rice from indian market

Could planting rice save shrimp?

posted by Veronique Koch on 28 May 2014

A while back we posted an April Fool’s joke about combining rice fields with aquaculture, but we shouldn’t have been so quick to jest. In a report from PRI (Public Radio International) last week, some communities are turning to alternating rice farms with shrimp farms to help save the environment. We think this kind of farming has great potential.

With the increasing demand for shrimp around the world, ponds full of farmed shrimp are popping up everywhere hoping to cash in. Shrimp farms can damage the surrounding ecosystems in many ways, from water runoff polluted with feces and wasted food, to escapes of farmed shrimp into the wild (along with any diseases they carry). But in the small village of Neendakara in southern India, the problem is salt. Shrimp need salt water to thrive and because the shrimp ponds used in the area are unlined, salt is leaching into the ground and making the soil completely useless for agriculture.

The solution? Rice. Specifically a salt-tolerant variety of rice called Pokkali. By alternating between shrimp farms and farming Pokkali in those same shrimp ponds during the rainy season, the soil gets a break from the salt water (which could eventually contaminate their drinking water) and the rice thrives in the collected fresh water. Pokkali rice is thought to have medicinal qualities and is very high in protein, making a very good product. The hope is that they will make a lot of money from this organic product from consumers who understand the need to stop this kind of pollution.

We are glad that there is a seemingly easy way to help curb the environmental damage, but of course the best way to farm shrimp is to have closed, recirculating ponds, like the ones we find right here in the US. There is no risk of water contaminating the surroundings because it is sealed off and treated before it is drained. We talk a lot about how to sustainably farm shrimp in the film Raising Shrimp. If you’d like to learn more, be sure to check out our calendar for screenings.


Image from Wiki commons, by McKay Savage.

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