Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (11) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Nigeria and the prospect of shrimp farming: critical issues

N Zabbey, E S Erondu and A I Hart*

Department of Animal Science and Fisheries, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Port Harcourt, PMB 5323, Rivers State
* Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Port Harcourt


Efforts are being made to introduce shrimp farming into Nigeria, primarily, because of the soaring demand for shrimp in international market and the attractive foreign exchange it earns.  This paper examines contrarily the other side of shrimp farming rarely mentioned by investors and proponents. It reviews principally the unsustainability and environmental problems associated with industrial shrimp aquaculture. Furthermore, it weighs the budding industry on the balance of local food security.


Sound policy and institutional frameworks- apparently lacking, the improvement on existing fish culture techniques, and emphasis on the culture of species destined for internal consumption is advocated to strengthen local food security that is obviously weak and steeply sliding in the face of increasing national population.

Key words: Aquaculture, fisheries, environment, health


Globally, capture fisheries stocks are on the decline and aquaculture presently supplies more than one fourth of all fish (both fresh and marine species) that humans eat (FAO 2001). Aquaculture is a production system that cuts across several segments of human livelihood. It provides a lot of opportunities that significantly alleviate poverty, create employment and contribute to the conservation of natural resources and food security. Of the farmed aquaculture species, shrimps constitute a significant proportion. Shrimps are highly relished and among the leading priced seafood on the global menu (Zabbey 2007). With the steady increase in rates of shrimp consumption in the developed world, especially in the US, Europe and Japan, it is increasingly becoming obvious that per capita shrimp intake probably correlates positively with economic growth (Zabbey 2008). According to the United States Trade Representatives (2005), the global markets for shrimp and prawns are increasing by three percent annually, largely due to increased consumption in the US, Europe and Japan.


Nigeria is among tropical countries endowed with rich shrimp resources.  According to Dublin-Green and Tobor (1992), the coastal waters of Nigeria are characterized by abundance of important living resources including shrimps, predominantly members of the family penaeidae.  With a production capacity of 12,000 metric tons (MT) per year, Nigeria’s shrimps supply is presently from capture fisheries.


Increasing human population and the soaring per capita demand for shrimp has created a demand-supply gap. To augment for capture fisheries underproduction, shrimp farms have been established mostly in Asia and Latin America since the 1970s.  The shrimp farming industry keeps expanding to hitherto non-practicing areas, despite its heuristic unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly track records.


Africa has been identified as a potential new frontier for the expansion of shrimp farming.  Three biologically-rich and culturally important large river deltas are among the areas that have been targeted for this new aquaculture development: the Niger Delta, the Tana Delta and the Rufiji Delta (EJF 2004).


In Nigeria, oil corporations like the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, have indicated interest in investing in shrimp culture in the Niger Delta (Business Day 2004).  Indigenous fisheries professionals have also thrown their weights behind shrimp farming investment in Nigeria (Sogbesan et al 2004), and most recently, Sulalanka, a Sri Lanka consortium secured the approval of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the FAO to commence inland culture of marine black tiger shrimp (This day 2008).  Research institutions like the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) consider investing in shrimp farming a top priority (The Guardian 2008).  The diversity of these shrimp farming proponents notwithstanding, their objective is shared: to boost Nigeria’s foreign exchange earning though shrimp export.


What is never mentioned by the prospective shrimp farmers include the human rights abuses, deepening poverty in coastal communities, environmental damages, etc, associated with shrimp farming.  These attendant problems will be the fate of Nigeria if sound policy framework and locally compatible method of farming are not adopted.  This paper brings to the fore some colossal impacts of shrimp farming on ecosystem stability, biodiversity and livelihood structures of rural communities.  It assesses the industry on the balance of local food security.  Above all, it attempts to stimulate critical analysis of the double-edge nature of the emerging industry to evolving viable institutional and policy frameworks as a prerequisite, if the boom-and-bust pattern of shrimp farming around the globe would not be replicated in Nigeria.


