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Simon Funge-Smith, Aquaculture Officer, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

The principal aim of this Consultation is to discuss and raise awareness as to how aquaculture and aquatic resources relate to the livelihoods of rural people and the role of collaborating regional institutions in addressing these issues. The Consultation will cover both the wide diversity of aquaculture and aquatic resource management types as well as their role. Importantly we will try to explain some of the opportunities that exist for assisting the livelihoods of people that rely on these resources as well as indicating some of the issues that currently threaten this important resource. During the course of this Consultation, we will address the important regional policy and development issues that relating to aquatic resources and their management.

This Consultation is a first step in the process of increasing awareness of the crucial role that inland fisheries, aquatic resource management and aquaculture play in the livelihoods of the people of this region and an opportunity for the regional institutions involved to get feedback from the donor community.

Living aquatic resources play a fundamental role in sustaining the livelihoods of the rural poor in SE Asia

Aquaculture and inland fisheries are vital components of rural livelihoods worldwide, but particularly in many Asian countries. Asia's consumption of fish comprised two-thirds of the world's total of 94 million tonnes. Close to 50 percent of protein is derived from fish consumption in Bangladesh, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Cambodia and the Republic of Korea. Providing quality protein, essential dietary micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin A, omega-3-fatty acids, lysine and iodine together with vital opportunities for employment, cash income and foreign exchange. The role of these sectors in developing countries should not be under-estimated.

Unfortunately, the livelihood and national economic benefits of these sectors are often hidden from view, overlooked by agricultural economists and marginalized by export-focused policies. Yet the reality is that this contribution to the national economy is undeniable, particularly for the poorest members of society who are reliant on the open access resources of inland fisheries and small-scale aquaculture for household income generation.

Whilst recognizing that export-oriented, industrial and commercial aquaculture generate foreign exchange, revenue and employment, more extensive forms of aquaculture benefit the livelihoods of the poor through improved food supply, reduced vulnerability to uncontrollable natural crashes in aquatic production, employment and increased income. However, developments of the aquaculture sector have not been without cost and we are also committed to addressing these aspects of the sector as well.

In many cases, the poorer people are the more dependent they are on aquatic resources. This is particularly the case for those who depend upon low-value fish and non-fish aquatic resources. These products are often caught and consumed or traded locally but are frequently ignored in analyses of national fishery resources. However, these locally available resources can provide crucial buffers to livelihood shocks and food security in many rural communities. As well as acting as 'rural safety nets', small-scale aquaculture and aquatic resource management also provide a range of opportunities for diverse and flexible forms of income generation. Families engaged in these activities often shift between use of the resource for consumption and income generation depending upon their particular livelihood needs, both through seasons and from year to year.

One of the reasons for organizing this Consultation is to challenge the frequently held assumption that aquaculture is an activity of the wealthy and landed and that it necessarily requires high levels of investment and inputs. With any production-based intervention, the poorest groups face significant constraints to entry simply because it is the lack of the prerequisites for the production system that makes those people poor. The same generalization can be made for aquaculture. Since aquaculture often requires resources such as land, ponds, water, credit and other inputs, those families able to become involved in aquaculture may not be the very poorest. It is also probably true to say that many previous aquaculture development interventions have not always directly addressed the needs of the poorest people.

In challenging the assumption that aquaculture is only for the rich, we should ask the question "Who can aquaculture work for?" Experience from a number of initiatives that were directed at poor people and their aquatic resources, clearly demonstrates, that if appropriately planned, there are considerable opportunities for poor people's entry to aquaculture. However, the types of aquaculture that poor people are able to engage in, or the manner in which poor people may be connected to aquaculture, may not be particularly familiar to us.

Previous support to aquaculture type projects was in terms of aquaculture development where the goal was improved aquaculture, whereas with more recent focus on poverty alleviation as a goal, the emphasis now is more on the use of aquaculture as a tool for development.

We have mentioned that poor people face constraints to entry into all production-based interventions; however, aquaculture may offer significant advantages over other activities (such as cash crops and livestock). Small-scale aquaculture is able to employ low cost technologies, using available on-farm inputs. Often these simple interventions require low investment and therefore a feature for them is their low level of risk. Since the activities are not input intensive. They have low labour input requirements, which fit with household divisions of labour. Thus, adding the aquaculture activity to the family holding does not excessively stress the other livelihood activities. Although the low input nature of these activities means that there are relatively low levels of production, this may still provide important sources of household nutrition and provides a buffer against unexpected problems in the livelihood food security and finances.

In many countries, traditional aquatic resource management practices have existed in a variety of forms in Asia for centuries. Small-scale aquaculture has many of the features of small livestock production and women frequently play a leading role in the operation. Aquatic resource management and aquaculture requires attention, feeding, occasional harvesting and often some form of processing or preparation of the product. These are all traditional roles of women (and sometimes children) in the household. The marketing of the production where this occurs is predominantly the domain of women and this may often be a source of income over which they have some control.

Small-scale aquaculture and aquatic resource management therefore hold considerable potential to contribute to poverty alleviation, but in order to realize this potential, poverty alleviation should be taken as the strategic starting point for interventions. This has significant implications for how interventions are conceptualised, planned and executed and the nature of institutional arrangements and partnerships. When using aquaculture or aquatic resources management as a tool for development, what types of opportunity exist for poorer peoples' entry to aquaculture and how can entry be facilitated. There are a number of simple activities that can be promoted that enable poor people to start engaging in aquatic resource management with low levels of risk and that do not require fish ponds. These are:

The list of interventions above relate principally to individuals and their families. There are also a number of group type interventions that can positively impact poor people. In either aquaculture or the broader arena of aquatic resource management. Typically poor people direct these towards support of collective action.

