TRANSCRIPT - Conner Bailey Interview
Conner Bailey is a Professor of Rural Sociology at Auburn
University in Alabama, who has lived and worked extensively
in Southeast Asia..
George Lockwood thinks that shrimp aquaculture has increased the
standard of living in developing countries. What are the positive
and negative socio-economic factors?
There are certainly
positive aspects of shrimp aquaculture development. There are situations
where communities have had electricity provided because a shrimp
farm or a shrimp processing farm is located there. Roads have been
paved. Incomes have been made. The question I have is to what extent
have those been shared, or have they been widely captured by a small
set of actors?
That is, the
owners of the land or the people who have leased lands or these
people who have taken over public lands to build shrimp farms-have
these people been the ones who have captured the disproportionate
share of the benefits associated with aquaculture?
Sure there are
jobs created running the ponds, feeding shrimp, processing the shrimp,
trucking the shrimp around, but a lot of these jobs are pretty low-paid
jobs. We're not talking about career making opportunities here.
The people who have been benefiting, the people who have been making
the very high profits, have been the people that have had the resources
to invest in modern production technologies.
And there are
unintended consequences, or as an economist would call them 'externalities,'
associated with very high levels of production. Perhaps intensive
production associated with effluent discharge, aquifer depletion,
degradation or salination.
that are no longer public, that have been enclosed - for going out
and bringing in firewood, making charcoal, thatch materials for
your roof or the walls of your house, or construction poles to build
a house, or hunting and gathering and fishing in a mangrove or other
coastal ecosystem. Lands that had been public are now enclosed.
And this is a major and serious problem.
In other cases,
we had lands that had been used for other purposes. Rice land, for
example, in the coastal areas that had been transformed into shrimp
farms. And in this situation, we are removing one set of actors
and one set of economic actions and replacing them with another.
In some situations that might be beneficial - more income - but
the question is, who controls the land? Who controls the production
process? Are they local people, or are they outsiders? That's an
empirical question. I don't have one blanket answer that I can answer
for the globe. Coastal agriculture in Asia is far too diverse to
give you one answer. But those are the questions that need to be
Could you speak about the tendency towards intensification of benefiting
the people who are not in the local community?
In the last
10 years or so the development of shrimp aquaculture (in Southeast
Asia anyway) has been towards very intensive systems with half a
million or more shrimp per hectare per season grown. Imagine the
amount of feed, the cost of stocking materials, the antibiotics,
the labor and other inputs, in order to grow a crop that is that
It's quite enormous
and well above the ability of most of the residents in tropical
countries of Southeast Asia. What you need is to have a lot of capital
behind you in order to hire the technically qualified people to
run a system like that to purchase the inputs in order to market
the product at the end.
This is something
that a local farmer or a local fisher is unable to do. It requires
capital and it is typically outsiders - either a corporation, or
local elites, or relatively wealthy entrepreneurs from a neighboring
city - who come out and either buy up land, lease land or take control
of public lands and engage in very intensive kinds of production
are extremely attractive initially, but very quickly, what happens
is the ecosystem becomes degraded. The pond ecosystem becomes degraded
and production declines, maybe even collapses due to toxic metabolites
in the pond substrate, or due to diseases or other kinds of problems,
and then the people will move on, leaving behind a degraded environment.
And so this
is a real problem for the local communities, if we're going to talk
about a sustainable production system. We need to move away from
these extremely high levels of production, very high levels of inputs
so we have less feed, more efficient use of feed, lower stocking
densities. Incidentally, as we move in that less intensive direction
towards a production system that is now affordable - if not to the
poorest of the poor, at least to the middle stratum of coastal communities
- this is altogether a positive thing, not only in ecological terms,
but in social terms as well.
the production system closer to the availability for the majority
of the people in the coastal ecosystem. If we're moving to a production
system where it's 70,000 instead of 700,000 post-larval shrimp per
hectare, the inputs still are going to be lower but they're not
inconsequential in terms of cost. We may need to have credit programs
set up either through development banks, feed manufacturers, or
even the shrimp processors themselves, allowing the corporate actors
to work in concert with the small-scale producers rather than the
corporate actors coming in and producing themselves, which they
probably don't always want to do. It's too risky - you can lose
a crop - for better profits or to be earned by either handling the
input marketing or the processing and export of the product.