Global overview of shrimp farming 

In recent times, the consumption of shrimp has skyrocketed, especially in developed countries.  This soaring demand has triggered intensive wild cropping and farming of shrimp to abridge the supply deficit.  Statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reveals that aquaculture has grown globally at an average of 9% per year since the 1970s.  Shrimp farming started in the 1970s, experienced rapid incremental output in the 1980s-1990s, and is now showing increasing signs of stagnant production.  Farmed shrimp production increased from 26,000MT in the 1970s to 100, 000MT in the early 1980s to over 700,000MT in 1995 (Rosenberry 1995).  Annual production in 2000 was I, 083, 641 MT valued at over US $ 6.8 billion (World Bank, NACA, WWF and FAO 2002). In 2003, the globally farmed shrimp production was more than 1.6 metric tonnes. It has also been reported in Asia that shrimp comprises the largest quantity of any export in the fisheries sector, and is the highest foreign exchange earner (Wijegoonawardena and Siriwardena 1995). As at today, 28% of shrimp consumed are farmed, compared to about 5% in the early 1980s (Goss 2000).


Most of the shrimp farming activities occur in developing tropical and sub-tropical countries; predominantly in Asia and Latin America.  In 1988, shrimp farming collapsed in Taiwan, which had, until then, been the world’s leading farm producer (Kautsky et al 2000). The collapse was mainly due to disease epidemics.  China then took over as top-producing country, but was soon also struck by disease, which resulted in a major drop in production in 1993.  Thailand had, by that time grown, to become the world’s leading producer.  Notwithstanding the great awareness of disease risk and huge investments made to combat epidemics, Thailand’s total production dropped in 1996 – 1997 (Kautsky et al 2000).


Similar trend of short-term increase in production, followed by decline occurred in Indonesia, the Philippines (Primavera 1996).  This fluctuating disposition has earned industrial shrimp farming descriptions such as “boom-and-burst”, and a “young giant with dramatic problems”.  In Africa, shrimp farms exist in a variety of coastal and inland zones in Guinea, Gambia, Eritea, Egypt, South Africa, the Seychelles and Kenya (EJF 2004).


How sustainable is shrimp farming? 

Aquaculture is basically a natural ecological process, although in intensive shrimp farming it reaches industrial proportion (Kautsky et al 2000) (also see Quarto et al 1996 for detailed review of the culture methods).  Levels of production, like in other aquaculture production systems, are extensive, semi-intensive, and intensive (even super-intensive), depending on the technological advancement. It is estimated that 55-60% of all shrimp farms worldwide operate at extensive level, 25-30% at semi-intensive level, while the rest are intensive (  Intensive shrimp farming is the option that capitalist investors prefer.  It provides quick return on investment, and collapses within few years due to self-pollution, disease epidemics and isolation from supportive natural ecological services in the seascape.  With a short life span of between 5 and 10 years (Dierbery and Kiattisikulm 1996), intensive shrimp farming is a boom-and-burst industry (Quarto et al 1996; Primavera 1997).  In Thailand, the current world’s leading aquaculture producer of shrimp, 70% of previously productive ponds have been abandoned (Stevenson 1997).


The threat of disease outbreak arising from self-inflicted poor water quality is one reason why shrimp farming is unsustainable. The risk of disease in shrimp ponds correlates positively with the density of shrimp in the ponds.  In the Philippines for instance, infectious Hypodermal and Hematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHHNV) prevalence in various wild populations of Penaeus monodon has been correlated with shrimp culture intensification and mangrove status (Belak et al 1999 cited in Kautsky et al 2000). To combat epidemics in shrimp ponds, several non-selective, persistent toxicants are employed which only provide temporary relief to the production system. Toxicant-laden wastewater regularly discharged from shrimp farms causes degradation such as, habitat change and damage, along its tracks in the receiving environment, death of sensitive biodiversity and bioaccumulation in food chain. Additives in shrimp farming such as feeds, fertilizers, lime, antibiotics and other chemicals have the tendency of overwhelming the natural ability of coastal aquatic systems to assimilate and convert these wastes. The fallout is that the ecosystem is upset. In addition, this virulent mixture has the tendency to harm people, as manifested in the incidence of cases of zoonoses (


More than 50% of the world’s mangroves have been removed (World Resources Institutes 1996), and the conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp farms constitutes the main threat to mangroves in many countries (Hamilton et al 1989).  As a paradox, the productivity, sustainability and profitability of these aquaculture systems are heavily dependent on viable mangrove ecosystems, which provide ecosystem services like water quality maintenance and buffer against natural disturbances, as well as products like seed, spawners and feed from mangrove-associated fisheries (Beveridge et al 1997).  Issues of land conflict, intimidation, violence and murder, etc, also plague the shrimp farming industry (See EJF 2003 for a detailed review of the problems).


