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MAD - How a Little Shrimp Can Destroy a Whole Farm
May 27, 2000

World trade and economic development are very complicated. Issues that arise from world trade and economic development can dramatically affect the lives of people across the globe, especially in third world countries like India. Shrimp aquaculture - or shrimp farming - in India is a very good example of what happens when development projects and free trade don't work as well as they should.

Over the past ten years India has become the third largest shrimp producer in the world. This is in part because aid organizations like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, have invested in shrimp aquaculture in hopes that the industry would create jobs and bring new sources of income to impoverished villages. While these are great intentions, this is not what actually resulted. In fact many reports including the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute's report, have concluded that the cost to the Indian government and people for lost and destroyed resourcescaused by shrimp aquaculture is actually greater than the amount of income brought into the Indian economy from exporting the shrimp. Why did this happen?

Shrimp aquaculture was developed as a way to produce more shrimp for consumption than fishing has in the past. We think of shrimp as coming from the ocean. But today, people have developed a way to harvest shrimp like we do vegetables. Shrimp aquaculture has become a very big business across the globe as a result of the increased demand for shrimp by people in countries like the United States and Japan.

How do they farm shrimp? Shrimp thrive in marshy coastal environments. In order to create an environment where shrimp can grow, farmers must dig a pond near the coast and pump in ocean water and fresh ground water for the shrimp to swim in. They stock the ponds with shrimp larvae that they buy from other shrimp producers. These shrimp usually are not from the area that the shrimp farm is in. Sometimes these shrimp will bring diseases or parasites that aren't native to the area that can contaminate and kill the native flora and fauna. These new shrimp may also be more susceptible to the native diseases and parasites. In order to prevent the new shrimp from getting sick, farmers must also pump pesticides and antibiotics into the pond. If you've ever had a goldfish, you can imagine that between the food, pesticides, antibiotics and shrimp poop, this pond is going to get pretty dirty. So the farmers must pump in clean water every day so the shrimp can survive. Sometimes they must pump in up to 30% new water a day. That's a lot of water.

Where does all the polluted water go? In many countries, like India, the majority of people don't turn on a faucet to get their water. Most kids in India get their water from a river, a stream or a well. When a shrimp farm flushes out their polluted water, it doesn't get treated and ends up going back into the ground or river or stream. So when the people in the towns next to the shrimp farm get their water, it is now polluted with chemicals, antibiotics and, "you guessed it" shrimp poop! Not only that, but as we know, shrimp need salt water in order to survive so this water is also full of salt. When this saltwater is dumped out of the ponds it seeps into local drinking water sources ruining the water supply. If used for irrigation, this brackish water will kill the crops and can destroy the ability to farm the land for years to come. Once their crops are destroyed, poor rice farmers are forced to sell their land to the neighboring shrimp farm. The shrimp farming industry has continued to pollute as a way to get land to expand its ponds.

Wait a minute; wasn't shrimp aquaculture supposed to help the people in the villages? Yes, however, the money invested in shrimp aquaculture went to large investors not the villagers. These big shrimp aquaculture companies did hire people from neighboring villages to work on the shrimp farms, but as it turns out, these farms were more capital-intensive and didn't need a lot of labor. Hence, not as many jobs were created as expected. Also, if there were environmental regulations in place, they were not enforced. The shrimp companies have not been forced to clean up their mess.

Vocabulary

impoverished - very poor
brackish - water that is somewhat salty
rehabilitate - to restore or reestablish

One of the biggest problems, though, with shrimp aquaculture is that it is not sustainable. Modern shrimp aquaculture began in Taiwan, who was the leading producer of shrimp for 10 years. By the 1990's the shrimp industry in Taiwan collapsed as a result of shrimp diseases, water pollution and loss of ground water. Sometimes shrimp farms only last 3-9 years. When shrimp farmers abandon the farms, the land is too salty and toxic for agricultural uses. Rehabilitating the land is very expensive and very slow. One study in India revealed that the estimated time to rehabilitate land after shrimp aquaculture is 30 years.

So what will the people of India do when the shrimp farms collapse? They have lost the land previously use for crops, the land has been poisoned for future use and all of the big profits went to large companies.

This is a pretty complicated issue facing coastal villages throughout India. It is so complicated, I almost want to ignore it. But while I ignore it, people are losing their jobs, their land and their homes and our environment is getting polluted. So, how can we prevent things like this from happening in the future?

  1. Educate yourself, knowledge is power.
    • Understand why and how the World Bank and other aid institutions fund projects.
    • Understand how the World Trade Organization is supporting or not supporting development.
    • Understand how environmental regulations are passed and enforced in different countries.
  2. Educate others
  3. Act!
    • Protest or write to your congress members and senators about your views on fair trade policies.
    • Support Greenpeace, a world wide environmental organization.
    • Buy food and products that are environmentally sound.
    • Buy and eat organic foods, they are good for you and the environment!
    • Cut down on eating meat and fish, or go vegetarian.

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