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Can Bangladesh's strategy of embracing aquaculture act as a model for the Middle East? Open in fullscreen

Austin Bodetti

Can Bangladesh's strategy of embracing aquaculture act as a model for the Middle East?

The Bangladeshi population eats fish more often than it does any other animal [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 June, 2019

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Analysis: Bangladesh has overcome a history of famine by pioneering aquaculture, the process of farming seafood. This strategy can become a model for Middle Eastern countries struggling with economic shortages.
Much of the international community knows Bangladesh as a hub for manufacturing, a reputation that the South Asian country has earned from its competition with Vietnam to supercede China as the Western world's location of choice for outsourcing labour.

Bangladeshis' also have a lesser-known asset on offer, however: aquaculture, the thriving Bangladeshi industry of farming crustaceans, fish, and molluscs. Aquaculture has allowed Bangladesh to achieve food security and escape a history of famines, a critical achievement as the South Asian country prepares itself for the effects of environmental degradation.

"Food security is very important for a country like Bangladesh, which has been doing surprisingly well in maintaining the goals of sustainable development," said Krishna Kumar Saha, an assistant professor of public administration at Cumilla University.

"In addition, Bangladesh has maintained GDP growth of over six percent in the last fifteen years. To sustain this growth rate, this country needs a healthy labour force, which Bangladesh can gain from achieving food security."

Bangladesh's support for fisheries has strengthened the South Asian country's economy, given that they account for over two percent of Bangladeshi exports.

Aquaculture has allowed Bangladesh to achieve food security and escape a history of famines, a critical achievement as the South Asian country prepares itself for the effects of environmental degradation

Scientists from the International Food Policy Research Institute have dubbed Bangladesh's embrace of aquaculture a "quiet revolution."

"Bangladesh has 260 species of freshwater fish, 140 of which are small indigenous species," Saha told The New Arab. "These fish are a particularly rich source of essential vitamins and minerals. However, these indigenous species are becoming scarcer every day. Because of aquaculture, however, many poor people can still have access to them. Without aquaculture, this would not be possible."

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The Bangladeshi population eats fish more often than it does any other animal, and aquaculture employs no fewer than 18.2 million Bangladeshis. In fact, the market for fish farming in Bangladesh has experienced exponential growth, expanding 2,500 percent in just three decades.

While aquaculture will never supplant agriculture, aquaculture's role in feeding tens of millions of Bangladeshis has contributed to mitigating the South Asian country's historical challenges with agriculture and food quality.

"If Bangladesh wants to achieve sustainable development and improve the wellbeing of its population, Bangladeshi officials should be more careful about food quality," said Mohammed Mofizur Rahman, the Alexander von Humboldt International Climate Protection Fellow at the Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics.

"As more than 60 percent of Bangladeshis' health expenditure is out of pocket, the burden of disease through poor-quality food will remain one of the major challenges for the country, hindering sustainable development."

As aquaculture in Bangladesh has continued to grow, Bangladeshi fisheries have requested more support from their government. Even Bangladeshi officials have acknowledged "a need in the aquaculture sector for better coordination and direction of support activities at all levels" in Bangladesh.

If the Bangladeshi government manages to combine aquaculture with an environmental policy prioritising sustainable development, Bangladeshi officials can transform their country into a leader in the environmental movement and even a model for the Middle East

"Government subsidies should go directly to fishermen in need, not political elites," Rahman told The New Arab, pointing to the potential benefits of local development.

"Bangladesh should support aquaculture by improving supply chains and the quality of seeds and feeds in addition to ensuring environmental quality as well as small-scale fishermen's access to bodies of water."

Aid agencies such as the Feed the Future Initiative and the Food and Agriculture Organization are assisting Bangladeshi efforts. For its part, the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation has called it "hard to over-emphasise the importance of fish to Bangladesh and Bangladeshis."

"By encouraging aquaculture, Bangladesh can help preserve the health of the Bangladeshi people, eventually putting them on the path to sustainable development," said Saha.

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Aquaculture forms part of the Bangladeshi government's strategy for addressing environmental issues as well as climate change, which could displace as many as thirty million Bangladeshis by the end of the century. The greater the number of fisheries, the less Bangladesh will rely on agriculture, which is depleting the South Asian country's natural resources and straining the natural environment.

"Aquaculture has had a positive impact on Bangladesh," concluded Rahman. "To support it further, Bangladesh should emphasise water quality as well as the health of aquatic ecosystems. If the environment is polluted, we can't even begin to think about long-term, sustainable production."

Water pollution from texting manufacturing affects much of Bangladesh, including the rivers that sustain its diverse, plentiful fishlife. The future of aquaculture depends on environmental protection.

"The environmental movement has much support in Bangladesh, but the Bangladeshi government sometimes succumbs to pressure from industrialists," Saha told The New Arab, explaining the obstacles faced by environmentalism in Bangladesh.

"Because the Bangladeshi government is the key stakeholder in the formulation and implementation of environmental policy, it must remain neutral."

If the Bangladeshi government manages to combine aquaculture with an environmental policy prioritising sustainable development, Bangladeshi officials can transform their country into a leader in the environmental movement and even a model for the Middle East, where the United Nations believes that fisheries can help fragile states realise food security.

For the time being, however, Bangladeshis should focus on protecting the water resources that enable aquaculture. For Bangladeshis, environmental security overlaps with economic and food security to an extent that few other nations appreciate.

"Everything that we do on land reaches bodies of water in the end," noted Rahman. "The sources of land-based pollution should be better regulated to improve and protect aquaculture."


Austin Bodetti studies the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in Africa and Asia. He has conducted fieldwork in Bosnia, Indonesia, Iraq, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Oman, South Sudan, Thailand, and Uganda. His research has appeared in The Daily Beast, USA Today, Vox, and Wired.

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