The purpose of the socio-economic study was to identify the factors critical to the adoption and economical viability of semi-intensive fish farming. This was intended to assist in the development of semi-intensive fish farming in Tanzania.
For the purpose of the study, semi-intensive fish farming was defined as a practice where feeds were applied at least twice per week and fertilizer at least once per week.
However, only four of 12 respondents in the two villages actually met the above criteria for feeding and fertilizing. Respondents selected for the study were therefore identified as the best performing fish farmers in the village and for the purpose of the study, they were called semi-intensive fish farmers. In presenting findings and conclusions, this presents some difficulties and to a certain extent changed the study focus from determining criteria for semi-intensive fish farming to examining why some fish farmers were performing better than others. It was believed that these conclusions can then be used as a basis to determine preconditions for semi-intensive fish farming.
The study was carried out during August–September, which is the slack season for many farm activities, so that the farmers had time to spend for the interviews and PRA. But a one-shot study like the present one may not yield answers with the same accuracy as a study covering different times of the agricultural year (e.g. in terms of accuracy of annual fish yield and seasonal work load for the various farm activities). However, information obtained through different methods was cross-checked to minimize this problem.
During the interviews with semi-intensive fish farmers, the respondents were the head of the household, i.e. in most cases male pond owners. As feeding and fertilizing is often done by the wives and children, separate interviews with them could have yielded different and additional information on pond management. Such interviews should have been carried out.
Proximity and access to extension service
One of the reasons for selecting a village close to a regional capital and another village further away from such a centre was to assess whether proximity to the Fisheries Office influenced adoption of semi-intensive fish farming. But it transpired that the two selected villages were equally distant from the respective District Fisheries Offices from where extension service is provided. The study indicated no differences between the two villages in terms of visits from extension officers, though Ihanda in the late 1980s had hosted an Assistant Fisheries Officer. More important, however, was access to extension advice. The more intensively managing fish farmers among the respondents have or have had closer contact with extension agents (Peace Corp Volunteers and occasionally Fisheries Officers) than other fish farmers. Further, as a fisheries officer in Vwawa revealed, fisheries officers are more likely to continue working with fish farmers who are able to follow the advice given. This fact reinforces the uneven access to extension service, a fact that mitigates against the more resource-poor fish farmers.
Therefore, an important factor affecting adoption and viability of semi-intensive fish farming is regular access to extension advice.
Availability and access to land
Fish farming competes with vegetable gardening for land. However, the two activities are not mutually exclusive. Respondents followed a diversification strategy by growing several crops and are unlikely to abandon fish farming activities in favour of vegetable gardening. However, as pressure on land intensifies, farmers might intensify land use, including fish farming. The choice of which crop to farm more intensively would depend on a number of factors including the availability of land and the relative profitability of the crops.
Access to fingerlings
Respondents did not have better access to fingerlings than other fish farmers. According to Seki and Maly (1993) most farmers in Ruvuma Region obtain their fingerlings from neighbours -- this is also true of the respondents. If semi-intensive fish farming practice expands, its viability will be affected by the farmers' ability to find and pay for good quality fingerlings. At the moment, however, the availability of fingerlings did not appear to be a major determinant of the adoption of semi-intensive fish farming.
Feeding and fertilizing
Some respondents did feed and fertilize more frequently than others, using mainly on-farm byproducts. These farmers have access to more feeds and fertilizer, have better knowledge about fish farming and give the activity a higher priority.
By definition, access to inputs for feeding and fertilizing is an important precondition for any fish farmer to take up semi-intensive fish farming. The adoption of this activity further depends on whether these inputs have any alternative use, i.e. opportunity cost. The study revealed that maize bran was also used for livestock feeds and that cow dung and other manure were used for vegetable gardens and in the fields. The respondents preferred using the by-products for all relevant farm activities and avoided excluding some of these in order to specialize.
Proximity to market
The other reason for selecting two villages of varying distance to a main town was to determine whether access to a market was a main reason for taking up semi-intensive fish farming. In reality, the two villages are equi-distant from a town with a fish market, although access from Subira to Songea may be restricted by having to travel on the gravel road. Further, the study indicated that a few fish farmers in Subira actually market their fish in Songea, while marketing of fish in Ihanda is confined entirely within the village. Prices of fish were considered high and satisfactory by the respondents, and the demand high and partially unmet. Even kilo prices of between T.shs. 350 and 1,000 (when they are sold by piece) were not a sufficient incentive for taking up semi-intensive fish farming.
The findings of the study indicated that the market, at current production levels, was not a constraint, although being able to sell fish is an important criteria for the adoption of semi-intensive fish farming. Knowledge of the market will also affect the viability of the fish farm activity relative to other farm activities.
One important factor in the adoption and viability of semi-intensive fish farming is the attitude of the fish farmer and others to the activity, and the ability to get information from other fish farmers. Sometimes visible success generates jealousy, and this could lead to theft, even witchcraft. This will prevent some farmers from adopting semi-intensive fish farming and may affect the long run viability of the enterprise. Conversely, successful fish farming (like any other farm activity) accords some status but this does not appear to act as an incentive, either to start fish farming or intensify it.
As recorded in Eastern Province, Zambia16, successful fish farmers are more vulnerable to jealousy in tight-knit communities than in less socially controlled communities where external influences penetrate. This suggests that semi-intensive fish farming is more likely to be viable in areas where villagers have a higher physical mobility and are not socially constrained from pursuing individual and personal goals. The attitude towards improved technologies will also be more positive in this case. The present study showed that the areas studied consist of relatively loose-knit communities with high physical mobility without restrictions on marriage across clan or religious lines.
16 Van der Mheen-Sluijer (1991).
Successful fish farming
According to the PRA participants, the most important yardstick of a successful fish farmer was a high income from fish farming that is invested in other activities (i.e. farm activities, sending children to school, and domestic uses). A successful fish farmer was, secondly, a person able to increase the number of ponds. Intensified fish farming practice was not considered at all.
Investing the profit derived from semi-intensive fish farming in other and better-known activities obviously affects the long-term viability of semi-intensive fish farming: it will suffer from lack of necessary investment and maintenance. An explanation for this priority could be uncertainty about the return of semi-intensive fish farming. Only when a number of farmers become well-established in semi-intensive fish farming and profit from it, can one expect other farmers to confidently increase the level of intensity. Other explanations could be that the farmers are satisfied with their present level of intensity of fish farming or that their other farm activities are at a relatively low intensive level.
Semi-intensive fish farming is not likely to get much attention unless the farmers get to know its potential. Despite their positive inclination towards fish farming, respondents preferred to diversify their farm activities and allocate the income derived from fish farming into activities whose benefits are better known.