Distributional implications of enclosure of floodplain commons in Bangladesh
This research project was supported by a small grant from the British Academy in 2008-2009.

There has been rapid recent development of floodplain aquaculture in Bangladesh based on enclosing seasonal flooded lands with fences and bunds. This research project generated new knowledge and evidence on:

    • the extent and rate that floodplain common pool resources are being enclosed and privatised;
    • the impacts of this on landowners and particularly on poor people in terms of access to common pool resources, livelihoods, and losses and gains in employment and incomes; and
    • appropriate institutional arrangements and policies to encourage pro-poor floodplain land use.

The study covered three areas known to have had recent expansion of floodplain aquaculture enclosures, but each differing in the scale and institutional arrangements:

  • South-west - Narail (small individual enclosures);
  • North-central - Gazipur (medium size individual and group managed enclosures); and
  • East - Comilla (large, company managed enclosures).

Trend in floodplain enclosure
Considerable differences between regions were found in the nature of enclosures and their impacts, but the trend of expansion is similar. There has been a rapid expansion of enclosures for aquaculture in widely separated floodplains mostly in the last decade, and this shows little sign of slowing. Enclosures already cover over half of two of the study areas.

Enclosure institutions and land tenure
All of the aquaculture enclosures use private land. Agriculture continues in the dry season, but in the monsoon (wet season) what was a common floodplain fishery is converted into a privatized resource.

In Narail the enclosures are small and operated by individuals on their own land or by leasing in land.

In Gazipur the enclosures are slightly larger and are managed either by an individual farmer or more often by an informal group of farmers.

In Comilla each enclosure is much larger and is managed by a company, in a few cases these are companies run by outsiders or led by an NGO, but in about 70% of cases it is a local initiative and the landowners are shareholders in the company. On average about 200 shareholders per enclosure subscribed to pay for embankments and sluices, and then they share the profits. Enclosure operation, especially financing stocking large volumes of fish each year, is dependent on money lenders for working capital.

Overall the institutional arrangements are weakly defined, with the distribution of profits to shareholders an ideal rather than reality, and informal groups in Gazipur prone to disputes.


Environment, fisheries and agriculture
The enclosures do increase fish production and returns from the land. By releasing each year fingerlings of carp (and in Narail also freshwater prawns) the enclosures produce over 2,000 kg/ha of cultured fish in Comilla and over 600 kg/ha of fish in Narail, but yields in Gazipur have fallen to 250 kg/ha.

Catches of wild fish have halved in Narail and Gazipur, and reportedly fell to 75% of their earlier level in Comilla. This has a knock on consequence for loss of nutrition and income for the poor who earlier could catch wild fish in the open floodplain, but now are prevented from fishing by those managing the enclosures.

Sluice and fences were reported to prevent natural fish migration, and in two of the study areas siltation was worsened, partly from slippage of bunds.

Individual agriculture has continued in the dry season when water drains from the enclosures. Most of the land continues to be used for HYV irrigated rice, and this is more environmentally friendly as farmers now use much less pesticide so that fish are not harmed.






Distributional impacts
In all three areas access to natural aquatic flora and fauna, particularly wild fish, has been lost or much reduced for all stakeholders particularly the poor and fishers.

Enclosures have widened inequality in the floodplains studied: the better off gain, while most of the poor said they lost.
The main beneficiaries have been larger farmers either from cultivating fish themselves when their land gave little agricultural output in the monsoon, or as shareholders in an enclosure, or by leasing use of their land in the monsoon to an individual or company operating an enclosure.
Marginal farmers and sharecroppers have been worse affected as they no longer can access land for cultivation, and have lost access to aquatic resources and income.

In larger enclosures the rights of landowners are not legally secured, and in some of these areas political influence has resulted in grabbing resources in the enclosure systems.

Policy issues
There is neither a clear policy nor enforcement of any regulations that might limit the extent of enclosures or ensure good practices. Because floodplain aquaculture takes place on private land, there is limited scope to regulate these changes even when they affect seasonal common resources.

Moreover, recently the Government of Bangladesh has been promoting floodplain aquaculture in the interests of fish production, but this needs to be balanced with environmental needs, poverty reduction, and recognizing customary access to floodplain resources.
Floodplains should be zoned so that enclosures are allowed in certain areas where enclosing floodplain will not harm the environment.

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