Not the same shrimp: Understanding the histories of farmed saltwater shrimp production in Bangladesh and Thailand, 1980 – 2017

Authors: Katie Rainwater*,
Topics: Agricultural Geography
Keywords: aquaculture, bangladesh, thailand
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Most scholars researching the impact of the advent of farmed shrimp production on Asian communities employ some variant of global value chain theory, which maintains that the nature of the relationship between first-world buyer and third-world producer is determinant of development outcomes. Whereas proponents of shrimp aquaculture describe foreign markets for shrimp as creating employment, opponents suggest they lead to the salinization of paddyland and the devastation of the peasantry. Yet focus on the relationship between the foreign buyer and the Asian producer obscures the diversity of Asian shrimp industries, the differences between which are primarily not attributable to differentiation in buyer-supplier relations. Drawing from archival research and interviews, I argue that the divergent development pathways taken by the various Asian shrimp-exporting states is best explained through scrutiny of how indigenous capital worked amidst state constraints to mobilize the factors (land, seed, feed, and labor) necessary for shrimp production. In Bangladesh, where the state failed to safeguard land tenure rights of smallholders, capital grabbed large swaths of paddyland to cultivate shrimp extensively with minimal use of labor. In Thailand, the land tenure rights of smallholders were safeguarded, and the state sought to limit the reach of salinization. Capital primarily invested in the production of seed and feed, which small-scale producers used as the basis for intensive cultures. Understanding the impact of export-driven shrimp production on communities in Asia must acknowledge the importance of indigenous capital-state relations in creating divergent commodity histories.

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