World Rainforest Movement

Large Scale Shrimp Farming and Impacts on Women

Inland aquaculture has been practiced in Asian countries, namely in Indonesia, China, India and Thailand for hundreds of years. Shrimps were traditionally cultivated in paddy fields or in ponds combined with fishes, without significantly altering the mangrove forest, which for centuries has been used communally by local people providing them a number of products such as commercial fish, shrimp, game, timber, honey, fuel, medicine. Women have played a key role in taking the advantage of mangrove resources. In Papua Island, indigenous knowledge regulates woman’s role in mangrove forest.

Recent increase in market demand have pressed for a change into intensive and semi-intensive shrimp farming, with much less respect to local ecosystems and people. Multinational corporations, coupled with the support of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, have expanded intensive shrimp aquaculture in Asia, taking all the access and blocking traditional users’ access to coastal resources. This has meant loss of food, health, income and social and cultural welfare for them.

Shrimp cultivation is the most high-risk process in the shrimp industry, especially after virus attacks that began in 1993 and continue until today. In spite of that, small farmers were encouraged by the government and influenced by the industry to continue investing in this activity. Most of the small farmers became indebted and did not continue the business anymore. The current shrimp owner is mostly the local businessman who bought the ponds from several small indebted farmers.

This modern and large scale shrimp farming creates major socio-economic problems to the local people, including land conflicts, exploitation of the poor by large corporations, and changes in social structures of local communities.

Although coastal communities may in fact have used and cared for the land over a long period, they do not posses formal landownership documents. So, most resistance against shrimp industry has been related to land taking by government and corporations.

Farmer families who lose the land will leave to the cities for low-skill jobs. Woman and children are the most fragile group related to changing in social structures, and in some cases may end up in prostitution. Employment opportunities of shrimp processing factories for the local people are often limited to unskilled and low-paid jobs, such as watchman and harvester. Only few jobs are available to local women, who can be employed as cleaning service and other low skill and part time works.

The current trend in Indonesia is that the traditional farmers are directed to join as satellite farmers in a Nucleus Estate Smallholders Scheme (NESS). Large scale NEES is usually supported by government and provided with high technology. The NESS system is also very biased against women. In large-scale shrimp farming only adult and educated men can hope to get a job. In case of death or inability to work of the smallholder males, women must leave the farming estate, leaving behind all the assets that they had been paying for by credit instalment.

The change from traditional to industrial shrimp farming that is rapidly taking place might in the short term benefit the government and the large-scale shrimp investors due to foreign currency generation, but the environmental and social costs associated with the industry by far outstrip the benefits. Local communities are particularly marginalised and exploited and local social structures are threatened by growing tensions and conflicts.

Adapted and excerpted from “Large Scale Shrimp Farming and Impacts on women”, by P. Raja Siregar, Campaigner of WALHI (Friends of The Earth- Indonesia) and Coordinator of Coalition of Anti-Debt Movement. Sent by the author. E-mail: . The full document is available at

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