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.
Can you comment on local shrimp farming in countries where government
regulations are lacking?
They are trying
to develop the best management practices and extend that information
out to tens of thousands of producers, with an acre here, an acre
there, who may not even have any background in coastal ecosystems.
Who maybe are coming out of textile industry and have some money
they want to invest and think that something can be made out of
shrimp farming. So having a set of technologies is important - a
package of technologies of the best management practices without
any extension system that would make this information available
to the public to the producers.
of any regulatory system means that you're going to have a Wild
West kind of situation. You're going to have an industry that is
totally out of control. That has no guidance, that is, everybody's
out doing his or her own thing. People are releasing water that
may have viral organisms in it into the intake canal of the next
farmer over. So it's very hard to create a management system under
Is shrimp farming an improvement over rice farming and artesian
I think fundamentally
shrimp farming as it is practiced in Southeast Asia has transformed
the coastal ecosystems in ways that have removed opportunities for
people to make a living. We used to have complex ecosystems, which
we have greatly simplified by removing mangrove and putting in shrimp
farms. And so the alternatives from capture fishing, from harvesting
products from the mangrove and having a more diversified economy
have been reduced or eliminated with the introduction of shrimp
farming. So people have become dependent on this one single activity
and that's a question of vulnerability. It's not a question of any
kind of sustainability. People may make a killing one year in economic
terms followed by years of loss because of viral disease of other
problems. That's a problem of vulnerability. It's not an improvement
in the long term, in terms of sustainability - a much-overused word.
But it's not an improvement in terms of sustainable livelihoods
for peoples in coastal communities.
Does the World Bank ever consult with rural sociologists?
To my knowledge,
the World Bank doesn't have any rural sociologist on staff. They've
had some number, some small number of social scientists, anthropology,
and sociology type folks. I'm not real religious about disciplinary
boundaries. It's more a question of perspective. Geographers are
perfectly fine. They certainly have them available as consultants.
But even the World Bank doesn't have much in the way of staff on
aquaculture fisheries. They have to rely on consultants. Consultants
are going to give you the answers they want. Whether you're talking
about urban development in a small town in Alabama or a consultant
working for the World Bank. They know pretty much what it is that
the customer wants. They are going to do their best to package their
answer in a way that will make the customer happy and make them
maybe want to hire you again.
What has been the effect of privatization-which seems to go with
shrimp aquaculture-on these small coastal communities?
The loss of
public lands in the form of mangrove or other vitally important
coastal ecosystems were not in private ownership and have had a
tremendously negative impact on the economic and social viability
of coastal communities throughout Southeast Asia. What has happened
is that private investors have been able to use their political
contacts with local governments and national governments, either
to get ownership or leases, long-term leases, over these lands.
So they've cleared mangrove or they've taken over other public lands,
which had multiple uses for the local community for subsistence
and commercial purposes.
Now these lands
and resources are no longer available to the local communities.
They are now private property - typically owned and controlled,
either by ownership or lease, by outsiders. The multiple nature
of the use of these resources has been delimited as the mangrove
has been cut, and private property has been imposed and shrimp has
been grown. So, you've lost access to a coastal community that has
lost access to vitally important resources through the expansion
of the shrimp farming industry.
Can you address the issues that arise from small, family-run
shrimp farms in Asia?
producers, including aquaculture producers in Asia are small-scale
entrepreneurs, smalls scale operators, we call them peasants if
you like. But they're small-scale operators. That's the way the
societies are structured. The idea that we might improve matters
by bringing in large corporations with a lot of capital and a lot
of technical expertise may make sense technically, but your going
to create many social problems by pushing aside the smaller scale
producers. So, I don't really think that's a viable option, that
moving toward a more capital intensive corporate structure in your
production system is the way to go.
