Crab Farming in Bangladesh: Transforming Markets and Gender Roles

Jan 23, 2020

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In a world where economies are increasingly becoming interconnected and co-dependent, market driven analytics are very mutable, and often subjected to radical shifts. Global trade dynamics have shown that countries with the highest degree of comparative advantage fall behind in an extremely volatile market, failing to ensure continued competitive sustenance. As we narrow down seemingly prospering global markets to macro and micro level, the pictures often seem incoherent, as impeded trade expansion of domestic markets often results in absent linkages between micro-level actors and macro-level stakeholders driving the economy.

Khulna division, located at the southeastern belt of Bangladesh, is one of the most disaster prone coastal zones at risk of climate-induced disasters in the form of cyclones, storm surges and floods. Policy making bodies have identified some of the highly disaster prone areas (sub-districts) of Khulna, such as Dakope, Paikgacha, Koyra and Shyamnagar which are also home to some of the most vulnerable communities with limited livelihood options. For the local people, access to non-cash capital remains restrained, and climatic change associated with salinity remains a gargantuan problem that limits agricultural production. Saline tolerant crops, fisheries, modern and efficient resilient agricultural methods and technologies such as hydroponics, vertical farming are yet to appeal to regional markets and the farmers, often due to underdeveloped supply chains.

Crab cultivation and harvesting is an upcoming market still at an infant stage, facing a huge international demand and a scope of large scale-production. However, the major challenges include large investments and lack of infrastructure, hurdles for many aspiring crab farmers.

In the words of Shamim Ahmed, a local crab cultivator:

‘It is important to distinguish between soft and hard shell crab farming, out of which, soft shell farming requires higher opening capital as initial investment, ranging from a bare minimum 10-15 lakh by a single family solely dependent on crab generate livelihood. Apart from establishment costs, quality crab being a raw material itself is scarce these days because of the government-imposed ban on Sundarbans. Although the government continues to stress on availability of easy loans, due to financial exclusion and lack of access/empowerment it is not so easy to receive loans. Also, loans provided by NGOs charge a high rate of interest that have to be paid back within a year. However, it takes 3-4 months to set up a farm and 5-6 months more to get it running. Therefore, partnerships are more common, as risks are spread out among a number of investors’.

A major infrastructural barrier emerges due to the internal communication gap, which can be attributed to poor conditions of roads and highways. Due to the perishable nature of crabs, long distance transport often damages the quality of the product, and farm-owners have to incur heavy losses.

There are family firms with 10000-15000 boxes, which hire both manual wage laborers in addition to devoting family labor, where men and women have equal contributions in terms of the type of involvement. In Bangladesh, due to social constraints, rural women tend to avoid exposure to market areas, so other than buying the crabs from suppliers (which is a predominantly male-centric job) women and men engage in every segment of the processing. Women primarily help with crab processing and men play predominant role in transportation. Quite remarkably, no significant gender division of labor or discrimination exists; rather individual skills become the primary requirements for wage security. Often in large farms, women constitute about 25-30% of the entire work force. The picture is more encouraging in processing plants, where female workers constitute about 80% of the entire labor force. In small farms, women themselves can be owners or self-made entrepreneurs. Often women who are more skilled in crab cutting/shelling tend to be paid more than their less skilled or less productive male counterpart, thus ensuring equitable wages irrespective of gender.

In rural Bangladesh, surpassing social and cultural barriers requires certain capacities, the most important thing being women’s access to education is a powerful tool capable of fighting early marriage. In the vulnerable households of Dakope, Khulna, women tend to play a pivotal role in income generation and livelihood setting, despite lacking in formal education. At the end of the day, structural market reforms addressing access to capital and price regulation can truly work wonders for this industry that is already breaking gender stereotypes. SME loans targeting the female populace can be recommended as a highly effective means of economic resilience against the unpredictable natural calamities. At the policy-making level, strong advocacy for investment in a women-friendly crab industry is necessary to encourage those who are still lagging behind. It is high time that gender sensitive policies came into action, incentivizing more women willing to pursue their dreams of economic empowerment.

Innovation and inclusion, these two forces, which must coexist simultaneously, to ensure that marginal and vulnerable people in cluster communities are not left behind.


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Tags : Transformation of Bangladesh , Crab Farming , Gender roles

Lamia Mohsin is currently pursuing her post-graduation at the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka and is working as an academic intern at the Resilience and Inclusive Growth Cluster, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangladesh. A passionate researcher, her areas of interest include public policy, local government and climate change.