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E. Drewes


The study was undertaken to identify and discuss socio-economic factors which influence the use of aquaculture as a means for rural development in countries in Southern Africa. The findings are aimed at serving as a basis for planning and implementation of activities under the FAO/SIDA Aquaculture for Local Community Development Programme.

Aquaculture development efforts in Southern Africa have often been focusing on the establishment of fish-farming research stations. These are aimed at development and promotion of feasible production techniques, and at serving as demonstration stations as well as seed production and supply centres.

As a result, fish farms have been established. However, fish-farming demands the ability to take financial risks apart from having access to inputs, capital, and land. Farming practices have therefore in most cases been adopted by strata of the societies which are economically and socially in a better position than the majority in rural areas.

To counteract such development, efforts have been made in several countries to extend fish-farming to small-scale farmers. The results have been varied and evaluation reports indicate that all fish-farms have not been sustained and that the intended beneficiaries only partly have been reached.

The factors causing farmers to abandon fish-farming are insufficiently known since little importance has been given to the monitoring of fish-farming operations and the socio-economic background of people who have taken up this activity.

The discussion in this report is based on the limited information available from this field. However, aquaculture extension for rural poor has much in common with agriculture extension. Impact of such work has been studied in more detail. The factors identified in the studies are also discussed in the following sections, assuming that to a great extent they will apply to aquaculture extension.


To ensure that project efforts are geared toward rural poor it is necessary to be aware of the existence of such groups and of the socio-economic structures which determine their living conditions.

Rural communities cannot be regarded as one homogeneous group. Though this is a well-known fact, it has often not been adequately considered when planning and implementing rural development projects.

Projects which are targeted at rural poor (for example defined as the 40% with the lowest income and standard of living) need to be based on information in the economic and social conditions of rural households. In some countries these target groups are concentrated in certain regions; in others they are widely scattered. In most countries information is available from which conclusions can be drawn as to the economic conditions of rural households. For example, it can be concluded from the statistics given below on farm sizes in Zambia that there is a high concentration of low income households in five out of nine Provinces.

Other more direct indicators than farm sizes are the annual average cash income, and health, nutritional and education status. When data are not available, projects require an in-built component which ensures that the information is generated. Unless this information exists, the targeted rural families are unlikely to be adequately reached.

Female-headed households are mostly among those with the lowest standard of living. However, in many rural development projects, especially those which use a new production technology, these households have been neglected. This calls for identification of households by gender. Existing information cannot always be broken down by female- and male-headed households, in which case additional surveys are required.

Farm sizes in Zambia

ProvinceMore than 40 ha10–14 ha1–10 haLess than 1 haLess than 1 ha in percent
Southern330  9 000  51 000    6 000  9
Central300  7 500  21 000  18 00038
Lusaka  90  2 000    4 500  14 00068
Copperbelt    -     500    2 000  18 00088
Eastern  20  6 000  23 000    8 00022
Western    -       10    5 400  85 00094
Northwestern    -       70    2 900  53 00095
Luapula    -       60    2 000  73 00097
Northern    -       90    7 400112 00094
Total 198474025 220119 200459 000    76a b
Total 198680021 000132 000460 000

a IFAD, 1984
b IFAD, 1986

In Zambia this information was obtained in 1980. The population census that year revealed that in several provinces nearly 40% of the rural households were headed by women. Such a situation requires that project planning ensures that these families are given special attention.

Whether generated incomes will be used to improve the families' nutritional status depends to a large extent on the involvement of women in decision-making in the family. It has been found that if women have influence on expenditures, comparatively more is spent on food and health care. Further, it is known that if women have access to knowledge and inputs for production, harvesting and marketing of the products, they have greater influence over decision-making on expenditures.

These factors enhance the importance of the involvement of women in project activities, which calls for detailed target group analysis.


The following factors habe been identified as determinants for a successful and effective introduction of fish-farming among the rural poor:

  1. access to land,
  2. access to inputs,
  3. access to technical knowledge and management skills,
  4. demand for outputs,
  5. access to capital,
  6. profitability of fish-farming.