I think far
more important would be to work with the local producers that you
have, don't necessarily go into a super high intensity of stocking
and feeding which requires a lot of capital and a high level of
technical competence to measure dissolved oxygen, and other problems,
such as disease problems. But rather take traditional systems that
have been in place for literally millennia in some countries in
Asia, and modify these. Work with these as a starting point, rather
than trying to import a model that's foreign to the society.
Some have pointed out that shrimp farming has created jobs, infrastructure,
and opportunities to stay on the land. What is your opinion?
has certainly created options for some people, created wealth opportunities
for some people, have also undermined the ability of some people
to earn a living in the local economy. There have been roads built,
electrification has been introduced in some areas, there certainly
have been benefits. It's not a simple picture of good and evil.
But in the long term, I'd say that shrimp farming is going to prove
to have had a detrimental impact on the viability of rural coastal
communities. Shrimp farming does employ some people but the number
of people employed in the actual production processes is relatively
Most of the employment generated in shrimp industry is in the processing
sector. Now that is not done in villages typically. It's done in
towns. So while there has been employment generated and mostly for
women, this employment does not have opportunities for upward progression
in any kind of professional sense. It's relatively low wage. It
is tough work that leads to problems of carpel tunnel syndrome and
other repetitive motion types of problems. And to say that this
has created opportunities that allow people to remain at home in
the absence of other opportunities is pure myth making.
With all the problems related to shrimp farming in Thailand,
why does it keep going on?
Well, I think
you have processing facilities; you have contracts that people have
to sell the product internationally. I think you have governments
that are looking for foreign exchange. You have international development
agencies responding to the requests of national governments for
development assistance. All of this is going on, and of course what's
the central driving force are the local entrepreneurs. These are
the people who are actually making investments. These are the people
putting money in the ground, buying feed, buying seed, and making
the industry develop. Now, they're looking for new areas all the
time that have not been despoiled, that have not been subject to
disease pandemics that have wiped out the industry in many parts
of Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. So they are opening
up new areas all the time.
How do you see the glut in prices in the shrimp industry? Some
see it as positive, others as negative.
First, you need
to have an economist talk about this authoritatively, so I'll move
on to my own comments. You need to talk to somebody who's going
to give you the classic economist-speak. It's a very natural thing
with a new industry that the first adopters of the new technology
are going to earn super profits if they are successful with the
in this case shrimp farming. So the fact that
people were making enormous profits initially drew a lot more people
into the industry - new countries, and new investors, and so the
industry in shrimp farming has grown exponentially in the last 20
At some point
of course those profits are going to start moderating as supply
starts bumping up against demand. So, of course, supply and demand
are going to reach a new equilibrium, a new balance point. And it's
going to tend to drive down prices of farmed shrimp and wild shrimp
from the Gulf of Mexico or any other part of the world. So we have
an increased supply that's going to drive down prices. For consumers,
this is great news. For producers in tropical developing countries,
this is not necessarily good news. It's squeezing profit margins
at the same time they're suffering losses from disease problems.
Leading to more pressure to grow more shrimp because it takes more
shrimp to make the same level of income that it used to make.
How important is it to create sustainable aquaculture for the
diets and local economies in countries like Thailand?
Well in Southeast
Asia, we've known since the 1970's that the marine stocks are being
heavily exploited, if not over exploited. For example, in the Gulf
of Thailand, many part of Indonesia and the Philippines. These are
societies that are heavily dependent on fish for the largest proportion
of the animal protein intake of the whole society. It is especially
important for the people who are at the bottom end of the income
pyramid. The people who are the poorest are the most reliant, the
most dependent on fish for animal protein. Since we've removed a
high proportion of the total marine stock, what we have left in
sustainable terms is going to be from aquaculture.
Now it's very
unfortunate that we have put more emphasis on shrimp farming which
is geared for export, than we have on tilapia, carp production or
other traditional forms of aquacultural development that exist in
these countries that could be promoted. Instead the best and the
brightest minds and most of the money have gone into shrimp farming
because that's where the dollars and the yen and the Deutsch marks
and the pounds can be earned. It's not serving to feed populations
locally. That's something that could be done if we made investments
in other forms of aquaculture development. We've simply missed opportunities.
