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Successful protests to remain a shrimp-free zone in Polder 22, Khulna, Bangladesh


Structural adjustment programmes imposed on Bangladesh by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund since the 1980s provided ample opportunities to earn high foreign exchange by venturing into export oriented activities. During the second half of the 1980s, major international banks and development agencies began financing projects for promoting commercial shrimp production in Bangladesh; the World Bank and the UNDP funded the Shrimp Culture Project in 1986 and the Third Fisheries Project in 1991, while the Asian Development Bank supported another shrimp project in Chittagong in south-eastern Bangladesh (Adnan, 2013). These projects allowed for large scale land grabbing, by any means necessary, in the coastal districts for commercial aquaculture. This transition from agriculture to aquaculture was facilitated by armed representatives and strong political leaders who used sluice gates in the polders designed to flood the islands. Once the land is waterlogged, there wasn’t much the local communities could do, unless the local anti-shrimp community groups or village committees could regain control of the sluice gates to let the water out.

The encroachment of salt water and pressure from powerful land owners, often supported by both hired goons and local politicians forced many landless groups off of the land and  many smallholders to either sell or lease their land for shrimp production (while many reported being rarely or never compensated for their land once it had been flooded and taken over for neighbouring shrimp production). These transformations heralded a range of structural shifts in social relations which produced an array of confrontations and conflicts across the Bangladesh coast. And unfortunately, more often than not, the ecosystem people are the ones who lose out everything in this process.   Infact, Polder 22 is the only polder which has been able to remain a completely shrimp-free zone. Polder 22 is located in Deluti union under Paikgachha upazila of Khulna district and is 75 km away from the Bay of Bengal. It is surrounded by Bhadra, Badurgachi and Habrakhali rivers. The gross area of the polder is 1,485 ha with a Net Cultivable Area (NCA) of 1,070 ha (70%).  The absence of shrimp in Polder 22 has led to comparatively low levels of landlessness within the polder (30 percent, as opposed to 84 percent in the neighbouring Polder 23). Moreover, it has made Polder 22 a safer place to live in the context of climate change, as its embankments have not been compromised by shrimp aquaculture. Indeed, as residents report, people from surrounding regions often take shelter in the polder when the region is threatened by cyclones and other dramatic climatic events.

Yet, the bloody cost that the people paid to remain shrimp-free is something that cannot be ignored. In 1990, a local landless leader named Karunamoyee Sardar was shot and killed while leading a protest movement against Wajad Ali, a local shrimp boss who was attempting to open the polder to shrimp production. Karunamoyee’s death galvanized the landless movement in Polder 22 and there have been only unsuccessful attempts to bring shrimp production inside this polder’s embankments. In Horinkala, one of the largest villages in the polder, is a shrine to Karunamoyee Sardar depicting her leading a march against the shrimp bosses. On the anniversary of her death at the hands of shrimp businessmen (7 November 1990), the polder and the shrine are sites of convergence for landless laborers in the region and, indeed, for anti-shrimp activists throughout Bangladesh and beyond.

However, the struggle is far from over. As a quote from Khushi Kabir, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for her work since 1980 to support landless labourers in May 2001, “In Horinkhola polder 22, the shrimp thugs under the instigation of the local MP beat up my colleagues. There are armed thugs in the area and we are under severe pressure and threat. The local people, including farmers, even though they support us, are terrified to come out in open support. Luckily the landless groups and our staff are courageously remaining in the polder and ensuring the polder does not become a shrimp field.” 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Successful protests to remain a shrimp-free zone in Polder 22, Khulna, Bangladesh
State or province:Khulna district
Location of conflict:Polder 22
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

There was an attempt to turn Polder 22 with 1485 ha in to shrimp farms. It was resisted by local inhabitants.

Project area:1,485
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,700
Start of the conflict:01/01/1985
Relevant government actors:Bangladesh Government, Department of Fisheries
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
International Monetary Fund (FMI)
Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Karunamoyee Martyr - Observance Committee Day, Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) - UK, Nijera Kori, Asia Solidarity Against Industrial Aquaculture

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Threats to use arms


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsLoss of endangered mangrove forests
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The struggle is far from over. The local people have been fighting with the shrimp mafia for more than three decades and it is a daily fight to ensure that shrimp aquaculture is resisted in the area.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Report on the Global Shrimp farming by the Environmental Justice Foundation

ACSF-Oxfam Rural Resilience Project. Case Study: Khulna, Bangladesh. Kasia Paprocki. PhD Candidate

Department of Development Sociology. Cornell University. Jason Cons. Assistant Professor of International Relations.Bucknell University. March 2014,%20Banladesh%20Case%20Study.pdf

Paprocki, K. and Cons, J., 2014. Life in a shrimp zone: aqua-and other cultures of Bangladesh's coastal landscape. Journal of Peasant Studies,41(6), pp.1109-1130.

EIA report of Polder 22, Kulna district, Bangladesh

Adnan, S.,2013. Land grabs and primitive accumulation in deltaic Bangladesh: interactions between neoliberal globalization, state interventions, power relations and peasant resistance. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 40(1), pp.87-128.

Article about the Anti-politics of Climate Change

Article about Karunamoyee Sardar

Interview with Khushi Kabir, a veteran activist for rights of landless people in Bangladesh since 1980.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Murky Waters: Documentary about shrimp farming in Bangladesh

Meta information

Contributor:Brototi Roy
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2450