(a) Access to land

In order to start fish-farming the target group must have proper access to land, as in the case of pond culture, or water bodies, such as dams or reservoirs. Such situations might not prevail in all countries. For example, land might be owned or controlled by a rather small number of individuals, companies, and/or parastatals. In cases where land and water bodies are owned by the State and leased to individuals, rural poor might not have adequate access to lease rights. For example in Zambia, where there are more than 50 dams which have been stocked with fish, the Government (District Councils) allocates fishing rights for sportfishing during weekends. Rural poor thus have no access to the dams.

In some countries the ownership of suitable land for agriculture is becoming more and more concentrated, creating an increasing number of landless labourers or forcing farmers to move to more marginal lands. To what extent this applies to aquaculture is not known.

In Zambia access to land does not seem to be a major constraint, except in areas where land is used for mining. The major part of cultivable land is unutilized. All land is Government-owned and legally accessible on a 99-year lease basis. Allocation of new land is usually by the approval of the local leaders, political as well as traditional.

This can imply that the rural poor of a community may not be allocated the plot of land which is most suitable for their needs. Villagers with better social links to the leaders might take up the best land. This may be of special importance for land allocation for fish-farming and has therefore to be studied when selecting target areas and groups.

Techno-biological factors determine the suitability of land for fish-farming. In addition to these factors (dealt with in the other desk studies) location in relation to the farmer's house is also important. Fish ponds, which are located out of easy reach are difficult to manage. There are indications that people have tended to renounce fish-farming since fish was stolen from ponds located too far from their houses. Fish farmers in Zaire for example were found to give up Tilapia-farming, mainly because of thefts (Low, 1985). Poaching seems to be less evident in small village communities where people live under similar socio-economic conditions and which have a functioning leadership structure.

Rural poor are unlikely to carry out fish-farming on a scale large enough to financially justify labour inputs for safeguarding. Proximity of ponds to houses therefore has to be considered when selecting sites. When this possibility does not exist, assigning land to groups should be considered. Such groups would then function as cooperative production societies. However, even if Governments should be prepared to allocate land to groups, the necessary socio-cultural basis for a cooperative to function might be lacking. A great deal of social groundwork would then be necessary to convince people about the advantages of such an undertaking as compared to existing farming practices.

(b) Access to inputs

The access to necessary farm inputs seems to be more constraining than the access to suitable land. This is attributable to Government strategies, followed for decades, which aimed at ensuring food supply to urban centres. This was done by providing production incentives for a limited number of medium- and large-scale farmers. Such a strategy did not encourage or enable small farmers to produce a surplus for the market. This made it difficult for them to meet their basic needs. The result was growing differences between living conditions of commercial-scale farmers and the urban elite on one hand and the small-scale farmers and labourers on the other. Governments have realized that such an imbalanced development carries social problems. Strategies have therefore been modified. Often with international assistance, Governments have begun to provide small-scale farmers with production incentives, including provision of susidized seeds and fertilizers on a credit basis, link roads to villages and transport facilities to markets.

If fish-farming is to be successfully extended to the rural poor, measures must be taken to ensure access to inputs similarly provided, as in the case of agriculture crop production. However, it is important to avoid that fish-farmers become too dependent on public sector support, which Governments might not be able to sustain. Technologies which do not require too heavily subsidized inputs should be selected.

Since in most countries there are no private hatcheries and nurseries, seed production has to be arranged for through Government hatcheries. To establish an adequate production capacity, most existing hatcheries would require improved management. Establishment of seed production is however only a basic step. It has to be followed by allowing the small-scale farmers with access to the input by providing means for transport and packaging material. The cost of these services has to be low enough to ensure the farmer a certain profit. There are indications that these supply systems have often failed to function; seed was either not available at the right time or suffered high mortality. There are technical and financial as well as management reasons for this.

Another input is feed. Low feed input production technology (compost feeding) has been developed. For rural poor not practising animal husbandry and therefore having no easy access to animal waste, such feeding might be most appropriate. It would reduce the risks involved in a higher feed input technology, such as duck-cum-fish or pig-cum-fish systems.

Low feed input technologies naturally imply a relatively low productivity of land and labour. It needs to be tested whether or not this is adequate in a situation where land is comparatively scarce and where already intensive/semi-intensive agriculture crops are used by the small-scale farmers. Fish-farming might in certain areas have to be based on semi-intensive feed inputs in order to compete with agriculture. This would then imply that small-scale fish farmers have to be provided with access to the various inputs required to ensure additional feeding of fish.

