01 / 1998
The Indian Supreme Court’s judgement banning the practice of shrimp culture in coastal areas will have a varying impact on aquafarmers in Andhra Pradesh. In this state, the activity of large corporate houses is largely confined to the southern districts of Nellore and Prakasam.
The beach-based aquaculture practised here has had severe social and environmental consequences, and has, therefore, become the focus of anti-environmental activity. The judgement will clearly help regulate shrimp culture activities of this nature.
However, totally different sets of issues and problems are raised by shrimp culture practised in the Krishna-Godavari delta region- a fertile, paddy- growing area, rich in mangroves. The conversion of paddy fields into aquaculture farms, which is definitely a matter of major concern, occurs entirely in this area.
The area accounts for approximately 70 per cent of the total aquafarm area of Andhra Pradesh. Especially in the Krishna district, many paddy cultivators have en masse shifted to shrimp culture, attracted by the tremendous difference in profitability. Apart from this, in Krishna district, where water salinity is a problem, many agriculturists shifted to aquaculture, because farmers at the tail end of the irrigation canals had little access to fresh water, and were forced to use saline water. In their situation, shrimp culture was a promising option. The profits made in the first year were used to buy or lease more land for the second season, so that area under aquafarms increased manifold. Most of these farms are five or 10 acres in size, with the smallest ones being around two acres and the largest ones going up to 20 acres. Only extensive aquaculture is practised and the investment in farms has been meagre-only Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per acre for conversion from paddy land.
However, after the boom in the initial years, most farms in the area were hit by disease in 1994, and the entire industry collapsed. Poor water management and the nature of land being not especially suited for aquaculture, coupled with the small farmers’ inability to invest in water treatment technology, were important reasons behind this disaster.
Ironically then, in this region, it is the smaller shrimp farmers, using extensive techniques, who have destroyed their businesses and the environment in perhaps a more damaging fashion than the bigger farms.
Most of the farmers’ investments had been made from huge borrowings. Most debts ranged from Rs 100,000 to Rs 500,000. Some of those who could not repay their debts committed suicide.
After 1995, the area under aquaculture shrunk considerably. Many farmers who earlier harvested shrimps twice a year, confined their farming to a single summer harvest. These farmers are also risking reinvesting their earnings from that single crop so that they can repay their debts. However, only some farmers have got good returns, while others have only sunk further into debt.
All these farms are in the informal sector, and were started without technical support by ordinary farmers in an unorthodox and unscientific manner. Many of them began their ventures by observing and copying the practices of neighbouring farms, some of which were closer to brackishwater areas and benefited from technical support.
For these small farmers, the Court judgement will have a damaging effect. Most of the farmers have invested either their own savings or personal loans, and simply do not have the option of declaring bankruptcy. These minor farmers and fishermen are bound to lose their land to the moneylenders. Thus, large-scale dispossession and loss of land will occur in the Krishna-Godavari delta.
Not surprising, in areas like Machillipatnam, farmers have formed associations and held demonstrations against the proposal to destroy shrimp farms.
Evidently, unless there is a proper rehabilitation plan for farmers, including aid to convert aquafarms back to paddy fields, the tragedy slowly unfolding in the delta region will spell the end of the small-scale aquafarmers. The Supreme Court judgement may rob aquafarmers of any chance of recovery.
The Supreme Court judgement banning all but traditional forms of aquaculture in the coastal zone must be welcomed. However, it is evident that in the event it is implemented, it can have a damaging effect on small aquafarmers. A detailed rehabilitation strategy needs to be worked out to avert such a tragedy.
A closer look at the practice of shrimp culture in Andhra Pradesh also raises important issues to be considered in evolving a long-term strategy to regulate shrimp culture. Given that small farms practising extensive forms of shrimp culture have also contributed to environmental degradation, it is evident that while intensity of operations is a crucial factor to consider in attempts to regulate the shrimp industry, the more basic and significant question is whether the technology used is appropriate for the particular social and natural environment where the
aquafarms operate. It is also clear that any analysis of shrimp culture must, of necessity, look at aquaculture in conjunction with agriculture. Another important dimension to consider is the need to regulate shrimp culture, even outside of coastal areas. Thus, from a long-term perspective, regulating shrimp culture activities will need to take into account several important issues.
Articles and files
VIVEKANANDAN, V., Muddy waters in. Samudra Report, 1997/03, 17