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Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets by Lila Rajiva, Will Bonner

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Chapter 11. What the Yonghy‐Bonghy‐Bo Didn't Know

“On this Coast of Coromandel,

Shrimps and watercresses grow,

Prawns are plentiful and cheap,”

Said the Yonghy‐Bonghy‐Bo.

Edward Lear, “The Courtship of the Yonghy‐Bonghy‐Bo”

The Yonghy‐Bonghy‐Bo got only half the story right, it seems. Today, the Coromandel Coast of India is booming, and for the past decade, prawns have become both cheaper and more plentiful—at least for Western consumers. But, there is a downside. The new prawn farms set up on the east coast after Indian trade was liberalized in the 1990s may not quite be dark satanic mills, but they do look more and more like an overall loss to the local economy. They suck up water desperately needed for drinking, say activists. They also displace small fish farmers, who then trudge off to the cities and add to the jungle of slums there. Because the farms work by flooding the soil with seawater, whole tracts of once arable land have turned permanently salty and barren. And worst of all, the farms destroy the old mangrove forests that until now have held together the Indian coastline and protected it from floods and typhoons. All this, according to the critics, offsets any gains commercial prawn farms bring the economy in terms of foreign reserves and employment.1

Critics are not a pleasing lot, dear reader. They carp and they complain when we would prefer a little good cheer, a more Friedmanesque delight in the way things are.

Instead, the Gloomy Guses grumble tastelessly about ...

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