Fish cluster: Another look at farming in Bangladesh
Fish in Bangladesh are a vital source of financial and nutritional health for the rural poor. Small-scale fish farms and hatcheries contribute to the local economy and provide an affordable source of protein and other essential nutrients to many in rural areas, where nearly half of the population faces starvation and malnutrition.Yet threats to fish and the people who rely upon them are very similar to other agriculture sectors: changing climate impacts water levels, fish habitat is being taken for non-agriculture uses, and industrial pollution poisons the ground water through runoff or through direct toxic dumping.
The Fish Site reported that in fiscal year 2008-2009 alone, more than 3 million tons of chemical fertilizers and 45,000 tons of insecticides were used in farmlands across the country, according to Department of Agriculture Extension data. Rains wash away nearly 25% of these chemicals into the
watershed. And that reflects only the byproducts of industrial agriculture practices. In the northern part of Bangladesh, people in Kulpur village rely on fish from the river as a main staple of their diet. But the village has the bad fortune to be located downstream from a chemical fertilizer plant that periodically dumps ammonia into the river, killing the fish. I visited the village, only accessible by boat, in early February. Crossing the river I noticed several small fish floating belly up in the water. The people told me for the last 2 weeks fish had been dying from ammonia poisoning, the second time this has happened in 3 years. For people already struggling to get food in their isolated community, the impacts have been devastating.
Aside from toxins, access is also becoming a concern. As market demands encourage farmers to raise particular varieties of fish like silver carp and tilapia, the shift from affordable, indigenous fish has serious impacts on the poor, according to a study from the International Food Policy Research. This is a trend seen in poor countries throughout the world, not only Bangladesh.
Yet the IFPC notes in Bangladesh efforts have begun to “promote semi-intensive polyculture in small, seasonal ponds, using the nutrient-dense small fish mola together with carp species. Mola greatly improves the nutritional value of the output of the pond, has no negative economic consequences, and adds about 10 percent to the total productivity of the pond.” This model allows small fish farmers to still have market access with higher-priced fish while providing an essential food source for local consumption.
Once again, I am reminded that the industrial agriculture model (promoted by the Monsantos of the world), with its emphasis on chemicals, monoculture, and large-scale methods, runs counter to the health and well-being of humans and the land that sustains us.