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Coastal livelihoods

Coastal zones have experienced rapid change in recent decades. The tropics in particular have seen often wholesale conversion of mangrove forests and rice paddies to aquaculture. The most explosive growth has been in tropical shrimp farming. But high profits for some have been accompanied by high environmental and social costs for entire communities. Between 1961 and 1996, Thailand, until recently the world's biggest shrimp producer, lost 56 per cent of its original mangrove area to various coastal developments, but mainly to shrimp farming. The conversion of rice lands into shrimp ponds has also been problematic. Failure in this risky business has left many farm families landless and poisoned the land itself with salt and other pollutants. Scientists gathered in March in the Vietnamese coastal provincial capital of Bac Lieu to investigate these developments. The International Conference on Environment and Livelihoods in the Coastal Zones: Managing Agriculture-Fishery-Aquaculture Conflicts was organised by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Cantho University, and People's Committee of Bac Lieu Province, and was sponsored by the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, Challenge Programme on Water and Food, WorldFish Center, IRRI and IWMI.

The coastal zone: between the devil and the deep blue sea?

Coastal zones are central in the water-food-environment dilemma. Located at the tail of river basins, they receive the leftover drainage flows and the pollution loads. Around the globe, 23 of the 25 identified biodiversity hotspots are at least partly in the coastal zone.
Dr David Molden, Principal Scientist, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

In the past, coastal people, and particularly the coastal poor, have adapted to the intrinsically dynamic nature of the coast. Now they find themselves having to respond and cope in an increasingly competitive environment, where access to the resources they depend on is becoming more and more restricted and opportunities based on the use of natural resources are becoming increasingly limited.
Jock Campbell, IMM, University of Exeter, UK

Bangladesh is a crowded country in which under-utilised coastal lands are the only areas left.
Dr M K Mondal, Senior Agricultural Engineer, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur, Bangladesh

Coastal areas are ecologically sensitive environments supporting many, often incompatible, activities. Resources can be used simultaneously for different purposes, but the rights and rules of access to, and use of, those resources are often ill-defined.
Dr Cecile Brugere, Fishery Planning Analyst, Fishery Policy and Planning Division, Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome

Activities related to the discovery of crude oil in the coastal zone of Nigeria have triggered conflict between agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture. Pollution, oil spills, gas flaring and downstream crude oil activities have further limited the land available to agriculture and the water bodies available for fisheries and aquaculture.
Dr Oladele O. Idowu, Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Coastal aquaculture: sweeping all before it

Coastal aquaculture has potential for the production of food, alleviation of poverty, and generation of wealth. It also has potential to degrade the environment and harm the livelihoods of people living in coastal areas, many of whom are among the poorest in the world.
Dr John Gowing, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

The expansion of shrimp farming has produced a sharp differentiation between those social groups that have benefited from the conversion and those social groups that have suffered both directly and indirectly.
Dr Cecilia Luttrell, Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), UK

Thailand's shrimp-farming industry has suffered numerous regional boom-and-bust cycles that created considerable environmental damage in rural communities… Aquaculture water supply systems in Thailand are largely unplanned and utilise infrastructure originally designed for rice farming… The short history of shrimp farming in Thailand has been marked by a constant search for short-term technical or locational solutions to systemic problems.
Dr Brian Szuster, Department of Geography, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA

Aquaculture is not an accessible opportunity to the poorest due to the required levels of capital, infrastructure and land. Unless aquaculture activities can be made more accessible to the poorest groups or be clearly shown to have local multiplier benefits, it may be hard to justify spending public funds on associated infrastructure.
Dr Cecilia Luttrell, Research Fellow, ODI

At the start of shrimp cultivation in our study area of coastal Bangladesh, the average number of cattle per household was seven, but in 1999 this figure had decreased to two. The reasons for the decline of domestic animals are the scarcity of grass, straw and grazing lands and the lack of pure drinking water.
Dr Md. Rezaul Karim, Professor, Urban and Rural Planning, Khulna University, Bangladesh

Mangrove depletion: the coast is clear

If there are no mangrove forests, then the sea will have no meaning. It is like having a tree with no roots, for the mangroves are the roots of the sea.
A Thai fisherman interviewed by Dr Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, Research Director, Institut de recherche pour le developpement (Heritage, Territory and Identity)