Shrimp fisheries in Nigeria

Nigeria is one of the tropical countries that export shrimps to developed countries like USA, Japan, and some European nations.  With a production capacity of 12,000 MT annually, Nigeria’s shrimps are at present entirely wild caught from the Niger Delta. Nigeria has a coastline of approximately 853 km, over  70% of which lies in the delta; the surface area of the continental shelf is 46,300km2  while the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) covers an area of 210,900km2 (World Resources 1990). Comparatively, the coastal shelf of the Niger Delta is broader up to Kwa Iboe and Cross River. This relative space advantage coupled with the rich organic debris input arising from runoff due to frequent rains that characterize the delta basin support rich shrimp resources in and off the coast of the Niger Delta (Dublin-Green and Tobor 1992); though shrimps are also found in abundance at the mouths of Badagry, Lagos, Lekki lagon system.


Farfantepenaeus notialis (the pink shrimp) contributes greater proportion of shrimp in both small scale and large scale fisheries sectors in Nigeria.  This is in line with the pattern of global production.  Penaeid shrimps are, in terms of volume of catch and value per unit catch, one of the most important fishery resources worldwide (Ronnback 1999).  These shrimps constitute a major part of world-wide fisheries catch, which ranged from 2.1 to 2.5 million MT annually in 1993-1997 (FAO 1999). Besides penaeid shrimps, members of the family paleamonidae particularly Nematopaleamon hastatus (estuarine prawn, misnamed crayfish in Nigerian markets) contribute significantly to Nigerian artisanal catches. Powell (1983) remarked that what are referred to as crayfish in West African English are really shrimps, and that true crayfish (decapoda  reptantia) do not occur in mainland tropical Africa, except for introduced populations in East Africa. Artisanal  shrimp catches  in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States (bordering the Cross River estuary) have been estimated to be 20,000 mt wet weight in 1977 (Moses 1980), and Nematopaleamon hastatus constitutes 82% of the total catch in the area (Enin et al 1989).


In freshwater rivers and creeks, Macrobranchium fishery predominates. Three species, namely, Macrobranchium felicinum (Niger River prawn), Macrobranchium vollenhovenii (African River Prawn) and Macrobranchium macobranchion (Brackish River prawn) dominate the catches of this subsector (see Powell 1983 for detailed review of shrimps of economic importance in Nigeria).


In 2000, shrimps worth US$ 46, 495 (N5.58 billion) were exported from Nigeria and 43.35% revenue generated by the federal government from fish production in 2001, came from shrimp and shrimp licenses (FDF 2003). Nigeria’s industrial shrimp fishing had been sustained primarily by Penaeus notialis until the late 1990s when stocks plummeted leading to near collapse of the subsector as trawlers spent more days than usual on the sea to achieve cruise target; implying huge cost in fueling and less chances of breaking even. As at the beginning of the 21st century however, i.e. by 2000, Penaeus monodon hitherto unknown to Nigerian local waters invaded the country’s coastal and creek environments, and its populations complemented Penaeus notialis substantially to maintain industrial production (Zabbey 2007).  The species (Penaeus monodon), in terms of size and biomass is bigger relative to the indigenous shrimp species, and has been adjudged God-sent. Moreover, Penaeus monodon is gradually increasing in abundance (Zabbey personal observation). Thus, the probable impact(s) Penaeus monodon would have on local shrimp genetics and general biodiversity needs to be investigated!


