Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Drumsticks...and Malaysian Mangroves (David)

While I’m awaiting for Aliyah’s next blog to come through (Internet connections with LAFTI are sometimes intermittent), I thought I’d make an editor’s note, and comment on a recent news story.

In the last blog, Aliyah mentioned “drumsticks”. I want to assure readers that these drumsticks are not associated with chickens or turkeys. Confused me too when I first visited south India. Drumsticks are “vegetables” (actually, seed pods) that grow on, what else?, drumstick trees. The pods are 12-16 inches long (I’ve seen longer ones) and look like…drumsticks…the kind one uses to actually play on drums. They are usually cut up in two or three inch-long pieces, and cooked in sambar. One eats them like artichoke leaves, scraping the innards out with one’s teeth, as well as eating the seeds. As I remember, cattle also enjoy the leaves.

Probably more than you ever wanted to know.

Reuters just published an article on shrimp farming in Malaysia. It seems that the mangrove forest to the northwest of Kuala Lumpur, which served as a natural protective buffer against tsunamis, and provided wood and marine products, is now being turned to aquaculture.

The Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had called for the mangrove swamps’ preservation, noting that they shielded several Indonesian islands and Malaysia’ northwest coast from the tsunami last December. But as an indication of how strong the power of the Prime Minister is when arrayed against multinational business forces and the World Bank, an 8-kilometer stretch of prime mangrove forests has been turned to shrimp farming.

It was a big investment, too, as the acidic mangrove swamp water had to neutralized to sustain marine life. The area was formerly home to fish, blue and orange fiddler crabs, otters, mud skippers, silver-leaf monkeys, and 156 varieties of birds. And snails, a big part of the diet of the villagers in the area, are now virtually gone. And the farm owners put snares around the boundaries of the ponds, ensnaring otters and birds, used to living in what had been forest reserve.

Malaysia should know what to expect next. In 2002, a 988-acre shrimp farm growing tiger prawns that displayed rice fields in the northern Malaysia was wiped out by a virus. Now the land simply lies in waste. No rice growing, no shrimp, no employment. Just a tan-gray wasteland.

Sigh. It’s the same story everywhere.


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