But those corporate
actors that benefit from the industry, either as importers or as
exporters, can provide technical guidance to the shrimp producers;
can provide capital, financial resources, loans to local producers
and thereby make it more possible for small-scale producers to take
advantage of a semi-intensive, manageable, sustainable kind of production
I've heard about the development of co-ops - people getting together
and then being able to afford some of the technology. Is that something
have been used by rice farmers in many parts in Asia and in many
other parts of the world as well, for many decades, many generations.
There's no reason to think cooperatives might not work in shrimp
farming as well. Particularly when you have mutual advantage. For
example in pumps, or in other technologies, to move water or you
have people who share a common intake and drainage system.
To have people
that coordinate around an infrastructure development is a natural
and logical kind of thing. And those people would therefore, as
an organized voice, perhaps would then be able to negotiate better
terms with a creditor or an input supplier; a better price in the
But the nucleus
estate issue - what Millet was looking at in West Java - if you
are a producer beyond a certain level, if you are operating more
than 30 hectares, you have to actually provide extended services
to individual small-scale producers in your immediate area. And
so, this was a conscious effort on the part of the government to
remedy the weakness of their extensions system.
The fact of
the matter was that the government extension system was totally
inadequate; lacked the ability and the support to provide adequate
extensions support for small-scale producers. So what the government
has done in Indonesia is try to get the private sector involved
in support for small-scale producers. So that's basically the idea
behind the nucleus estate.
That's something I'm unaware of. What do you mean by the nucleus
There are a
couple different varieties in my understanding. I first became aware
of it in Malaysia, where it's been used for rubber and oil pump.
And what happens is, you've got a central processing facility and
a lot of small-scale producers depend on that central processing
facility, to process the latex or the oil pump.
And so what
happens is the company, or maybe the government, that builds and
operates the processing facility, they provide extension services.
They provide credit to the individual producers who are linked into
the central processing facility. A mutual dependence, if you can
call it that.
of course, is that this central note is always going to have an
edge over all these little producers, unless these individual producers
get well organized. But that's always problematic because the nucleus
always is organized.
What percent of coastal peoples overall live without titles to their
I couldn't give
you an estimate. I can say that I've worked in coastal areas in
Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, as a field worker for years
in those countries. And I can say that most of the land that these
people relied upon were open, public lands. And so these are the
lands in the coastal zone that are quite vulnerable to being taken
over by well-placed, politically well-connected individuals or corporations
from another city or even from another country and turned into shrimp
If debt ridden developing cultures' national governments want to
encourage aquaculture, how do you see the potential of aquaculture
playing a positive role?
I don't have
anything wrong with growing shrimp and exporting the product for
foreign exchange earnings. This is a valid thing to do with shrimp
aquaculture. My problem is what do we do with those foreign exchange
Are we transferring
them into capital goods? Medicines and into economic infrastructure
that is useful to the people in the developing country or are we
using this for foreign bank accounts. Are we using this for luxury
goods to be imported? Foreign exchange earnings are important but
I think we need to ask the question: to what end? Are we really
talking about development or are we talking about maintaining elite
class interests that may be a little over the top.
development is really important in terms of feeding the world's
population. Shrimp aquaculture is one of the fastest, if not the
fastest, growing segment of aquaculture. Unfortunately, what's happening
with shrimp is that we're feeding it as a luxury commodity to the
well fed, if not overfed, populations of Europe, Japan and North
America, rather than the hungry people in tropical developing countries.
So what we're doing is we're taking resources that are found within
developing countries and transforming them into the luxury commodities
consumed by wealthy consumers.
Here the problem
of food security is really important. I think that what we've done,
due to the economic attraction of shrimp aquaculture, is we've taken
the best and brightest minds in the aquaculture business and research
and we've focused them on the big buck industry, which is shrimp,
rather than what we have always done here at Auburn University,
is the tilapias of the world - the food fish for the masses of the
This is what
aquaculture development of the world in the past has focused on
and will again in the future. We're in a period of time where we've
been focusing on the short-term profits associated with shrimp.
But aquaculture is not just shrimp. It's many other things and we
need to go back to diversifying what we do in aquaculture development.
If you were advising an international financing organization, like
the World Bank, what socio-economic criteria would you hope they
would consider in pondering a loan for shrimp aquaculture?
