Saturday, February 12, 2011

Máximo Cangá Castillo is an Ecuadorian farmer and fisherman. He lives in San Lorenzo in the state of Esmeraldes on the border with Columbia. Not only does he contend with the Columbian drug cartel and the palm tree investors, both of which steal farmers’ lands to plant drug labs or plantations, but he also is constantly fighting the invasion of the shrimp farm industry. The shrimp farm industry razes mangroves to make way for shrimp ponds to export cheap shrimp to the United States, but the mangroves are life for the people of coastal Ecuador. Mangroves are coastal forests rich in nutrients, they are nursery grounds for juvenile marine life, they protect the coastal area from hurricanes, they filter the saline ocean water for agriculture use, they provide food and housing to thousands of families. In order for Máximo to maintain his food sovereignty, he has to defend his territory – the mangroves.

“For me, food sovereignty, is to eat healthy, safe and with sovereignty. For that, we need to produce our own food and medicine. Without territory, we cannot practice food sovereignty. Today, we didn’t buy any food for our meal. The traps caught the crabs and mice, the net caught the fish, the earth gave us coconuts, oregano, chiles, spices to cook the meat. The water is from the well. That is why our struggle is in defense of the territory. Territory is not just a piece of land. It is water, plants, trees, animals, biodiversity.

“When we defend the mangroves, we are defending food, our source of income and our lives. If we don’t have mangroves, we don’t have crabs, shells, fish and thousands of families won’t have access to their livelihoods. I will die before I leave the mangroves.

“Seventy percent of the mangroves have been destroyed by the shrimp industry so people in North America can eat shrimp. There are shrimp farms in places that used to be cemeteries. Entire villages were destroyed to build a shrimp pond. One mangrove hectare (2.5 acres) supports ten families. But, only three families live off a 100 hectares (2470 acres) shrimp farm - the family who feeds the shrimp, the family who takes care of the shrimp and the owner's family.

“After several harvests, those ponds are no longer useful because of the chemicals they use, so they need fresh land and they continue cutting the mangroves. People put their lives on the line to protect the mangroves. When they cut the mangroves, the bio-aquatic life is gone. And people know they are not going to have anymore source of income, so they put their bodies on the line. At the end, the industry wins, because they kill our brothers and sisters, our shell collectors, crab harvesters along the entire coast of Ecuador. It is the same problem all over the coastal area and so leaders of coastal organizations travelled to meet one another. That is how we started to build a large, national movement. We formed one organization to represent us at the national level, to be our spokesperson and to demand that the shrimp industry leave our territories.

“For us, they are destroying the entire territory and our food sovereignty. They leave us without jobs, without food. We continue to fight the expansion of shrimp farms and it is a war that is never going to end. We need all our allies to spread the word and tell the world about our struggles.”


  1. Thank you for this direct and touching post, for attaching a person and a story to the implications of eating farmed shrimp.
    My resolve is strengthened to make other food choices, small as that is.

  2. Máximo Cangá Castillo offers a powerful and deeply troubling story! Thank you for sharing! He mentions starting an organisation to represent their interests, Andrianna do you have the name, website or any information on that organisation so we might be able to make contact and offer support and solidarity?