Food Voices: Defending the Mangroves, Defending Our Lives

An installment in “Food Voices,” taking a look at the effect of the shrimp farm industry on Ecuador’s mangroves.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers. 


Máximo Cangá Castillo is an Ecuadorian farmer and fisherman. He lives in San Lorenzo in the state of Esmeraldes on the border with Colombia. He and his community are 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, but the mangroves are life for the people of coastal Ecuador. Mangroves are nursery grounds for juvenile marine life; they protect the coastal area from hurricanes; they filter the saline ocean water for agricultural 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. Below are his statements.

For me, food sovereignty is to eat healthfully, safely, 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 rodents, the net caught the fish, the earth gave us coconuts, oregano, chilies, and other 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-hectare (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, the ponds are no longer useful because of the chemicals they use, so they look for fresh land and 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. People know they are not going to have a source of income anymore, so they put their bodies on the line. In the end, the industry wins, because they kill our brothers and sisters, our shell collectors, our crab harvesters. It is the same problem all over the coastal area, 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.