Shrimp farming in Nigeria (1980 - 2008) 

The culture of shrimp in Nigeria is still at different experimental stages consigned to research institutions.  The production of young prawn species under controlled condition was attempted in Nigeria without success (FAO 1980). Even though fin fish culture was also at an infancy stage in Nigeria as at the 1980s, it seems the unprecedented failure to farm shrimp by the FAO somehow discouraged local aquaculturists from further coordinated, goal-oriented shrimp culture trials and investments vis--vis fish culture; thus the development of indigenous shrimp culture techniques stagnated and remain so till 2004 (Business Day 2004). From then (that is, 2004) renewed momentum began with unilateral plan to importing Asian-bred culture approaches.   However, unpublicized shrimp culture trial projects may have been undertaken by research institutions with little or no successes during this latency years.


Studies on the ecology, biology, behaviour and distribution of indigenous Nigerian shrimp species have been carried out by various workers (see detailed review in Abowei et al 2006), to provide the scientific leeway for shrimp culture. Marioghae (1987) listed Macrobranchium vollenhovenii, Macrobranchium macrobranchion, Penaeus notialis and Penaeus keratherus as potential candidates for aquaculture in Nigeria based on their growth rates, sizes, and the higher market values they command. The cultivability potential of Macrobranchium vollenhovenii was further reinforced by the investigation of Willfuhr-Nast et al (1993). Other preliminary researches into the culture-feasibility of Nigerian shrimp species have been reviewed by Abowei et al (2006). The last authors concluded the studies were incomplete, with no articulate locally evolved culture techniques. The lack thereof, fuels attempts to import already established culture methods from mainly Asia (specifically Thailand) which now produces, on a global-scale, the largest volume of farmed shrimp.


SPDC’s attempt to invest in commercial shrimp farming in the Niger Delta failed following civil society protests (Business Day 2004). Although SPDC pioneering attempt to invest in commercial shrimp farming in the Niger Delta failed, it triggered the current wave of progressive interests in shrimp aquaculture investment in Nigeria by public and private sector actors in and outside the country.  Recently (April 2008),  it was reported that a Sri Lanka consortium, Sulalanka, obtained certificate of operation from the  Nigerian government, and the FAO endorsement to kick-start farming of black tiger shrimp in the coastal region of the country; in a dramatic manner that lacks transparency and multi-stakeholder consultation (Zabbey 2008). Locally (in Nigeria) tiger shrimp means Penaeus keratherus, but in Asia tiger shrimp is Penaeus monodon. The latter species is usually a preferred aquaculture candidate due to its comparative size advantage. Already, Penaeus monodon has invaded Nigerian waters (Zabbey 2007), and is gaining prominence (Zabbey per observation) in terms of abundance and distribution with anticipated negative implications for native shrimp genetic diversity in particular, and general biodiversity (Acacia pers comm.)! The impacts of invasive alien species on local  biodiversity, causing pronounced changes in local population, community assemblages and even extinction have been documented (IUCN 2000; Mack et al 2000)


Farmed shrimp, for whom? 

Fish including shrimp provide 22% of the protein intake in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has been dubbed “rich food for poor people” (Bene and Heck 2005).  Whereas fish supply in Asia increased by about 70% between 1998 and 2000 reaching 17.7 Kg person -1 yr -1 it decreased by 14% during the same period in Africa (Ronnback et al 2002), with Sub-Saharan Africa having the least of 6.6 Kg person -1 yr -1 (Bene and Heck 2005).  In order to maintain the current level of per capita supply of fish in Sub-Saharan African up to 2015, fish production must increase by 27.1% over this period.  This estimate is based on an average annual population growth of 1.9% over the period 2002 - 2015 (World Bank 2004).


With the obvious decreasing catch rates from wild fisheries, aquaculture, if carried out in ways agreeable with ecological processes remains a potential complementary source of production; not an alternative to wild fisheries.  On global scale, aquaculture contributes 38% of fish production. In Sub-Saharan Africa however, the industry supplies a meager 2%.  It is projected that aquaculture output would have to increase by 26.7% by 2020 to maintain 6.8Kg per capita fish consumption level in Africa (Delgado et al 2003).  This, no doubt, requires aggressive investments in sustainable culture of herbivorous fishes for local consumption rather than export-driven aquaculture - like the farming of shrimp presently promoted.  The FAO defined food security as a condition when all people at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Thus, to enhance the animal protein intake of unsecured populations, aquaculture intervention must be pro-poor and rural-driven, since 75% of the absolute poor live in rural areas (CIDA 2003).


