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Aquaculture in Rural

Livelihood Development:

From Development Principles

to Practical Action

The eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty is a key objective of the FAO, and this theme features prominently as the first element of the organization's Corporate Strategy for the period 2000-2015. The new programme continues and adds to previous initiatives by the FAO, such as the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), the Telefood Programme and special assistance to countries in the context of the Technical Cooperation Programme. We hope it will also include start-up support for the proposed FAO-NACA regional programme on Aquaculture for Sustainable Rural Livelihood Development (SARLD), endorsed by the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Rural Aquaculture of the Asia-Pacific Fisheries Commission (APFIC), as well as its equivalent, ALCOM, in southern Africa.

The World Food Summit Plan of Action (1996) elaborates the commitments, objectives and actions needed to eradicate poverty and food insecurity. In pursuit of Summit objectives, evolving rural development strategies are in very close agreement on key elements. They seek, among others, to: strengthen the process of country strategy formulation, with broad-based national stakeholder involvement; renew emphasis on research and dissemination and on new approaches to both; insure strong community and local-level involvement in the design and implementation of projects, and in the management of common community resources; insure gender equality and empowerment of women; and promote a gradual development process, beginning with smaller projects and pilot activities designed to expand as experience and implementation capacity grow.

With the specific focus on poverty alleviation broadly accepted and understood in public fora, the challenge is to convert these development principles into practical and reliable strategies for action. Here, we are at the beginning of a long process, which calls for national commitment and creative techniques and methods, as well as the willingness to try new, sometimes unconventional approaches. Changes at the policy and institutional level are needed in most cases; it is difficult to implement new strategies with dated institutional arrangements and cultures. Here, with the contraction of the government's role in development in many countries, we are faced with questions of who does what, who pays for what and how to proceed in the absence of appropriate institutional arrangements.

Aquaculture is an entry point for reducing poverty and improving rural livelihoods under appropriate circumstances. Recent fora and pilot projects have shown

that the contribution of aquaculture, as a component of a complex rural livelihood system, should be assessed in the context of the farm-household, and the community _ their aims, problems and potential; or what they have, what they have access to and what they need. Strategies for this purpose have emerged recently and continue to evolve. We need to increase the awareness of planners, managers and policy makers of the potential contributions of aquaculture, both direct and indirect; there has been little coordinated effort to this end. We must also document successful approaches and methodologies, and lessons learnt, to help guide future research and development planning. To facilitate this task, there is need for clarity and realism in project objectives, the means for their achievement and their measurement. Project analytic frameworks are increasingly important to all concerned.

Several agencies have focused on the improvement of project analysis and design and have developed methods that permit more thorough diagnostic work earlier in the project cycle and greater flexibility in project implementation. But, often, insufficient funds are allocated, especially in bankable projects, to put these priniciples into effective action. There are also major political challenges in setting relevant R&D agendas and policies, by balancing top-down and field-based inputs and providing mechanisms for full participation by all stakeholders. Project design and content has been altered, almost 15 years ago, by incorporation of some basic elements, such as the concept of systems; the household economy and survival strategies; household dynamics and gender relations; people's participation; etc. But, to put these into practice, we still need to move more effectively to get out of the compartmentalization that has been characteristic of technical assistance into a more holistic approach based on full participation of all stakeholders at every stage of the project cycle.

Incorporation of aquaculture into poverty alleviation programmes obviously still faces many challenges, but progress is being made on many fronts and there is no lack of R&D opportunities if the political will is there. The proposed SARLD programme aimes to provide a vehicle for Asian regional cooperation to promote and catalyze the further development of aquaculture for sustainable rural livelihoods through a voluntary network of national institutions and field projects. The programme is worthy of attention by assistance agencies.

Ziad H. Shehadeh

Fishery Resources Division







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