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Working with new entrants to integrated agriculture-aquaculture

by Reg Noble and Clive Lightfoot

Developing integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) systems for smallholder farmers requires their participation. This is crucial because farmers are the ultimate designers and managers of farming systems.

Often, smallholder farms are highly complex mixtures of crops, trees and livestock, which vary seasonally, using a range of resources and cultivated ecosystems. With such a diverse and difficult set of conditions, field extension-workers are often confused as to where and how to start.

One possibility is to utilize a very simple farmer-to-farmer technique that enables farmers to draw models of their farms with the help of other farmers and extensionists. The importance of this exercise is that farmers learn by doing.

The objective of drawings is to use this medium as a means for farmers to visualize their farm system so that they are better able to see new possibilities for integrating farm enterprises. These could be integrating new enterprises into the farm system or creating new linkages between existing ones.

Hopefully, there can be followup drawings with farmers to see how their farm systems evolve as they adopt new integrations.

Field exercise

The most appropriate setting for this exercise is in the farmer's own environment on the smallholding or in the village. Usually, it is better to start with groups rather than individual farmers.

Not only do groups allow more people to participate but also provide better dynamics than individual interaction when trying to make new entrants aware of different types of farm integration.

Group composition is also important. Mixed groups, which include women, men and children often work very well. However, the facilitator needs to ensure that individual interests do not dominate the gathering. In this context, it may be useful to have followup visits with single gender groups to see if viewpoints differ. You may choose to target groups of farmers who are likely to benefit from certain forms of integration. Rice farmers would be a suitable group for discussing rice-fish integration, for example:

If several farmers draw their farm systems together, drawing becomes a valuable tool for exchange of ideas between peers. Interchange of ideas facilitates generation of new ideas among farmers.

If farmers expand their drawing to include the whole village area, then common property resources can also be identified which have potential for linking to farm enterprises, such as aquaculture, livestock, etc.


Incorporation of new enterprises, such as forestry and aqua-culture, requires careful integration into traditional farming systems so that food security and income are not disrupted.

By drawing farm systems, farmers are better able to understand how new enterprises can be slotted in and enhance production of current enterprises with minimum disruption. Farmers can also evolve new integrations and management systems for themselves when they visualize their whole farm in a drawing.

Farm diagrams can also provide information on labour allocation with regard to gender. In the diagram above, simple symbols indicate whether men or women or both are moving resources around.

General principles for working with farmers

Issues for further consideration

Experience has shown that the methods described here are useful in new situations for an «outsider» to understand any farmers' system, not just new entrants. The approach has also worked well for farmers to learn how they can further improve an existing fish production system they have managed for some time.

On the other hand, the approach is very time-consuming if used on a wider scale, e.g. in extension efforts. In this respect, there are roles and experiences with mass media and mass organizations for large-scale extension activities.

In this process, there may be potentially different roles for fisheries-trained persons and nonspecialists. Having multidisciplinary teams in the exercise has proven valuable.

Users should be prepared for communication problems between outsider and farmer, and how to deal with the situation. The role for translation needs to be considered, not just for foreign nationals but also for nonlocal language speaking nationals.

In cultures where gender, caste, class and ethnicity prevent communities from meeting together at one level, alternatives for application need to be designed. The comment that «mixed groups that include men, women and children» often work well is not universally applicable.

The application of this approach to community-managed fishponds or collective fish culture needs to be assessed and compared with other methods.

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