If I were to
advise the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank or any other international
donors how to promote aquaculture development for shrimp farmers,
I would focus first on land tenure and the control of the local
land resource and production system by local residents; by people
who live in the coastal zone; those people who are most in need
George wanted to talk about artisenal communities, as if aquaculture
were the best thing that ever happened to them.
People who live
in coastal fishing communities, from my experience living in Southeast
Asia, live quite a wonderful life; a great deal of independence
in terms of what they do on a day-to-day basis. They go to sea,
they catch fish, they mend their nets, they harvest a little bit
of shellfish from the coastal area. They make a little charcoal
from mangrove. They do a number of different things. They have access
to a range or resources that control their daily lives to a large
I'm not at all
convinced that making them part of an industrial production system
on a corporately owned shrimp farm or shrimp processing plant represents
a change for the better in the quality of life.
Part of the criteria for certification is socio-economic criteria.
I think certification
is a good idea. They've done it with timber products. There's no
reason why we can't do it with shrimp. But we know that with timber
products, customers are willing to pay a premium for product that
is produced in a sustainable fashion. We can define sustainability
to include not only ecological and economic, but also social criteria.
What we need
to do is have an agreed upon body that makes investigations in the
field. Those producing areas, those producers, those processors
that uphold basic human rights, that allow commercial control over
natural resources. And when the agreed upon standards are met between
the industry and the environmental community then I think we've
got the basis for a certification process and we're making important
steps in that direction now.
What are they?
There are a
large number of actors involved in this debate over shrimp aquaculture,
and having a consensus that every actor is going to agree on is
probably going to be folly. But around many of the more responsible
actors, there are some standards that we all can adhere to, and
these have to do with intensity of production; these have to do
with effluent discharge and treatment; these have to do with community
control. They're basically sustainability criteria.
On the one hand you've got environmentalists saying that we've got
these artisenal fisheries, like Bangkok, that are being displaced
and then you've got George saying the opposite.
If we're going
to look at artisenal fisheries or small-scale capture fisheries,
and why they might be leaving the rural areas, it may have only
slightly to do with what's happening with aquaculture development.
It's much more likely to be influenced by what's happening in the
oceans with the deep-sea trawlers and the competition with more
highly capitalized fishing boats. It's much the same kind of issue,
but it's a different technology, different production system. The
issue is the same: small guy gets screwed.
But the issue
of employment opportunities being created and allowing a renaissance
in rural Thailand or Indonesia or in the Philippines probably is
overstated. I think that there might be some validity to the idea
that there's employment being generated where none was before, when
we're taking a mangrove ecosystem and transforming it or some other
marginally productive ecosystem and making it into a shrimp farm.
At least in the short term, the construction, the operation of that
pond may generate more employment. But shrimp farms are not as labor
absorptive as rice farming, for example, on a per-hectare basis.
As a sociologist, how would continued expansion of shrimp production
lead to the improvement of quality of life in Thailand and such
I think the
future of shrimp aquaculture development, in Asia anyway, is in
the direction of less intensive production that's more accessible
by small-scale producers. We can expand production beyond where
we are on a sustainable basis.
To what degree have the coastal fishing communities and markets
contributed to the culture of Southeast Asia?
has always been a very maritime-oriented region. It's been a crossroads
of the world between China and India back in the early days of Buddhist
monks in migration from one country to another. It's the crossroads
of the world. It's the Spice Islands, for gosh sakes. The Moluccus
are the Spice Islands that Columbus went in search of. And we've
had traders from Japan and China and from Arabia and from India
in and out of that region. We've had Indian armies invade Sumatra
in the 11th century. It's always been a very maritime-oriented part
of the world.
call themselves "Nusa Antara", which is the land between, between
the sea. They define themselves by the sea. Indonesia's a collection
of islands. The Philippines are the same. And Malaysia, as a peninsula
surrounded by on the one side Malacca Straits and the other side,
South China Seas. Thailand, Burma - they are both large interior
areas in populations but also very much along the coastlines.
If certification label exists for environmentally safe shrimp, would
that give consumers a vote on what kind of development goes on in
For a certification
system to have a positive benefit in terms of development, socially
equitable development and for sustainable ecosystem development,
I think consumers need to be aware that there are costs associated
with shrimp farming. And to mitigate those costs is possible, and
it's only going to be possible if consumers vote preference by consciously
choosing in the marketplace a product that has been certified as