3,808 Arowana breeding ponds threaten water supply of 10,000 padi farmers and 200,000 consumers

altThe Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) is shocked to learn about a massive Arowana fish  breeding project near Bukit Merah Lake in Kerian District of Perak that is taking away hundreds of acres of rice growing land and the water supply to 200,000 consumers in several areas.

The project has been undertaken in a highly suspicious manner and we call on the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry and the State Government of Perak to take full responsibility for this dangerous situation, as well as take immediate measures to rehabilitate the paddy fields in order to safeguard the food security of Malaysians.

The scrapping of the project must be expedited as it is jeopardizing the main function of water supply from the Bukit Merah Lake, which is to irrigate paddy fields and domestic water supply for the district.

Furthermore, the Arowana breeding enterprise has not adhered to rules and regulations, besides potentially polluting the environment.

The project, which started in 2000, had less than 10 entrepreneurs and was done on a small scale. However, the lure of money in this aquaculture project has raised the number to 70 enterprises having opened 3,808 ponds that have taken up 143  hectares (355 acres) of paddy fields.

altCAP is disappointed that action was not taken earlier, despite farmers in the district complaining of water shortage for their irrigation because their water was being pumped out by the Arowana breeders.

Even worse, this mega project, which threatens adverse impacts on the environment and the livelihood of the locals, did not take off according to the stipulated rules and regulations.

Although the Arowana breeding started in the year 2000, there are still paddy lots that have yet to convert their land use to "industrial aquaculture". The Kerian District Land Office merely sent notices of violation of land use to the breeders but did not compel the ceasing of the operations.

This productive granary area under the Kerian-Sungai Manik project, a designated permanent rice producing area, should never have been converted to industrial aquaculture.

We are very disappointed that the authorities have not taken any action despite these irregularities taking place. How are the various government agencies functioning? There is lack of coordination and common responsibility to ensure our food security and laws are adhered to.

This project was also not referred to the Department of Environment (DOE) on whether Environmental Impact Assessment needed to be done first. CAP is concerned that effluents from the ponds discharged into the common agriculture drainage system will cause serious impacts to the environment.

altFrom our  investigations and based on information from the local farmers, CAP understands that siphoning of water from the Selinsing and Bagan Serai irrigation canals by the Arowana breeders is still going on.

CAP was informed by the Kerian District Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) in a letter dated 1 November 2010 that the authority had failed in its bid to curb the water pilfering because it is widespread.

The farmers had complained to CAP that the water shortage has stunted the growth of their paddy crop, that the crop is not fertile and more susceptible to weed and pest attacks resulting in less yield and therefore, a drastic drop in their income.

DID's study up to October 2010 showed that the water level in the Bukit Merah Lake dropped by 2.4 inches a day from 15 August 2010 to 26 October 2010.  CAP is of the view that if the Arowana breeding project continues, the water level in the dam will be reduced further during droughts and has adverse effects on the district’s water supply for agriculture and domestic use.

altWater from the Bukit Merah Lake is not only used by about 10,000 paddy farmers working on 24,000 hectares of land but also by 200,000 consumers in Semanggol, Selinsing, Bagan Serai, Beriah, Parit Buntar, Tanjong Piandang and Kuala Kurau.

CAP is astonished that the government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry and the state government of Perak, can allow the Arowana breeders to operate so indiscriminately and unregulated.

The agencies responsible, such as the Land Office, Agriculture Department, DID, DOE and the other relevant agencies, must take stringent action according to the rules and regulations in force.

CAP believes that if the Arowana breeding project is continued, the rice fields here will be jeopardised, farmers relying on paddy cultivation will suffer the loss of their livelihood, the environment will be polluted and our food security will be threatened.

What is important here: the supply of the staple food of our people or ornamental fish for the rich? CAP therefore calls on the relevant authorities to bring an immediate end to this "industrial aquaculture" and to rehabilitate the affected areas for continued rice growing.

Press Statement – 22 November 2010

For further developments on the issue, please see: Existing Arowana farms in Bukit Merah must be closed