01 / 1998
In the past two decades there has been a rapid growth in shrimp culture in Bangladesh. Production of cultured shrimp increased from 4,000 metric tons (mt)in 1978 to about 49,000 mt in 1997. Shrimp contributes about 11 per cent of the total export earning of the country, with about 80 per cent of the total production heading for export markets.
In Bangladesh, extensive forms of shrimp culture are commonly employed, though there is presently a shift towards semi-intensive and intensive methods. Shrimp farms using extensive methods are generally less of a pollution threat because less processed foods, chemicals and antibiotics are required.
However, extensive farms have been criticised for consuming large tracts of mangrove forests and farmland for relatively small returns. It has been shown that one hectare of mangrove can yield at least 767 kilograms of wild fish products a year. Since extensive shrimp ponds only produce between 100 and 500 kg of shrimp over the same period, converting mangroves for shrimp cultivation seems to make no economic sense at all.
The destruction of mangroves has led to other problems. In April 1991, a powerful cyclone devastated a large part of Chittagong, a province with 30,000 ha of extensive shrimp farms.
The damage to the shrimp industry was estimated at US $20 million. Officials working in the Bay of Bengal Programme have speculated that the destruction of mangroves by shrimp farmers and the erosion of coastal embankments amplified the effects of the cyclone.
Unlike many of the leading shrimp farming countries in Asia, there are very few shrimp hatcheries in Bangladesh. Wild fry are still widely relied on for stock. They are both collected from the sea, and allowed to drift into the ponds with the tides. Wasteful practices employed in the collection of shrimp fry have affected biodiversity and wild shrimp stocks.
Shrimp farming has affected many small rice farmers. Crops are often destroyed when salt water, which has been channelled to the shrimp farms, seeps into the neighbouring farmland.
After a few years, the surrounding farmlands become completely infertile. Shrimp farmers then move in to buy up the land at very low prices, leaving thousands of families landless.
A study conducted by the Chittagong University found that, in the Satkhira region, the development of shrimp farming, has been directly responsible for the displacement of 300,000 people from their farmlands. Angry villagers face serious land-use and land-lease conflicts with shrimp farmers. This resentment is further compounded by the fact that shrimp farmers have often prefer to employ labour from outside, providing locals with few employment opportunities. Unemployment has, in some cases, led to an increase in the incidence of crime. The livestock population in shrimp farming areas has also been affected, as grazing grounds and availability of fodder has shrunk. Livestock are important sources of protein and income in rural areas.
The case of Bangladesh highlights the severe social consequences of the spread of shrimp culture. In a country where poverty is high, shrimp farms have rendered thousands landless, taking away their means of subsistence. The depletion of mangroves and grazing grounds has affected other means of local subsistence. While profits have certainly been made, they have been cornered by the investors and exporters. Local people have, on the
contrary, been deprived of their livelihoods. No wonder then that social tensions against shrimp farming run high in several parts of Bangladesh. There have been frequent outbursts of violence between local people and shrimp farmers, leaving several people injured and even dead. It is worth asking whether the pursuit of such forms of development, in the name of profits and foreign exchange, is at all desirable. Sustainable forms of aquaculture, which benefit local communities and strengthen their economic base, are far more in order.
BAIRD, Ian, The Environmental and Social Costs of Developing CoastalShrimp Aquaculture in Asia, 1993