How can aquaculture confront the challenge of climate change?
In developing countries across the world, various forms of aquaculture are increasingly viewed as tools for sustainable development and food security. No better country can help shed light on this trend than Bangladesh.
Resting atop the Bay of Bengal and to the east of India, Bangladesh is a country of nearly 160 million people. Feeding Bangladesh’s large and rapidly growing population is a pressing challenge.
To understand how aquaculture fits into Bangladesh’s food security picture, it’s important to understand what is causing food insecurity. For decades, rice has dominated the Bangladeshi diet, accounting for 70 percent of caloric intake. Nearly 80 percent of agriculture land is dedicated to rice farming.
So why can Bangladesh no longer rely on this staple crop to feed it’s people? Part of the answer, is climate change.
Bangladesh’s geography has made it one of the first countries in the world to feel the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal are flooding rice farms from the south. From the north, melting glaciers in the Himalayas are causing higher river flows – and more flooding. At the same time, increasingly severe and unpredictable droughts – the result of changing weather patterns – have also reduced rice production.
To feed its people amid a perfect storm of climate challenges, Bangladesh has turned to aquaculture.
As I witnessed on a trip to the country in 2011, fish farms raising tilapia and shrimp are springing up in fields previously used for rice farming. The benefit of fish farming is resilience. Floodwaters can wash over fish pens with little or no damage, and land that is no longer viable for agriculture can easily be turned into fish farms.
The increase in aquaculture in Bangladesh has been dramatic. Estimates show that around 1.4 millions tons of fish are produced each year, a 27 percent increase over 2011 statistics.
To be certain, new industries do not emerge without risk. Serious questions have surfaced about the environmental integrity of shrimp farming in Bangladesh, concerns that should not be taken lightly.
But in a country that is facing an uphill battle to confront the compounding impacts of population growth and climate change, aquaculture has become a symbol of hope and innovation in Bangladesh.
Jacob Glass researched aquaculture and sustainable development for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Environmental Change and Security Program. Jacob subsequently served as an environmental policy analyst in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Jacob is currently a Harry S. Truman Scholar at Harvard University.