Ronnback et al (2002) reported that the potential for coastal aquaculture to improve income and assure the availability of affordable protein to the poor in developing countries has been impeded by the emphasis on the industrial-scale cultivation of high-valued carnivorous species for export to Europe, USA and Japan.  Such intensive culture programmes generate huge profits for the rich investors, input suppliers and enhance export earnings for national treasuries. The last short term benefit may end up in the pockets of few corrupt persons in the corridors of power, and hardly would it benefit the rural poor.


Moreover, farmed shrimps are rarely consumed by the poor, but almost exclusively sold to luxury consumers in domestic and international markets; and would in no way , at least by the current proposed framework, support the protein intake of the rural poor in Nigeria. Until now that industrial shrimp farming is evolving, Nigeria’s shrimp production has been entirely wild-caught. While artisanal catches mainly support local protein needs of the communities, with marginal export to neighbouring West African States, industrial trawled shrimps are almost wholly exported to Europe, Japan and the US. For instance, in 1998, 70% of the annually 12000mt caught in the industrial shrimp fishing sub-sector was exported.


Given the emerging shrimp culture development, some critical questions need be asked and sufficiently addressed, if shrimp farming production in Nigeria is going to be sustainable. Sustainability has three pillars – economic, social and environmental, and these need to be integrated into mainstream agriculture and aquaculture production, and along the entire food supply chain (Giovanni 2008). 


Sustainability of shrimp farming in Nigeria 

Is Nigeria institutionally and technically ready for shrimp farming or are there existing regulatory standards for the industry?


Shrimp farming is promoted in developing countries principally because of cheap labour, cheap land and weak environmental laws; apparently, enforcement of such environmental regulations (where they exist) is weaker. Presently, there are no laws or standards to regulate unscrupulous practices in the emerging commercial shrimp farming subsector in Nigeria, neither is there institutional framework. Being new and alien, the Nigerian Sea Fisheries Act [Extraordinary No. 71 volume 79, December 31, 1992] which as at today is the national instrument for domestic fisheries production and management is silent on shrimp farming.


Already, environmental degradation in the Niger Delta (the primary target region for shrimp culture by investors) is alarming due to years of pollution and environmental negligence by the oil and gas companies operating in the area. The Niger Delta has been ranked amongst the most oil-impacted ecosystems in the world (IUCN/CEESP 2006) and a sensitive, high consequence area for oil pollution (Steiner 2008). A synergy between the current state of crude oil-related degradation and the inevitable pollution (with the present technology and practices employed) that will arise from commercial shrimp farms is likely to turn the Niger Delta into an irredeemable wasteland. Therefore, to forestall the above devastating situation, adequate standards and well-structured institutional framework for monitoring and enforcement of production standards should be established, as preconditions, before considering investment in commercial shrimp farming.  


Would intensive shrimp farming solve food insecurity problem in Nigeria?


The prime target of the shrimp farming proponents in Nigeria, as in other developing countries where shrimp aquaculture has been practiced for decades now, is the readily high-dollar international shrimp markets that exist for it. Seventy per cent of Nigerians is estimated to be living below poverty margin (UNDP 2006) and hardly could they be able afford to procure costly seafood delicacies such as commercially farmed shrimps. Moreover, over 70% of trawled shrimps in Nigeria are exported. Nigeria’s fish demand was estimated to be 1.7 million metric tons in 2005, with local supplies of 500,000 mmt, while importation accounted for 700,000mmt leaving a deficit of about 500,000mmt (Areola 2007). Given the above wide-gap between fish demand and supply, the wisest option, at least for now, is to roll out production schemes that will assure protein security of the citizenry, and reduce the vulnerability of unpredictable import supplies!


What would happen to the remaining stands of mangroves in the Niger Delta?