Local communities have a holistic perception of the mangrove ecosystem. People recognize fully the important role played by mangroves in the maintenance of local fisheries. It is thanks to mangroves that fish, shrimps, crabs, snails and cockles can be harvested.
Dr Patricia Ocampo-Thomason, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Long considered, at least in Western eyes, to be impenetrable, muddy and squalid swamps infested with mosquitoes, mangroves are now considered as rich ecosystems, fragile and threatened by human activity, to the extent that they must urgently be protected.
Dr Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, Research Director, Institut de recherche pour le developpement (Heritage, Territory and Identity)

While some mangrove types may be very important to maintaining marine productivity, it could be that large tracts of inner parts of mangroves can be used for aquaculture without affecting marine productivity. But how to reach an optimal arrangement requires further research.
Paul A M van Zwieten, Fish Culture and Fisheries Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Is shrimp farming responsible for mangrove destruction? Mangrove destruction is an issue of global concern, but in-depth studies of the history of mangrove exploitation are few. A recent WWF study concluded that "the extent of mangrove destruction worldwide resulting from shrimp farming is only a tiny fraction of the total lost to date".
Dr John Gowing, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Coastal challenge: conflict and complexity

Irrigation systems originally designed for rice production become less effective when their use diversifies to include aquaculture. This creates conflicts between agriculture and aquaculture.
Dr N. T. Khiem, Economics Faculty Head, An Giang University, Vietnam

Conflict is a key driver for change. In any conflict resolution, the first steps are to describe the nature and cause of the conflict and to identify and bring together all the stakeholders to try to reach a consensus or compromise agreements.
Dr Ian White, Water Research Foundation of Australia, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra

Coastal communities that look homogenous often are not. Some of them are mainly agricultural communities with a complement of fishing and cockle gathering, while some others are strongly dependent on fishing or cockle gathering. Understanding these differences should help to target the type of projects to be implemented in different communities and raise awareness that external impacts affect some communities more than the others.
Dr Patricia Ocampo-Thomason, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Farmers, fishers and regulators have to deal with and integrate a bewildering range of soil, climate, crop, nutrient, disease, pest, social, regulatory, financial, political and institutional issues in their daily tasks. It became increasingly apparent to researchers that they needed to understand these broader issues in order to transfer their research findings effectively.
Dr Ian White, Water Research Foundation of Australia, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra

Coastal solutions: floating ideas

Integrated coastal zone management should shift its emphasis from conflict resolution to building and strengthening suitable institutions. Decentralisation and devolution can be part of the process of institutional change."
Dr Cecile Brugere, Fishery Planning Analyst, Fishery Policy and Planning Division, Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome

"Although some of the environmental and social problems of the coastal zone may be addressed at the individual farm level, most are cumulative. They can be addressed only through better planning and management of the sector by government, in collaboration with producer associations or industry organisations.
Dr John Gowing, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Providing extension services to a large cadre of small-scale, poorly trained, independent-minded farmers has proven difficult. Capacity building depends on better communication between government agencies and shrimp farmers. Improved cooperation between farmers at the community level is also needed to improve husbandry techniques and to develop communal infrastructure.
Dr Brian Szuster, Department of Geography, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA

Sustainable resource use and the maintenance of coastal systems' functions are enormous challenges. The supply of reliable information, participatory approaches and the adoption of context-specific best-management practices are of central importance to sustainable coastal zone management.
Dr Ian White, Water Research Foundation of Australia, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra

Many aquaculture management problems arise from inappropriate site selection or shifting cultivation strategies. Zoning can protect environmental resources, minimise land-use conflicts and maximise shrimp production by locating farms in areas best suited for aquaculture. Zoning can also provide a focus for infrastructure development and the provision of much-needed extension training services for farmers. Zoning systems have been developed in Thailand, but implementation has been slow.
Dr Brian Szuster, Department of Geography, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA

The task of researchers is to provide a range of practical management options for farmers, fishers and regulators, not single prescriptive solutions.
Dr Ian White, Water Research Foundation of Australia, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra

Date published: September 2005

 

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