The agriculture scenario changed forever after the first step was taken to control the natural flow of freshwater into the coastal areas from the upstream.
The saltwater started to contaminate the lands and as a result, the croplands were turned into fish farms, which is currently growing saltwater shrimp, a major export item of Bangladesh.
In recent times, mud crabs cultivation picked up at Shyamnagar upazila in Satkhira, the south-western district of Bangladesh, following overseas demand particularly from countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.
In 2009, Cyclone Aila broke embankments and flooded the fields, making them exceedingly saline.
As a result, most residents turned to aquatic cultivation targeting mainly tiger shrimp and mud crabs.
Subsequently, soft-shelled crab farming was introduced in the region with big investments. Locals joined the process, turning their house ponds into crab farms. Higher returns also played a big role in the shift to crab farming which yielded twice the profit of tiger prawns.
According to crab traders, most of the catch is exported live to Japan, where they are considered a delicacy and fetch a premium price.
The soft-shelled mud crabs, also known as mangrove crabs, are only found in the wild. These are not eaten locally and only cultivated solely for export purposes.
However, the lure of easy earning can impact the mangrove ecosystem, as a large number of mud crabs are extracted from the Sundarbans regularly to fulfill the growing demand of the soft-shelled crab farms.
The extent of the impact on the ecosystem can only be ascertained through detailed scientific research, in which the government should play a strong role and make an implementable policy on the recent farming practices and the related economy.
Or else, the sound ecological management of the endangered Sundarbans seems to be a far cry, considering the present global market-driven food production practices.