The group considered research needs, monitoring aspects and indicators for monitoring management of health in the rural, small-scale aquaculture sector.
Identification of research needs should originate from the grassroots level (farmers, fishermen, fry traders and market traders). The issues should be identified in the broader context of problems and constraints to aquaculture.
How? Strong linkages are essential among different players (farmers, extension workers, university, private, others) using an interdisciplinary approach, and health problems can be identified through Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA), passive monitoring and surveillance.
Why? Situation analysis should look at who is most affected by the problems (producers, farmers, traders etc.), and strategies should be developed to mitigate or manage the problem.
How much? Research scope should be defined and the required resources identified. What is the nature and extent of the research required to overcome the problem? It is acknowledged that this cannot always be predicted, and that there is a need for flexibility in approach. Getting locked into unprofitable avenues of research, simply because these are outlined in research proposals or project documents, must be avoided.
Problem-orientated (action) research is more practical, although it should also be acknowledged that much basic research eventually has some applicability. There is also the need to ensure that action research is well conceived and conducted. Local or country-wide research and advanced level research should also be considered.
What are the possible constraints to identifying research needs?
In general, farmers are often unable to recognise problems. In some instances, farmers are unwilling to report problems, perhaps due to commercial interests and/or differences in priorities. The existing networks for communication between farmers and researchers also tend to be weak. It is also recognised that career interests and scientific preoccupations can lead to a narrow outlook and an inability to focus research. The government interests and priorities, resource limitations, trade issues, donor priorities and shifting trends in development assistance make long-term planning of research difficult for developing countries.
PRA, using an interdisciplinary approach, which will result in problems being clearly identified and prioritised, is a useful tool. A review of previous experience should be carried out and the need for laboratory-based analysis assessed. A preliminary case-definition should be developed. This should be applied to all problem-solving situations in aquaculture, regardless of whether it is specifically a health management problem that is suspected. This will result in the problem being well defined and easily recognised by other workers.
Observational studies are necessary to assess the extent of the problem and to identify determinants and risk factors.
Intervention trials with farmers would be meaningful to assess management or treatment interventions that would prevent the problem or reduce the risk of it arising.
On-farm trials to develop farmer capability are desirable. It is recognised that farmers may already have capacity for certain types of "enquiry" that provide useful answers for them; however, this is often more evident in terrestrial systems than in aquatic systems.
Constraints - Competition between research groups may reduce collaboration and unnecessarily increase resources applied to the problem. However, it should be noted that competition provides stimulation, keeps researchers "honest" and provides verification of findings. There is an obvious need for competitive groups to interact through some forum or reporting format. Pressure on researchers to publish in peer-reviewed journals increases time scale and reduces availability of output. Monopoly of research topics results in reduced access by scientists to fields of research regarded as the "property" of established institutions and scientists. This may lead to capacity-led research within institutes that have developed expertise in certain areas, and poor access to information that results in unnecessary replication of research and poor direction. Differing priorities of many of the players and lack of capacity and human resources are significant constraints.
Dissemination, Monitoring of Progress/Relevance/Performance
The flow and spread of information - Health management should be integrated into aquaculture development. Farming communities (farmer, farming and marketing co-operatives, farmers groups) should be the main target. Information transfer must be a two way process. Researchers (government/university), extension services, NGOs, the private sector (fry trader, feed and supply etc.), and policy and decision makers should all be involved.
Linkages between the scientific community and farmers
Pictorial extension manuals, pictorial posters, TV and radio, training programmes, workshops, commercial magazines, calendars, demonstration, journals, newsletters, oral presentations and conferences, mobile extension units and fish fairs are some examples of potentially effective communication channels between the scientific community and farmers. There is a need to strengthen communication between farming communities and researchers. Researchers must share responsibility for monitoring the uptake and progress of research results, perhaps by introducing feedback sessions with farmers and farming communities. Feedback should help determine the relevance and performance of the research undertaken. There is also a need for key agencies, donors etc., to act as focal points to initiate the co-operation that is necessary.
Farmers and researchers should identify the problem together with implementers at the grass-roots level, develop together the research/project plan, and identify common goals and outputs that meet the needs of stakeholders.
A generalised summary of the priorities, relevance, competence and source of funding for research in the region is presented in Tables 1 and 2 below.
Table 1. Research funding sources and their relevance to small-scale aquaculture.
Table 2. Generalised picture of regional research priorities, relevance and competence.