Nigeria’s mangrove, in terms of area covered, is the largest in Africa and the fourth largest in the world (Nandy and Mitra 2004). According to Spalding et al (1997), the mangrove area of Nigeria is estimated at 10,515 km2; estimate is based on previous surveys and does not reflect current status. Significant chunks of Nigeria’s mangrove (over 80% concentrated in the Niger Delta) are lost to crude oil toxicity following frequent spillages. Other threats to mangrove resources in Nigeria include over-logging, clearance for oil/gas pipes and seismic lines, swamp reclamation for urban development, the continuous spread of nypa palm, etc.  Generally, mangroves provide a range of natural goods and services for other ecosystems in the seascape, and ultimately for man. The role of mangroves in the larval biology of commercial fishes seems unparalleled and diverse estimates have been reported from different geographic areas concerning mangrove ecosystems as preferred sites for fish breeding, nursery grounds for juveniles, and generally for the avoidance of predation threats. It has been estimated that 60% of fishes in the Gulf of Guinea breed in the mangroves of the Niger Delta (EJF 2004). Thus, converting the remaining mangrove swamps of the delta to shrimp ponds will further plunder the region’s wild fisheries (already declining) and engender regional catastrophic food (animal protein) crises for the peoples of the area and other coastal inhabitants along the Gulf of Guinea Large Marine Ecosystem (Zabbey 2008).



Institutional and policy frameworks need to be developed firstly to forestall unsustainable production and environmental pollution discussed above. The FAO Principles of Responsible Shrimp Farming (PRSF) and other existing and emerging useful certification standards should form the basis for formulating such policies, together with mainstreaming of local peculiarities.


Any form of industrial-scale aquaculture should be preceded by a mandatory Biodiversity inclusive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, in accordance with best practices (as set out in Convention on Biological Diversity), and domesticated in Nigeria by the EIA Act  No. 86 of 1992.


Principles of social equity and transparent democratic procedures are imperative if aquaculture is to be developed sustainably (Ronnback et al 2002).  Therefore, coastal (would-be host) communities and other stakeholders in the production and supply chains need be thoroughly and transparently consulted as a prerequisite to sustainable commercial aquaculture schemes.


Rather than dissipating local energies and scarce resources by sending personnel to Thailand to learn about industrial shrimp farming (that rarely would benefit poor Nigerians), premium should be given to efforts to improve traditional fish culture methods, and the farming of preferably herbivorous food-species for internal consumption; without which the attainment of goal one of the Millennium Development Goals will be far from feasible! It is worthwhile to stress that, Thailand shrimp industry which Nigeria is excited to copy is unsustainable; 70% of previous productive ponds in Thailand are already abandoned (Stevenson 1997).


Efforts should be made by the Nigeria government to declare mangrove protected areas, and also to embark on aggressive mangrove restoration schemes. As breeding and nursery repositories for several commercial fish species, restored mangroves would, to some extent, improve on the status of wild fish stocks for sustenance of capture fisheries, and the supply of spawners and seeds for aquaculture. It should be noted that FAO PRSF states that shrimp farming should not take place within inter-tidal areas, including mangrove swamps.


If shrimp farming is seriously contemplated in Nigeria, there is the need to delimit and delineate areas for this purpose. This will involve proper zoning plan, which will facilitate the development of an environmentally-sound industry and so forestall the destruction of ecologically-sensitve areas.


For effective participation of the rural poor in the coastal communities, low-input shrimp farming, in which the initial start-up costs are low, and risk of environmental pollution is reduced, is advocated. Farms of this nature are usually small-scale and so are banded together into cooperatives. Thus by joint efforts and cost sharing the cooperatives can meet the regulatory standards  set by government. This type of farming system has been tagged cluster farms (Wijegoonawardena and Siriwardena 1996).


Institution of a system capable of monitoring the environmental parameters, and health status of shrimps is vital. For this to be realised, there is the need to develop the capacity for environmental, and shrimp health research and disease diagnosis. This way, mitigatory measures will be put in place to prevent disease outbreaks and pollution arising from accummulation of toxic substances, and negative fallouts from unregulated use of chemotherapeutants.


The ideas canvased by SWAC (2006) are germane to our discourse. Their recomendations include:

                    Creation of a master plan at regional level

                    Development of a network of Asian-West African partners.

                    Training and education, and mobilization of resources

                    Promotion of enabling policy and institutional environment for investments in shrimp farming





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Received 16 January 2010; Accepted 4 October 2010; Published 1 November 2010

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