The farmers came from Bireuen, a district several hours' east of Banda Aceh, where IFC recently launched its shrimp project. Shrimp is a key sector in Aceh, worth over $60 million annually and employing nearly 100,000 people. It's also an area where Aceh has a real comparative advantage. I'm not sure why exactly, but it has something to do with the shrimp-friendly waters of the Malacca Straits.
IFC's program teaches shrimp farmers global best practices and links them to markets. In the old days, they just pitched shrimp larvae into a pond and let them frolic for a while before scooping them up and selling them in local markets. Now, they're learning modern methods that reduce disease and lead to happier, healthier shrimp. Maybe we can link them to the IFC and World Bank cafeterias. There would be stampedes at lunchtime and our farmers would become rich.
The farmers came to Banda Aceh on a study tour. They had training in pond management, toured a model shrimp hatchery, and saw model shrimp ponds with seaweed. They also learned about finfish (grouper) production from Dr. Mike Rimmer from the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR).
The process of shrimp farming is truly amazing. Seawater is carefully treated. Spawning is carefully controlled. Incredibly, newborn shrimp are nothing more than specks. Dr. Rao, an expert from India, showed me some in a beaker. At first, nothing was visible. Then I noticed that specks of dust appeared to be moving around with purpose, and I realized I was looking at baby shrimp. Amazing! And they have big, scary mommas that look more like lobsters than something you'd find in a cocktail glass.
Work in this sector is important for Aceh. The newly-elected governor, Irwandi Yusuf, recognizes that in a few years the reconstruction phase will be over and that Aceh will need a sustainable economy. Last month his deputy, Pak Nazar, told a World Bank/IFC delegation that shrimp is a priority sector for Aceh's development. It's a very good thing we're involved.
The farmers look excited. They are already piloting new farming methods introduced by IFC – growing seaweed in the shrimp ponds. Seaweed reduces crop and environmental risks by acting as a bio-filter, which improves shrimp quality and yields. And it gives the farmers an additional source of income.
In the next few weeks I'll go out to Bireuen with Graeme (our Program Manager) and Arun (our shrimp expert). I hope to see happy shrimp, and even happier shrimp farmers.