Final days 8th -10th December Some voices on negative effects of organic shrimp farming

8.12. Some voices on the negative effects of organic shrimp farming

Those actors negatively affected by the Organic Shrimp Project ~(OSP) are largely those who were engaged in the conventional value chain, including the middlemen, the faria, the depos and the auctioning center, as well as the collectors of wild fry and those providing chemicals and medicine as inputs to conventional farms. One of the middlemen in the area told us, that his profits have decreased since the OSP started, from 200 taka per day to only 20-30 taka per day, and he relies on another business he runs, to survive. However, not all of the other middlemen in the region are as fortunate, and many will need to find other occupations. The OSP does also provide work in the Internal Control System and Collection Centers, but they need comparatively less workers than the number engaged in the conventional shrimp chain. This much said, the OSP claims that jobs offered within the OSP represent full-time employment and further education, which is an improvement over the less certain, casual labor in the conventional trade. The collectors of wild fry around the large Sundarban national park, who are mainly poor and landless people, are also likely to be negatively affected. This much said, it must be remembered that wild fry catching is illegal, because it was banned by the government, and destroys the biodiversity of the rivers.
Overall, considering all the information I collected here, the advantages of the OSP for the farmers, the workers, the environment and the consumers seem to outweigh the disadvantages, compared with the conventional shrimp production. But, to what extent does organic shrimp present a better future for the wider Bangladeshi society, beyond the shrimp sector, and into the longer-term? And to what extent can we argue that organic shrimp poses a more ‘ethical’ choice than conventional shrimp. I’m afraid these questions are more complex, but I am hoping that a workshop on a ‘Healthy Shrimp Industry’ that I will be attending tomorrow might help me towards these big questions.

10.12. ‘Shorter Supply Chain for a Healthy Shrimp Industry’; a workshop for stakeholders in the shrimp industry, 10th December 2012 in Khulna
My questions on the over-all benefit of the shrimp industry were unfortunately not raised in the workshop for improving the shrimp value chain organized by the project BEST-BFQ (Better Fisheries Quality) initiated by UNIDO. There seemed to be consensus of the workshop participants that the shrimp industry is generally good, and only requires some small improvements at the margins. There were about 60 people invited to the workshop, who all had key positions in the shrimp value chain. I joined the workshop with Mr. Aksya who was invited to present the Organic Shrimp Project and their value chain approach as ‘best practice’. After an introduction to the challenges surrounding conventional shrimp production from Dr. Md. Nazmul Ahsan, Professor from Khulna University, two best practice examples for a shorter supply chain were presented, before participants discussed in small groups how to shorten the value chain. Even though I could not understand everything, I was shocked that the majority of those present had little experience with the daily realities of those people working along the value chain, and therefore what is realistic or necessary to do. They seemed to be driven by the sole aim of shortening the supply chain, though not necessarily on improving the situation for the farmer/producer, the traceability of the products, or the impact on the environment. This made me pessimistic that we will see any concrete action in the near future, for improving the farmers’ situation.

10.12. Shrimp farming in the long run: from toxic soil and water control
Today I finished my last research interviews in Bangladesh, and I had a meeting with the principal scientific officer from the Bangladesh Soil Research Development Institute. He described to me one of the studies they are doing about the salinity in the local soils. They compared data from 1974, 2000 and 2009, and from every month over the last 2 years. The results were alarming: not only is the extent of the area that is affected by high salt levels increasing very quickly, but also the level of salt concentration increases and in some areas it gets close to a level where the soil can be considered as toxic to growing vegetation. This can in part be attributed to the shrimp industry, but also to the control that India has on Bangladesh’s fresh water supplies, and the effects of climate change contributes to this rapid increase in salinity in Bangladesh’s coastal regions. Indeed, some areas switched to shrimp production for the reason that the soils had become so saline as to not support other agriculture systems, like rice production. In some of these saline areas, shrimp production may be the only viable land-use open to the communities there, though the scientists I spoke to feared that in a number of years, salinity levels may reach a point where even the shrimp industry may be affected.

The impacts of salinisation?

Rice and shrimp farming side by side- on the road to……………?

For now I have seen plenty in Bangladesh and I am heading back to Dhaka to catch my flight back home to Germany with a lot of different experiences, impressions and arguments in my head and a lot of smiles, happiness and life-stories in my heart. So far, my conclusion is that the shrimp industry in Bangladesh is really complex and it is not easy to judge whether it is wholly good or bad. Over the following weeks I will be writing my story, and exploring more deeply questions on the advantages and disadvantages of moving from conventional to organic shrimp production, and the opportunities and barriers that need to be overcome in order to make that transition, taken from my experiences, meetings and impressions. Moreover I will broaden my view by meeting the important stakeholders at the European end of the value-chain: the trading organizations, a certifier and the retail markets. If you are interested in this more comprehensive and detailed report on (organic) shrimp from Bangladesh, and the impact of the industry on future of Bangladeshi farmers and their families or just want to see some more pictures of rural Bangladesh, I invite you to find my report on this website in a few weeks.

Wiedersehen für jetzt….
Bye for now ….. Loni

Some last impressions…

Photo © Loni Hensler