As floods rise in Bangladesh, crab farming helps families tread water

  • alternative source of income
- Reuters, JOYMONI (Bangladesh)

Mar 19, 2018-Kishore Mondol, a farmer in the low-lying deltas of southern Bangladesh, points at the four-foot-high platform of grey clay he and his wife have just struggled to build.

The mound is intended to keep their next home above ever-rising floodwaters. But even it won’t last long, he fears.

“Within the next 10 years, monsoon high tides will be flowing over this level,” he predicts.

With tidal floods fast worsening as a result of more intense rainfall and sea level rise, “this is the third time within 20 years we are moving our home higher,” complained Mondol, whose village lies in Khulna district, at the head of southwestern Bangladesh’s Sundarbans tidal forests.

Sea level rise and worsening storm surges are making life increasingly precarious in southern Bangladesh’s low-lying deltas, flooding homes and filling fields with salty water that keeps rice from growing.

Many former farmers have switched to raising tiger shrimp—now Bangladesh’s second biggest export after garments—in shallow ponds. But even the shrimp are now dying in many areas, hit by viral infections, local people say.

Instead, as waters continue to rise, women in the region have hit on a new, tough and flood-friendly harvest: mud crabs.

In a village where most land lies 10 feet or less above sea level, and is flanked by major rivers on either side, flooding is an ever worsening worry for residents of Joymoni.

When this year’s monsoon arrives, “we fear water may come as high as 3 feet, especially during the full moon, as our side of the village has no protective embankment since Cyclones Sidr washed it away” in 2007, Tripti Mondol, Kishore’s wife, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Already, “salt is seeping into the very heart of our soil,” she said. Subrat Chandra Gayen, 50, another resident of Joymoni, said nearly 80 percent of families have had to give up on rice farming, which once provided food and an income for most people in the area, including women who sowed, harvested and threshed it.

The loss of income has driven some farmers – particularly men – to migrate and look for work in cities, while many families raising shrimp have fallen into debt after taking high-interest loans from shrimp traders that they are now unable to pay back, local people say.

The Bangladesh government predicts rising sea level could displace about 20 million people from Bangladesh’s coastal districts by 2050.

Crabs, however, may help solve a big share of the problems, the village’s women say.

Khadija Begum, 43, now does a brisk business buying and releasing batches of baby mangrove mud crabs into a shallow pond she has rented for $48 a year from a local land owner now living in Dhaka, the capital.

The tiny crabs, their shells still soft, are caught in local creeks by fishermen. She feeds them small amounts of waste fish once a day, she said, and within two weeks they are six times their original weight and have developed hard brown shells.

Begum catches them, ties their legs with jute string or straw and packs them carefully into large bamboo baskets, which she sends her husband to sell at the Buddhamari local market, 2 km away.

From there they are transported to Dhaka and flown live to major importers China, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong, she said.

Fish traders grade the catch, with crabs with claws broken worth less, but those with a clump of bright orange-yellow eggs on their bellies—a delicacy for which South East Asians are willing to pay more—worth up to $26 a kilogram.

Begum and her husband’s earnings from crab sales now add up to between $780 and $840 a year, she said. The money has helped them send their eldest son to college in Khulna—a source of huge pride.

Bangladesh’s fisheries department, working with non-profit organisations, has been encouraging farmers with salt-tainted fields to take up crab farming since 2011, with poor women a particular target for help.

Published: 19-03-2018 08:47

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