How many people are working in fisheries sector? How many fishermen are poor and have any ecological concern of commercial prawn culture? What are the impacts of Covid-19 on marginal fishermen? These information are available in the recently published book, “In Search of a Transition from the Virus-Driven Great Disaster to a Decent Bangladesh: On the Larger Canvas of Society-Economy-State” written by economist Prof. Dr. Abul Barkat.
The theory of a "Decent Life System" is based on a democratic state system, which puts loyalty to nature at the front position; all socio-economic and political foundations should be built on the basis of the influence of nature. The fundamental objectives of the theory of decent society are accelerating the process of human enlightenment; creativity promoting knowledge system; instilling high sense of solidarity; process of making human rationality up; making people free from all forms of inequality; free from rent-seeker; making a state for 100 per cent peoples ownership and master-less civic governance. Dr. Abul Barkat presents 11 principles to renovate decent Bangladesh from Covid-19 impacts.1. We want development-welfare-progression, but the development would be nature-environment oriented;
2. We need economic growth. We don’t need environmentally harmful, socially unjustified, human resources destructive growth;
3. Growth should reduce inequality;
4. Growth must be employment-creation oriented;
5. Per capita income or growth of domestic product is not development. It must ensure healthy life of women-children-old-marginal-poor-deprived-isolated people;
6. We want to transform the power of youth to real resources;7. We want positive social impact;
8. People’s ownership on natural resources (land, water body, forest, space resources, coal, gas and mineral) on behalf of nature;
9. We want to uphold human security and equal opportunity for development of state-society-economy;
10. Promote inequality reducing home grown development philosophy;
11. We want to extract the taste of global economic opportunities.
Eminent economist Abul Barkat analyses that the farming of prawn in saline water has created a colossal ecological degradation, salinity intrusion and poverty which are of great concern. Out of 20 million people, more than 1.5 to 2 million people are directly involved in prawn culture in saline water at coastal areas of Bangladesh. Consequently, the land turns saline which lowers the crop production. In Bangladesh coastal region, out of every 32 hectares land only about 20 hectares lands are appropriate for cultivation. The extension of this area is in 98 sub-districts of 15 districts.
In general, various salts – sodium chlorides, potassium chlorides, potassium permanganate are being used in prawn farming, resulting in unusual kinds of impact, such as high amount of salinity in water and soil, obliteration of mangrove forest, heavy metal pollution, worsening of water quality, ecological insurgencies in forest, less crops production, less production of plants, animal diseases, etc. The workers of chingri gher do not use any safety measures at work. They are also sufferer of skin diseases. Also serious concern is the loss of our native fish species from the coastal ecosystem. Fish resources are an indispensable element of our economy, and 80 per cent of our protein demands are met by the fish in our country. Bangladesh is number four in global fish production. Every year, Bangladesh produces different types of coastal and river water fish.
The climate and water bodies are apposite for various fish farming. But, in the era of bioterrorism and neoliberalism, total farming system has fallen into commercial cultivation through hybridisation and genetically modified foods. In Bangladesh, there are 8545 bunged water bodies in 3.46 lac acres and 3773 open water bodies in 27.82 lac acres. Most of them are under contract farming by local farmers and national or international agencies. As a result, intensification (extraction of ground water, agro-chemicals, hybrid seeds and patent) of water bodies makes it suitable only for hybrid fish, not for aboriginal fish, particularly in coastal region.
Writer Abul Barkat mentions that our coastal regions and rivers are losing their ecological and physical stability due to the corporate elites and land grabbers. Through the establishing of unplanned switch gates, culverts, bridges, our local rivers are getting exterminated – Mathavanga, Kopotakkho, Kaligongha, Halda, Gouri, Baleshor, Horinghata, Muktesshori, Chetona, Vodra, Horihor, etc. in this context, ecological insurgencies are intensifying.
At the same time, our native fish resources are losing their breeding ground for future fish population. Some examples of indigenous fish are – Vetki, Mola, Topse, Dhela, Darkina, Jeol, Puti, Pabda, Vol, Chanda, Bele, Tengra, Bashpata, etc. They are guiltless sufferers of anthropogenic activities and contract farming and getting lost from the existing ecosystem. About 58 types of fish are nearing extinction.
Economist Barkat clarify commercial prawn culture as an awful economy, which is also ecologically suicidal. In addition, it is socially impoverishing and economically unjust. It is true that, prawn is like white gold of Bangladesh, and it contributes to the earning of foreign currency to enrich our economy. Apart from that, we have to think about the cost of ecology and public health. Without ecological inclusion, our existence would be in danger. Time has come to rethink how to combine economy and ecology.
Land of prawn cultures is totally isolated from mainstream crops production area. Highly salinity tolerant crops must be introduced in coastal regions. Government officials offer awareness programs among local farmers to protect their health. Also, toxic-free water must be supplied among the local people. Salts can be used in a sustainable way to protect farming land.
Professor Barkat recommends empowering coastal fishermen, reducing ecologically unfriendly shrimp farming, stopping illegal construction in water bodies, controlling land and river encroachment in coastal regions. Predominantly, the context demands address of the ‘flow of black money’ and corruption in prawn farming against coastal ecology, nature and mass people. Without this, we cannot bring to an end the ecological suicide of our coastal areas!
Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association & Motiur Rahman is a Research Consultant, Human Development Research Centre (HDRC), Dhaka.