Cultivating Crabs

An alternative livelihood wins the day in cyclone-prone Bangladesh
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“Now I can feed my family without thinking of death,” says Rahmat, a fisherman from Shyamnagar in southern Bangladesh. “Crab fattening (has) become a solution to live with the change of climate nowadays.”

In 24 hours in 2009, cyclone Aila tore through the region, destroying Rahmat’s house and livelihood as a fisherman and farmer and taking with it his monthly US$350 income. The challenge of rebuilding his life was immense, but Rahmat found assistance in a crab-fattening programme in the Sundarbans, the largest single mangrove forest in the world, close to where he now lives.

Bangladesh’s Centre for Coastal Environmental Conservation launched the US$295,000 project to fatten crabs in bamboo cages and restore the mangroves in January 2010. Framed as an “adaptation to climate change initiative”, it targeted a clutch of communities near the Bangladesh-India border, with support from the Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development, a small programme housed at the UNEP regional office.

The project initiated “community conserved areas”, where mangrove forests are being restored and planted with the aim of creating protective barriers against natural disasters: a green buffer zone of mangroves can be seen lacing more than five kilometres of the coast, protecting river banks from erosion and preventing tidal surges.

With greater immediately economic impact, however, the project comprises a crab-cultivating scheme that has trained the 150 Sundarbans stakeholders involved how to rear crabs for sale and export. The crab cages are placed directly in the mangroves forests, so providing the “cultivators” with a direct income from the mangroves. And when better grown, the young mangroves in the community conserved areas can also be used for cultivating crabs, thus expanding the resource base.

This initiative has achieved two goals: making the fishing communities aware of the resources of the Sundarbans, and teaching them how to make a living while protecting the environment. The mangrove plantation and regeneration portions of the project are proving effective in protecting embankments from being breached and preventing river bank erosion in an area particularly vulnerable to climate change. And by using the mangroves in situ, the scheme is generating income from an ecosystem that is helping to protecting the region from the impacts of climate change, providing both social and environmental and economic benefits.

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