Anuradha Mittal, a native of India, is the Co-Director of Food First. Her articles and opinion pieces on trade, women in development and food security have appeared in numerous national and international news papers and journals including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Bangkok Post, The Times of India, Economic and Political Weekly, Seattle Times, and The Nation.


What do you think of the blue revolution? Is it living up to its promise or was it flawed from the beginning?

When we look at the blue revolution we have to look at in terms of the green revolution or the white revolution or the genetic revolution. It is based first of all on a myth that we need to increase food production to address the problem of hunger. Our research clearly shows that we have enough food to feed every person, every man woman and child on this planet- at least 4.5 pounds of food per person per day around the world.

The reason we have hunger is really because of social and economic causes, the lack of living wage jobs, and people not having access to food producing resources. So when they have these revolutions based on myth they actually end up denying people these food producing resources so this blue revolution has been no different from the green revolution or the white revolution where we have seen small family farmers being displaced from their land. We have seen centuries of tradition- growing food such as rice- basically move into this short quick profit industry such as aquaculture.

To what extent do you think the mindset "there are so many fish in the sea" might exist in aquaculture?

I think its about the economic paradigm because on one hand you can talk about the mindset of fisher folk that we want to go and deplete our oceans but before we question them we have to question the mindset of international financial institutions such as the world bank who have given this paradigm of development to third world countries that you need to increase your exports. You need to replace your farms with aquaculture farms so that you can send your products to Europe or Japan or other rich customers in rich countries. So in that whole paradigm, that whole mindset is based on making quick profits and it only looks at the numbers forgetting what they are doing to our environment. Forgetting what they are doing to the livelihoods of fisher folk or small farmers.

We forget that short-term interests cannot be balanced by the long-term interests. It is only looking at dollar figures and there is no way we can put a dollar value to our environment, to our seas, to the livelihoods of farmers. We have to question the total development paradigm, which has set out this mindset that quick profits are the solution to ending our poverty, to ending hunger in the third world. It takes away attention from true causes of hunger. It takes away attention from true causes of poverty and it is a quick technological fix what we really need is social and economic change.

How is this an international phenomenon?

Well like the green revolution, when you look at the victims of blue revolution they are scattered all over the third world whether it is Thailand, whether it is India, whether it is Brazil, whether it is Bangladesh. You can find the same story playing out over and over again. You will find farmers who have lost their fields. You find salinization of soils; you find destruction of livelihoods. You would find local communities up in arms against the people who have set up those aquaculture farms. So you can replace one story from Thailand with a story from Bangladesh and that's the common theme with this paradigm, this development model. It has gone out from the international financial institution as the solution for hunger and against poverty but you find the same stories over and over again.

In India you'll find the same stories, there might be a few differences here and there, but you'll find good fertile land that has been converted into aquaculture farms. Soon after you'll find destructed livelihoods, then you'll find communities that are coming together to resist and oppose this model of development. Actually I would add to that and say that it is a blue revolution because it is this aquaculture which is creating a new kind of revolution bringing communities together to challenge this model of development so it is really not just about reclaiming lands but also centuries of traditions, growing food, feeding our communities, feeding our families and also organizing.

How do you see shrimp aquaculture as a step towards development that can truly bring about food security?

Well I would give the story of my own country India which many people when they think of India they think of massive starvation. It is true that it is home to almost 380 million people who go to bed hungry every night but what we don't realize is it is also the third largest producer of food in the world with agricultural exports increasing ten percent every year since 1990 with trade liberalization. On one hand, when we are told that growing flowers for export or growing shrimp for export is going to help solve the problem of hunger it is a myth because our land is being converted into aquaculture farms.

It is being destroyed to feed the rich customers in Europe, in the United States instead of focusing on feeding our own families and communities, which used to be the focus of agriculture. Trade liberalization has commodified our agriculture. Our food, our rice, and our wheat are seen as commodities to be exported. What happens then is that most of the people have gone through basically the cracks and you find hunger increasing in a country like India when the export market is also going up. There is no relationship between increased exports and people's access to food

What about the notion of "trickle down"?

Well, when free trade was brought to countries like India, third world countries, the carrot that was given to third world countries was really agricultural exports that it would have market access. However, this carrot has now turned into a stick as we see that this trickle down phenomena that more trade will increase national income that more income will mean higher household income, more household income will mean better nutritional levels. We know that model hasn't worked. Whether we look at India whether we look at Mexico, whether we look at the United States of America. We find that hunger is on a rampant increase around the world as more and more of the resources are concentrated in the hands of fewer individuals, fewer corporations at the expense of the back pains of the poor. That is not changing. It is an international global phenomenon, whether it's India or the U.S.

What is your sense on genetically modified fish?

If genetically manipulated fish were ever released, it would be horrific. It would be a horrific crime against humanity. We are forgetting that they can escape into the wild. Once they escape into the wild they can destroy the native species. They have the ability to grow faster. It would basically be like writing up a death sentence for the native species of salmon and that has been done in the most thoughtless way. Are we really ready to take on the responsibility of having destroyed something that we can never create? We have learned that lesson from aquaculture where we have released these species, genetically engineered and others into the oceans and into the wild that they will escape.

We have to learn a lesson from GM foods. We have to learn from mass contamination in Mexico. But when it comes to GE fish and salmon, the risk that we take on is once again something that cannot be recalled. Once it is done it is done forever. We need to have a public debate we need to have a scientific debate; we need to have environmental debates. This is something that the society needs to have a say in. It cannot be determined by a few corporations who make a quick buck because they will grow faster and they can capture more markets.

What's that fish called? Tilapia. Yes. It's a classic one when you think of GE fish and you think of Tilapia. We know what we have done in the past. So its not that we are speculating, its very obvious to us what's going to happen with GE fish. It's not something new. It's something that we have done before. We have messed up big time and yet the greed and instant gratification of a few people and corporations, it's shocking and appalling.

I've been a vegetarian all my life, but from people even who love fish and have eaten Tilapia they say it tastes like shit. I mean I hear people talk about fresh salmon and they got it from the farmers market and I'm willing to give it a try because it sounds so good. How can we balance a quick profit for few people against our environment and food? The whole aspect of what food is supposed to mean is something so personal. It's something so political. It's something we eat everyday. It's not just about getting to my job to make more bucks or stopping at McDonalds to get a quick burger. I mean how have we turned food into just something like a chore. We have turned livelihoods of people into an inconvenience.