When discussing or planning interventions on rural aquaculture and aquatic resource management there are some issues that are often overlooked. A common mistake is to ignore the fact that small-scale aquaculture is often an important component of management of wild fisheries. Livelihood strategies may vary according to the state of the wild fishery. In some years the aquaculture activity may even be suspended if the wild fishery has a 'boom' year. In other years the small-scale aquaculture operation may compensate for inadequate catches. The distinction between wild fisheries (or 'aquatic resource management') and aquaculture is often merely a technical formality and is not remotely recognized by the people who actually undertake the activities!

The organization of groups for collective action takes considerable time, which is often underestimated during project planning. The result is often hurried action with limited success or sustainability. This will be increasingly important as attention turns to the issues of local resource management in fisheries, but also in facilitating poor peoples' entry to the use of water resources. Another feature of support to collective action is that even where benefits of community management appear to be evenly distributed, the poor may be excluded and rather than 'trickling-down', benefits may in fact 'trickle-up'.

Recognizing the role of aquaculture and aquatic resource management

Much of the emerging information that is now shaping our understanding of these diverse livelihoods roles of aquatic resources has been produced by the organizations represented at this Consultation. An important feature of this shifting awareness is that the organizations responsible are increasingly not working in isolation. Many of the initiatives that will be presented or discussed at this Consultation are actually collaborative activities that involve two or more partners and often these are the organizations represented at this Consultation.

Regional organizations can act as focal or co-ordination points for activities, ensuring that interventions are regionally appropriate. These organizations are often able to mobilise local resources and are often able to act as an effective interface between national institutions and development initiatives.

In this new millennium, we can look back and see how development focus has shifted away from development initiatives that targeted production increases as a means to improve the livelihoods of rural people towards less direct approaches that sought to strengthen the ability and capacity of people to help themselves and that consider a wide range of processes and factors rather than single point interventions.

This shift in focus has seen a tendency for a reduction in support to the agriculture sector in general and fisheries and aquaculture are similarly affected. This does not mean that these sectors are any less important than other areas that receive development attention - it merely reflects the changing opinion as to how change can be sustainably and appropriately effected. Whilst the focus of development may be shifting its approach, the emergence of strong regional organizations with competence in aquaculture and aquatic resources management issues can be considered one of the very successful outcomes of previous development intervention.

It is perhaps paradoxical, that it is only now that we are beginning to realize the importance of the aquatic resources sector and small-scale aquaculture and even larger scale aquaculture on the livelihoods of rural people and the economies of rural areas. Whilst production increase was once a single focus, we are now realising that it is a wide range of features that make these resources so critical to the livelihoods of many people. This is reflected in the policies directions that have emerged from a series of global and regional initiatives that deal with aquaculture and aquatic resource management.

The Bangkok Declaration and Strategy, which was adopted during the NACA/FAO Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium in 2000, emphasized the need for the aquaculture sector to continue development towards its full potential, making a net contribution to global food availability, domestic food security, economic growth, trade and improved living standards. The conference concluded that:

In November 2001, the ASEAN-SEAFDEC member countries' ministers responsible for fisheries met for the ASEAN-SEAFDEC Conference on Sustainable Fisheries for Food Security in the New Millennium and concluded in their resolution that they would use the Plan of Action adopted by the meeting as a guideline for formulating and implementing programmes, projects and activities. The Plan of Action recommends inter alia that:

The FAO Committee on Fisheries' (COFI) Sub-Committee on Aquaculture, which convened its first session in April 2002, has recognized these issues and placed emphasis on the:

Most recently, the WorldFish Center initiated the Fish for All Summit in early November 2002 which concluded that, given the many benefits of wholesome food, livelihoods and environments that are based on fish and other aquatic life, all people should embrace the vision of 'Fish for All Forever'. This summit highlighted the challenges the world faced to achieve this vision where many poor coastal, lake and river-based communities and even the urban poor are losing their access to fish as prices rise with increasing demand.

The role of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

As a regional office of FAO covering the section of the globe that produces more than 90 percent of aquaculture production and encompassing the majority of the world's rice producing countries and being home to the countries with some of the highest per capita fish consumption, there is plenty of work to be done in the Asia-Pacific Region. FAO takes the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995) as a broad framework for planning its activities in the fisheries sub-sectors and in addition to this are the highlighted issues and recommendations that emerge from other global fora such as the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development and the declaration of the year 2003 as the "International Year of Freshwater".

The various initiatives that FAO has been party to developing were described earlier and encompassed both global and regional issues. The FAO Regional Office focal areas are derived from FAO's overall medium term plan and also echo the main policy directions of the organizations represented at the Consultation. These focal areas include:

Cross-cutting themes for the FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific emphasize the importance of learning and communication coupled to the promotion of organization and sharing of knowledge. In this context, organization can be at the local level in terms of fisheries or farmers or at the institutional level where FAO seeks to enhance collaboration amongst institutions. As part of FAO's normative role there is direct support to policy development as well as improving information for support to policy decisions. Over-arching this is the emphasis in the FAO constitution to support the betterment of rural peoples' livelihoods and food security.

Whilst there is a trend in downsizing public support to aquaculture there are still significant development challenges as indicated previously. There is a strong need for co-operation that emphasizes complementarity rather than duplication or competition. Such cooperation is best achieved through focal points such as Regional Organizations with competence or mandate in aquaculture and aquatic resource management.

As far as possible, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific activities are undertaken in collaboration with competent regional institutions. Typically, there is often some common interest between these institutions and in many cases, more than one institution will be involved. There is current ongoing active collaboration on a wide range of initiatives with AIT, IUCN, NACA, MRC, SEAFDEC and WorldFish Center. The presentations of the regional organizations that follow will highlight some of these collaborations.

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