Fish-farmers also need harvesting equipment. Most of them will not have ready access to such gear. The investment might not pay off for an individual farmer. Therefore, forms of cooperative investment need to be worked out in order to reduce the cost of harvesting. Another possibility would be to encourage private people to establish gear hire services. This would also have the advantage of ensuring adequate maintenance. But too high rates might be charged and the hire services might tend to acquire control over the marketing.

(c) Access to technical knowledge and management skills

The intended target group do not generally have any skills or knowledge of fish-farming. However, even the most extensive farming system requires a certain technical knowledge and management skill. In several countries, aquaculture training centres have been established. These, however, might not adequately cater to the needs of small-scale fish-farmers. Aquaculture training is often restricted to theoretical classroom training which might be backed up with practical exercises, such as cleaning of ponds, stocking, feeding, and harvesting. The training is often short-term. It is frequently conducted on premises of fish culture experimental stations instead of at units which closely resemble those the potential farmer is likely to operate. Such type of training tends to have little scope for positive impact, and has often proved to be a waste of effort.

Experience with aquaculture training suggests that teaching by means of practical exercises and on-the-job training is more effective. Even theoretical knowledge is best communicated through practical examples.

To train every potential fish-farmer individually would require much effort. An approach has to be adopted by which groups of farmers are trained. This requires adequate practical and communication skills on the part of the trainers. Often, fisheries officers assigned to training have theoretical knowledge of fish-farming, but lack skills to demonstrate through practical action. They often also lack skills to communicate. Unless the trainers possess the right skills, rural poor will not follow their advice and women might not be addressed at all.

No matter how small the scale, the farmer is likely not to aim at only subsistence production but also at production for a market. There is thus not only need for bio-technical knowledge but also for information on the costs of inputs, the market prices and the risks involved. The training efforts must be able to meet these needs adequately. Training concepts have often neglected this aspect and ignored questions related to costs and earnings of small-scale fish-farming. Aquaculture training needs to be adjusted to these demands to provide rural poor with access to technical, economic, and management skills and knowledge of fish-farming. One way would be to train fisheries officers in communication/pedagogical methods. This would imply a long-term approach of 3–5 years. An alternative is to draw upon inputs from people who have already undergone such training. Staff of agricultural extension services more often have this training. They could, together with fisheries officers, undertake the joint task of communicating fish-farming knowledge to rural poor. This should be done by combining practical demonstrations, theoretical explanations and on-the-job training.

Training is a form of extension, and it has proved useful not to separate training and extension duties. This ensures that there is an effective follow-up of the training. All too often, training courses in aquaculture have been conducted for numerous potential fish-farmers without providing for any follow-up advice. Those who are assigned training tasks should in the future also be assigned extension work.

(d) Demand for output from fish-farming

If rural poor undertake fish-farming they must be ensured that there is a demand for the output. Family food-security is undoubtedly an important concern of small-scale farmers. However, this does not imply that they have no strong interest in meeting other basic consumption needs. Such an interest means that small-scale fish-farmers will aim at surplus production to generate an income.

Fish-farming systems will have to be similarly low in cost as crop-farming and animal husbandry to offer fish at a price low enough for rural populations. However, even if fish can be produced at low cost, there are likely to be situations which increase the prices to such an extent that rural poor can no longer afford to eat fish. The producers would then rather sell the fish than consume it. For example, in the vicinity of urban and suburban centres the demand for fish and the purchasing power tends to increase the prices drastically.

Rural poor's nutritional and health conditions have been shown to be worse than those of other members of a rural and/or urban community. In Zambia, for example, it was found that the protein consumption among the small-scale farming families in Eastern, Western, Central and Copperbelt Provinces was lower than among larger farming families and other members of the society (FAO/UNDP Nutritional Study Report, 1970/71). Promotion of market production is therefore often viewed critically. This is because increased incomes do not necessarily lead to better nutrition. Whether or not the increased incomes are used to improve the families' nutrition status depends to a large extent on the involvement of women in the decision-making (see Section 2).

The involvement of women can be increased by allowing access to knowledge and production inputs. If preference is given to women in training and extension (specifically in harvesting and marketing) this is likely to result in women becoming responsible for these tasks. Thereby women would gain better control over income and expenditure.

