Improved biosecurity and livestock disease control measures in low resource settings are often regarded as beneficial for agricultural productivity, rural incomes, global health, and sustainability. In this paper we present data from a study of shrimp and prawn aquaculture in Bangladesh to argue that this relationship is not as straightforward as it would seem. Analysing quantitative and qualitative data from a multi‐method field study involving 300 “missing middle” farmers, we demonstrate the importance of socio‐economic and ecological conditions to any disease management strategy. We describe how a technical programme to introduce “disease‐free” seed faltered partly as a result of the farmers' tendency to offset disease and livelihood risks by frequently re‐stocking their ponds. Changes to seed provision were accompanied by calls to alter farmers' livestock production practices. Paradoxically, these changes exposed farmers to more intense risks, potentially locking them into unsustainable disease management practices. The analysis emphasises that vernacular farming practices should be considered as key assets rather than barriers to disease management strategies, and that closer attention be paid to value chain and other risks as drivers of unsustainable practices.
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