One of the most striking issues to arise from my week in the Southwest was the extent to which households reported being in debt. The ability to climb out of extreme poverty here is not only constrained by a lack of diversified economic opportunities, but also by becoming increasingly indebted in the effort to tap into those available. Households repeatedly stated that they had purchased shrimp fry on a credit basis from local shrimp traders with the condition that they sell the shrimp back to them after cultivation for a higher return.
However, on most occasions, households made a loss in the last year and became increasingly indebted to local traders. Productions failed because of the onset of viruses and/or a lack of capital and inputs for efficient production, often resulting in contagion effects for asset stripping and food consumption. Moreover, households reported (in the absence of other options) buying more shrimp fry on credit in the effort to repay the traders, rendering them in a cycle of indebtedness.
This contributes to the motivations underpinning the work being done by Uttaran to not only support the challenging task of transferring khas land and waterbodies to households, but of disseminating the knowledge and skills to use these in a sustainable way. It additionally highlights the difficult yet necessary task of tapping into power structures at the local as well as national level. Monitoring and learning from Uttaran’s experiences will prove valuable in showing what policy prescriptions are needed to break such cycles.