If attention is given to these factors it can be adequate also from a nutritional point of view for the community to promote surplus production for the market.

(e) Access to capital

Small-scale farmers taking up fish-farming will realistically practise this as a part-time activity. This implies a small scale of operation. In Zambia there are proposals that a farmer should start with a 500 m2 pond, applying semi-intensive production systems integrated with animal husbandry (UNDP/FAO/GRZ ZIBA Programme, 1986). Though the scale is small and the system a relatively low-input one, there are costs involved. A medium-scale commercial farmer could probaly meet these costs by his/her own means. However, small-scale farmers might face problems in raising money to meet the costs even for a small pond (investment costs as well as operating costs). It is often argued that pond culture hardly involves any investment costs since labour is provided from the family. This neglects the fact that family labour has opportunity costs. Costs for pond construction therefore do appear in small-scale farming. Often also additional labour has to be hired. This applies to both female- and male-headed households.

Further investigations should confirm the assumption that female-headed households are likely to depend on hired labour for pond construction. Should this be confirmed, female farmers would have greater need for finance to meet labour costs.

Apart from investment costs a small-scale farmer will need assistance, at least initially, to meet costs for seed, hire of harvesting gear, labour for guarding, maintenance and harvesting. Small-scale farmers are not in a position to raise capital through borrowing from private sources. They are also unlikely to consider using institutional credit, available only against collateral. They consequently need adequate access to credit. Since credit facilities exist in many countries for agriculture, these could be expanded to involve also small-scale fish-farming. Zambia launched in 1986 a credit scheme for small-scale farmers (Rural Cooperative Agriculture Credit Scheme, 1986). Once it is proved that small-scale fish farming is a viable option, similar credit schemes could be prepared. Various countries in Asia have extended credit to small-scale fish-farming. It could be useful to draw upon these experiences (for example in India the Fish Farmer's Development Agency offers credit in kind and cash at subsidized rates of interest).

(f) Profitability of farming

Aquaculture is seen, in the context of this report, as a tool for improvement of the standard of living (food, income) for rural poor. To serve this purpose, an aquaculture system has to be viable and sufficiently profitable compared with other production systems applied by the target group.

Small-scale farmers who have taken up aquaculture have often failed to sustain the production over a period of time. One reason has been that the system was not viable without heavily subsidized inputs. Seed and harvesting equipment were often initially provided free of cost. Once these subsidies were withdrawn small farmers became aware of the actual cost involved. There have also been cases in which yields dropped or fluctuated seasonally, which had not been anticipated by the farmer at the outset. Unless fish-farming proves to be sufficiently profitable compared to other food production systems it is unlikely to develop.

In many African countries certain agriculture crops and animal production are subsidized. This must be considered when analysing the costs and earning and identifying the potential for fish-farming. Subsidy systems are also often introduced for a short period and do not necessarily cover all regions of a country. Moreover, not every small-scale farmer, in spite of being entitled to do so, actually has access to subsidies. Such conditions must be considered in a comparative study of profitability of different production systems.

This would require a very situation-specific cost and earnings studies involving the participation of small-scale producers, in pilot activities. Such studies should be carried out prior to any large scale extension efforts.


Financial analysis of fish-farming systems can best be carried out based on data obtained from monitoring of ongoing activities. The amount of work involved means that detailed studies should be restricted to a few pilot cases from which general conclusions can be drawn. Monitoring comprises observation of farm activities and interviews with farmers as well as traders and eventually consumers. It does not restrict itself to simply recording costs and earnings from the farmer's memory, but ensures that records are kept on various farm inputs and outputs, both in physical form and in terms of value.

If data are to be collected daily or at certain times depends on the aspect to be monitored. It should be noted that input and output data should be kept separately. Records on inputs should be categorized into variable and fixed costs. Fixed costs are capital costs, land (rent), and depreciation on fixed assets. Variable costs are feed, seed, labour. Each input need to be described in as much detail as possible; for example, the exact tye of feed and size of seed. Daily records should be kept specifying the amount and type of labour used, for example by gender and family and hired labour.

Output records should be kept for duration and time of harvesting, species and size, harvest by quantity and unit price, quantity sold and self-consumed, and sales values including imputed value of self-consumed products.

