Industrial shrimp aquaculture and mangrove ecosystems: A multidimensional analysis of a socio‐environmental conflict in Brazil

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


In the past 40 years, industrial shrimp aquaculture developed with economic incentives from governments, public and private agencies and International Financial Institutions (IFIs) - including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the food industry. The target was achieving economic growth based on exports of large volumes of food, reducing the pressure on marine wildlife populations and thereby alleviating the poverty in developing countries. Extensive political and economic aid along with legislative permissiveness has promoted this economic activity which, growning exponentially in a short period of time. This fast growth of industrial shrimp farming has generated increasing criticism due to its consequences, which include the conversion and expropriation of wetlands such as mangroves, causing a decreasing flow of ecosystem services available for society in general and local communities in particular. The aquaculture industry has converted a high percentage of coastal areas of developing tropical countries into properties for shrimp farming for export. This situation has resulted in numerous conflicts around the world, where local people have chosen to challenge the processes of accumulation by dispossession and have organized to resist, leading to environmental struggles which have been increasingly supported by organizations and movements demanding environmental justice. During the last few decades, a particular example of this conflict has developed in coastal area of Brazil, where a large percentage of mangroves areas have been deforested for the development of shrimp aquaculture. This thesis aims to clarify and analyze the environmental degradation and socio-environmental conflict caused by industrial shrimp farming in Brazil from the perspective of political ecology, seeking to link different levels of analysis - local, national and global - in several key dimensions to achieve a political and environmental, a social and an economic understanding. The political and environmental dimension illustrates the history of privatization of coastal ecosystems by industrial shrimp aquaculture with a diagnosis of the social and environmental impacts on the Jaguaribe river basin (Ceará, Brazil), and its close relationship with the political and economic context of national shrimp industry development. The social dimension is analyzed making and approach to the community perception of the fishermen, employing a combination of social methodologies (participant observation, free listings, focus groups, surveys, monitoring, etc.) which have shown that, beyond the physical link, there is a symbolic relationship between the services provided by mangroves and the welfare of fishing communities. This factor is not considered by decision makers at various levels. Finally, the economic dimension, studied via a monitoring of two fishing communities (Cumbe and Curral Velho in Ceará, Brazil), shows the collective economic viability and the traditional principles of solidarity that the artisanal fisheries are based on. It also demonstrates their incompatibility with shrimp aquaculture dedicated to the accumulation of assets and income. This multidimensional analysis concludes that the impact of the development of shrimp aquaculture in Brazil, has a profound transformation of natural resources causing degradation of ecosystems, threatening food security and sovereignty and causing the impoverishment of traditional communities. This combination of effects caused a serious socio-environmental conflict, repeated in the tropics of the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa. The investigative tools developed in this study can be easily extrapolated to other systems such as aiding in the understanding and solving of other environmental conflicts, providing multidimensional information to the decision-making processes to achieve a sustainable and integrated management of coastal areas.
Date of Award11 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSergio Rossi Heras (Director) & Antônio Jeovah de Andrade Meireles (Director)

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