Those opportunities are still there. They haven't gone away. We
simply need to redirect the emphasis of aquaculture research, training,
What are the social impacts of the growing demand for farmed
It's true that
today, most people don't know where any of their food comes from.
We have grapes from Chile and oranges from who knows where. But,
I think there's great potential to develop public interest - consumer
interest in where their food comes from, for people to feel good
about the food that they eat. Not only because of it's healthful
qualities, but because the production of and distribution of that
food and processing of that food was done in a matter that would
promote self development, promote sustainable development in other
countries. Shrimp and other forms of seafood might as well have
certifications systems in place. The Marine Stewardship Council
is there at present.
In forestry, we have the Forest Stewardship Council, and in agriculture
we have organic standards.
People are starting
to become more aware that certification systems exist. They have
not only biotical but also, social criteria that are used in the
certification systems. What we need to do is a public education
campaign in North America, Western Europe and Japan, the main importing
nations, so people understand the consequences of what they eat.
The fact that they're eating shrimp from Southeast Asia has an impact
on coastal communities, on human nutrition, on economic and social
welfare for the societies that produce this product in the first
We are one world.
The idea of globalization is more than the World Trade Organization.
It is that we are all interdependent and the fact that we're eating
high value animal protein from animal protein-deficit societies
ought to raise some concerns in some of our minds and hearts. We
now need to take that concern and to develop a certification system
that would give us some assurance that the products that we eat
are coming from places that we feel good about supporting.
What's the upside of a public awareness campaign? Might it change
consumer attitudes in the way public awareness of organic foods
I think in the
US market, organic foods are available widely, certainly in the
health food markets and in the organic supermarkets that you'll
find in some parts of the country. Even here in Alabama, our local
Kroger carries organic produce of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
So clearly this reflects a consumer interest demand for organic
Consumer demand for organics changed the way food is produced.
Could public awareness of aquaculture also change how farmers conduct
The next time
you buy shrimp I think you need to know where it comes from. Go
to your grocer and say, "Where did this come from? Is it pond-raised
shrimp? Is it wild caught shrimp? What are the conditions under
which it was processed?" These ought to be important things
to consider. You can demand if of your grocer, your seafood grocer
to say I want products that meet certain criteria. It's fully within
our power. We can buy or not buy that product.
Do you have any other thoughts on the matter, or anything else
we have been discussing?
I think certification
is not the only answer or at least we have to be critical of certification
systems. Industry interests can capture them. We have the Forest
Stewardship Council, which I think does a very good job in the forestry
sector. There are other potential competitors out there in forestry,
in seafood, wanting to create their own industry sanctioned certification
system, and even if that system doesn't have as much credibility
as the one that comes out of the environmental movement, I think
the industry competition or the other alternative labels, eco-labels,
are going to muddy the waters and confuse consumers and that is
just as good from industry's perspective.
Sounds like you need third party certification as opposed to
industry sponsored groups.
You can't have a certification system that is industry run and dominated.
You can have the Global Aquacultural Alliance running a certification
system for aquaculture. It simply doesn't wash. They tried it, and
realized it wasn't going to happen. You've got to have independent,
third party sources for certification. Otherwise, you will not have
any public credibility.
What's the relative power of consumer demand in a global economy
You and I and
North American consumers have enormous market power because we've
got dollars. We're relatively wealthy markets, and we can command
products from around the world to come to our tables and that's
exactly what we do. The power of global capitalism is such that
those consumers in North America, Western Europe, and Japan are
able to source materials from a global market place. Our ecological
footprint is therefore absolutely enormous. The impact that we have
by our consumer behavior dictates the direction of life, the economic
directions of whole societies around the world, transforms ecologies,
transforms societies and relations between producers and consumers.