3rd-4th December Views of organic shrimp farmers on their work and Conventional vs Organic shrimp production

Advantages and Disadvantages of Organic Shrimp Aquaculture in the eyes of the farmers

Abdul Sattar, 32 years old, is an organic shrimp farmer. He is married and has a one-year-old daughter. He switched from conventional to organic shrimp production on his small shrimp farm of 4 bigha three years ago – (In Bangladesh and West Bengal, the Bigha was standardized under British colonial rule at 1600 sq.yd (0.1338 hectare or 0.3306 acre); this is often interpreted as being 1/3 acre (it is precisely 40⁄121 acre). In Metric units, a Bigha is hence 1333.33 m2). His production is totally family-based and all the members of the family help when it is necessary. Before switching to organic he faced problems every month to care for his extended family, which has a total of 20 members. The fruit and vegetables around their house, as well as the 5 bigha of land he leases for rice cultivation, are not sufficient and it is necessary to buy food from the market as well, with the profits from the shrimp farm. Before, he sold the shrimp to a middleman, who did not pay him directly and sometimes he had to wait two months for his income. The price he got for the shrimp also varied a lot; sometimes it was very high, sometimes very low. In the organic system he regularly receives cash in hand and there is no need to worry. Switching to organic production also saw him increase his production, which combined with the lower input cost, allows him a higher overall income. This consistency ensures his family has enough to eat every day, even if they cannot afford a change in their lifestyle. However disease remains the main problem for shrimp farmers like Abdul Sattar. Where there is an outbreak of disease, this results in a sharply reduced income.
Beside the switch that occurred on Abdul Sattar’s farm, he tells of how the community is now more united. No one engages any more with forias (local collectors of shrimp, often accused of poor post-harvest handling of the shrimp leading to deterioration in the quality of the product). He also likes the trees on the dikes, which make the landscape more green and beautiful. The family itself does not eat the black tiger shrimp, but in their gher (pond) different types of white fish and smaller shrimps are also grown, which they harvest and consume within the family. His message to the European consumer: “We produce quality shrimp for you. So you can eat it and ensure yourself about the good quality. Then please consume more and increase the price.” (After which on his face appeared a smile.)

Md Sohedul Islam, 36 years old, is an organic shrimp farmer. He is married and has a 7-year-old daughter. His father was originally a rice farmer and they started to grow shrimp, because it was more profitable. He cultivates 20 bigha Shrimp and 4 bigha of rice for family consumption. He sees the advantage in organic shrimp being the lower input cost and therefor higher profits, which allowed him to build a small house. Before joining the Organic Shrimp Project (OSP), he often lost money while selling the shrimp in the conventional market, because he was often not paid for the real weight. In the OSP, the supply chain is totally different and he says he gets paid properly. For him, it was at first a bit difficult to change his culture techniques because he had to learn about all the regulations and new practices, but the training he received from the OSP helped him. There is one particular change in the community he really likes; the alliance and cooperation between the farmers. Now they learn together, meet at the Collection Center, prepare the ponds together and help each other. Generally for him there are no problems with organic shrimp farming, but sometimes when there are too many shrimp ready for harvest the Collection Center can not buy them all, because the processor’s infrastructure does not yet have capacity to process so many shrimp at once. In these situations, he must sell shrimp on the open market where he loses money by being given a lower price. This is owing to some resentment from the middlemen and foria owners toward organic farmers, because in the interests of traceability, the OSP and contributing farmers have set up a direct link between farmers and the Collection Center, which by-passes the middlemen. For farmers like Md Sohedul Islam, this relationship between the farmers and the Collection Center improves the traceability and post-harvest handling of the shrimp.

Md Nurul Islam, 57 years old, is the president of the community and an organic shrimp farmer. He is married and has two daughters who are married and live with their husbands. His wish for them is that they can live in happiness and peace. He started shrimp production 20 years ago on five bigha of land. Initially it was very profitable but then the profits reduced due to re-occuring viral diseases of the shrimp. In 2008 he started to grow organic. Since then his production has increased by about 20% and his input cost are lower, which enabled him to have a good income again. He built a house and now they can hire help for their fruit and vegetable garden as well as for their rice field. He has one permanent worker, who has helped for the past 16 years, and become like a son to him. Beside paying his worker a wage, he pays all of the costs for the worker and his family.
The main advantages of organic shrimp in his view can be seen in the whole community ; before the people were not solvent and engaged in illegal activities in order to have enough to eat. There were a lot of thieves. Now they have enough money and they can buy food and clothing. The key problem remaining for both organic and conventional shrimp production is disease. Otherwise in his view, the organic system has very few disadvantages compared to the conventional production , though some days, the price for organic shrimp on the market is higher that the price at the Collection Center. Nonetheless, he continues to sell his shrimp to the Collection Centre, because he thinks that it is a good system which helps him a lot. There is one thing he wants to communicate to the European consumer: “I culture organic shrimp, sell it and they send it to the European market; but there is no response! I want to know: Is my shrimp good? Do they like it? Who eats it?”
Generally I was really surprised that the farmers’ main argument for organic shrimp cultivation are financial and not environmental concerns. Sustainability here means having a stable and secure income. Some farmers mentioned that they think now more about the environment and their impact on it depending on their culture practices. Over the following days I will talk to conventional farmers to get to know more about their view on shrimp production.

This community has a number of other organic shrimp farmers who now work together in a group

Photo © Loni Hensler