Small Fry in a Big Ocean: Change, Resilience and Crisis in the Shrimp Industry of the Mekong Delta of Việt Nam
Committee ChairMarston, Sallie
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe development of shrimp aquaculture in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam is implicated in several patterns of local and regional change. These change trajectories are the emergent properties of complex processes embedded in particular social and spatial contexts. While places have become more interconnected through the global shrimp trade, those interconnections have been highly uneven, distributing risks and rewards disproportionately and producing new forms of conflict and cooperation among participants in the production network.Land use and farming systems in the coastal delta have changed profoundly in recent years. While some areas have become effectively `locked in' to shrimp farming due to environmental changes initiated by salt-water aquaculture, others have remained more flexible, able to rotate rice and shrimp seasonally. Hydrologic conditions, water infrastructures, and farmer experience all contribute to the path-dependence of these change trajectories, but commodity prices exhibit the strongest influence on their direction. Price stabilization may contribute to making prices a sustaining, `slow' variable in system change, not a disruptive `fast' one, heightening overall resilience.The production network of Mekong Delta shrimp is articulated through a variety of socially embedded relationships. Most producers are linked with international markets through informal ties with input suppliers based on trust and shrimp buyers, a relationship marked by opportunism. Processors operate through long-term informal relations with importers based on quality and consistency. This variegated network of relationships means farmers bear the brunt of price shocks, but processors lack quality assurance and traceability. Efforts to link chain participants into closer affiliation must pay attention to these relationships' effects on commodity chain governance.The globalization of the shrimp industry brought about conflicts between producers in the Mekong and Mississippi Deltas. Feminist geographers have posited several responses to globalization, from `counter-topographies' to `diverse economies/resubjectivization.' Living in Viet Nam and working with shrimp producers, I attempted to use these approaches to articulate an internationalist and trans-regional politics. Interactions with people there primarily resubjectivized me and reinforced national-scaled spatial imaginaries, however. Nevertheless, being `Uncle America' offered an insightful perspective into how some Vietnamese understood themselves and Viet Nam's tortured relationship with the U.S.