At the end of the production cycle and year, the data available on value and quantity of production by species and the operating costs by items must be tabulated. They form the basis for the costs and earnings analysis of the production system. In order to carry out comparative studies, not only fish-farming, but other relevant farming systems have to be monitored.


Various socio-economic factors have been discussed here. Taking into consideration the prevailing social, political, and economic aims of countries, not all criteria for a successful introduction of aquaculture among rural poor are easily fulfilled. Whether and how the criteria can be met will have to be identified through pilot projects and studies.

Pilot projects should be prepared and implemented with the active participation of:

  1. farmers, both male and female, who are selected among the target group;

  2. Government personnel responsible for delivery of inputs and support services.

Pilot test projects should be designed in which technobiological factors are kept as constant as possible. This means that a specified technical package should be used to test the feasibility under a range of socio-economic conditions, such as:

The feasibility and profitability of any kind of farming cannot be tested and demonstrated by carrying out only one or two culture trials. Conclusions on the feasibility can only be safely drawn after repeated trials. This implies that pilot projects must be designed to cover a sufficiently long period.



  1. Jan W. Low, The economics of Tilapia culture in Kassai occidental, Zaire, Department of Agricultural Economics, New York, December, 1985

  2. FAO/UNDP/GRZ Project, A new “ZIBA” Programme for the Rural Sector, Chilanga

  3. IFAD, Preparation report of the special programme of assistance for small holde rehabilitation and development, April 1986

  4. IFAD, Report of the special programming mission to Zambia, April 1984

  5. FAO/ADCP/MR/82/18, Coastal Aquaculture Development in Mozambique

  6. GRZ/Ministry of Cooperatives, Rural Cooperative Agriculture Credit Schemes 1986/87, Lusaka 1986


Literature on Socioeconomic Aspects of Fish-Farming in Zambia

  1. Nutrition Country Profile Zambia, Case Study Eastern Province, 1985 “Maize, Policies, Nutrition in Zambia”.

  2. Annual Nutrition Surveillance by districts Ministry of Health, Lusaka, Zambia.

  3. Kanyangwa/Shula

    People's participation project: a baseline study; Rural Development Studies Bureau Report No. 26. University Zambia, Lusaka, 1985.

  4. Government of The Republic of Zambia, 4th National Development Plan (under preparation).

  5. Government of the Republic of Zambia. Fisheries Sector Profile, 1982.

  6. Review of Aquaculture Development in Zambia. FAO Fish Circular No. 770 (under preparation, December 1986).

  7. Eppler, Bruce. Study (or project report) on economics of aquaculture.

  8. P.B. Hayward. Production in Zambian Fisheries. Institute for African Studies, University of Zambia, 1983.

  9. R.L'Heureux. Economic feasibility of fish culture in Zambia, 1985.

  10. FAO/UNDP/Government Rep. of Zambia 1980–1985 project reports. FAO/UNDP/Government Rep. of Zambia 1985- Project reports.

  11. Aquaculture Development in Zambia, Report of a mission to study the feasibility of commercial fish farming, 1978.

  12. Fish Culture Development in Zambia, a new ZIBA Programme for the rural sector, 1985 by Gopalakrishnan (2 pages).

  13. FAO/UNDP/ZAM/79/005, Zambia Fish Culture Development Project Evaluation Mission report, 1985.

  14. K. Good. The reproduction of weakness in the state and agriculture: Zambian experiences, Institute of African Affairs, University of Zambia, 1986.

  15. ICLARM/R.S.V. Pullin. Report to the GTZ on ICLARM Mission (I. Smith, R. Pullin, J.D. Balain) to Zambia and Malawi to review rural aquaculture 1986.

  16. The World Bank, Zambia, Fisheries Development Project, 1984 (project identification report).

  17. International Catholic Migration Commission, Village Fish Pond Project -Northwest Province Zambia. Geneva 1984. (Annex to the original project proposal).

  18. Ponderings, a quarterly newsletter of the Water Harvesting/Aquaculture Project (WHAP), Cullowlee - Western Carolina University, Summer/Fall 1986.

  19. Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA) Fifth Session, Cairo, 1983, Aquaculture Development.

  20. CIFA, Sixth Session, Lusaka, 1985, Planning for Aquaculture in Africa.

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