Tanzania, Go Easy
02 / 1998
Ian Bryceson, Professor at the Centre for International Environment and Development Studies in Norway in the Agricultural University of Norway, sent an urgent public plea to the Tanzanian government to reject the Rufiji prawn project. Parts of it are excerpted below.
I understand that there is currently a public hearing being undertaken concerning a gigantic proposed prawn farm or shrimp aquaculture (Penaeus monodon)project in the Rufiji delta area. I take the liberty of putting forward my views unsolicited because I feel that this is such a crucial issue of far-reaching implications.
Prawn farming has been carried out traditionally in Asia for hundreds of years. The technology has been simple, non-intensive and ecologically benign. The farm sizes have been small and manageable for rural families or small local businesses. There are indeed possibilities for developing this sustainability in order to benefit local communities and the national economy.
However, the international prawn farming business has boomed in eastern Asia explosively and unsustainably, with large-scale farms of high intensity - especially during the last 10 years - but with enormous social and ecological problems.
Prawn farming production collapsed in Taiwan (the then No. 1 producer)in 1989 mainly due to virus and bacteria diseases, and then in China (the next No. 1 producer), it collapsed in 1993 due to toxic algal blooms. They then moved to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, which are now facing disease problems. All major producers have been plagued by diseases and fall in production in recent years. And now they are all looking for new hitherto unpolluted areas and claiming to be `environmentally friendly’, with highly paid consultants, of
India and Bangladesh have recently been invaded by East Asian prawn farmers. The High Court of India decided to ban prawn farming in 1996 because of all the negative social and ecological impacts. There is presently much debate and conflict in Bangladesh over this, and ecological destruction and diseases are already rampant there.
The next coastline targeted for unsustainable prawn farming invasion must be East Africa. I understand that the proposal for a project in Rufiji is very large-scale (over 10,000 hectares)and that the investors are mostly foreign. This is absurdly overdimensioned-the biggest in the world! It is the opposite of a precautionary approach. I am not at all in favour of this.
It would be much wiser to try small-scale, low-intensity prawn farming with local control and initiative, developing it gradually and in a planned manner. There exist serious institutions willing to help in such developments. Tanzania should learn from the lessons of Asia.
The Rufiji delta is an enormous treasure for the local communities and for Tanzania as a whole. It is the home of many people with rich traditions and cultural heritage. It is a source of mangrove poles and wood (which can be harvested sustainably); it is a nursery and fishing ground for important fish and prawn resources; it is an important rice-growing area; and it is abarrier against erosion by the sea. It contains an important conservation area of forest reserve with biodiversity resources (the late Mr Lubango was dedicated to this). The Rufiji delta
should be managed very wisely and cautiously with full local participation.
Being a Tanzanian marine biologist myself, and having been concerned about social and ecological issues related to coastal areas for many years, with some personal experience and observations on prawn farming, I wanted to take this opportunity to express these views on this important question for Tanzania’s development.
Honourable Minister, I humbly request you to consider these views and to reject the giant prawn farm proposal in the Rufiji. In case you would like me to substantiate or to elaborate any of these points, I would be glad to do so.
It is to be hoped that the Tanzanian government takes such appeals made to it seriously. It would be disastrous to rush into mega shrimp culture projects, ignoring the negative experiences associated with shrimp culture in several Asian and Latin American countries. Besides the negative environmental effects, intensive shrimp farming has been known for its negative socio-economic effects. Being an export, capital-intensive crop, shrimp
contributes little to local food security or income. The Tanzanian government must respond to the suggestions given, and promote, instead, extensive and semi-intensive forms of shrimp farming, on a small-scale, and controlled locally, for the benefit of local people.
Articles and files
BRYCESON, Ian, Tanzania, go easy in. Samudra Report, 1998/01, No.19