp monoculture systems, using semi-intensive and intensive methods, often encouraged by government subsidies and incentives. Little thought is being given to the environmental and social consequences of the shift.
A report on the socio-economic and ecological impact of shrimp cultivation in the Paikgacha region of Khulna District, Bangladesh, brings out the negative impacts of the practice of shrimp monoculture. It contains the findings of a two-year study undertaken by a multi-disciplinary group. The Paikgacha region, in the southwestern part of Bangladesh, forms part of a tidal floodplain near the large Sunderbans mangrove forest.
The report observes that continued shrimp cultivation over the years has rendered the soil unproductive. There has been a perceptible change in land use patterns due to increase in soil salinity. While agriculture has been negatively affected, the number of homestead gardens and trees on common lands are also declining. Also affected by the expansion of shrimp cultivation are the rich mangrove forests in the region. Further, these changes have affected the nutritional intake, especially of poor families. Increase in levels of salinity has also affected availability of potable water since fresh water ponds have been contaminated.
The increasing demand for shrimp fries for stocking shrimp farms has had an impact on biodiversity, since fries of other fish species are indiscriminately discarded. The consequent decline in fish populations has affected the livelihood of fishing communities. In addition, continuous water-logging of land is leading to irreversible changes in the micro flora and fauna. The number of cattle and domestic poultry has decreased due to the reduced availability of fodder.
Of equal concern are the social tensions that have accompanied the spread of shrimp culture in the region. Many small landowners have been forced to sell their lands, often at throwaway prices, under fear of physical threat. For the landless and small landholders, the spread in shrimp farming has directly translated into a loss of adequate employment opportunities. Moreover, shrimp farmers, fearing theft of shrimp, often do not employ local people on the farms. Small farmers are affected in numerous other ways. As land use patterns change in shrimp producing polders, commodities like milk, cow dung, firewood and vegetables, can no longer be produced locally, and have to be purchased from other polders.
Clashes that occurred in November 1990 in Polder 22, between landless people, most affected by conversion of agricultural land to shrimp cultivation, and owners of large shrimp farms, are indicative of the gravity of the situation. Several people were killed and over 30 others injured during the clashes.
It is evident that while shrimp culture does bring in foreign exchange and profits for a few, it does so at considerable cost. In this region of Bangladesh, the environmental costs include the definite possibility of saline leaching to deeper soils, loss in soil productivity, loss of valuable mangrove forests, and a loss of other forms of marine biodiversity due to destructive practices employed in catching shrimp fry. Social costs have also been severe and tensions between owners of shrimp farms, on the one hand, and landless labourers and small farmers on the other, have been high. Significantly, the income from shrimp farming goes more to rich landlords and urban elites. For the landless and small farmers shrimp farming has often meant a decline in income and employment opportunities. It has also meant more hardship, on a daily basis, as families have to cope with decline in the availability of potable water, fodder, and sources of nutrition.
NijeraKori, The Impact of Shrimp Cultivation on Soils and Environment in Paikgacha Region, Khulna, 1996/10