Asia Regional Activities

Simon Funge-Smith
Aquaculture & Inland Fisheries
FAO Regional Office Asia and the Pacific
39 Pra Athit Rd, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Sustainable Development of Aquaculture and Aquatic Resources

The first Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (SCA) recommended that FAO assist members to create an enabling environment for the promotion of sustainable aquaculture development and management and to establish a framework for sustainable rural aquaculture development. The effective communication of the issues that relate to the poor and their dependence upon aquatic resources to policy and decision-making mechanisms is critical to these two recommendations of the SCA. This is a central theme of the STREAM initiative of the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), and to which FAO headquarters and the Regional Office (RAPI) have recently provided Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) assistance. This is a joint effort supported by donors such as the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID) and partnered with an international nongovernmental organization - volunteer service overseas (VSO). Its goal is to improve the understanding of how the livelihoods of the poor depend upon aquatic resources and to assist in communicating the issues that relate to this into decision-making fora at the national and regional levels.

Fish sellers in Nyaung Schwe, Shan State, Myanmar.  Fish is the principle source of animal protein and still mostly obtained from inland fisheries

FAO/RAPI and IUCN Join Hands to Study Living Aquatic Resources, Rice Agriculture and their Impacts on People’s Livelihoods

Fish and other aquatic products are staple resources for many populations of the Asia-Pacific Region. Set against increasing population pressure and intensifying agricultural development, the inland fisheries upon which so many people were once dependent appear to be increasingly under threat. Actually, the lack of a clear understanding of these resources prevents us from really saying what the future of these resources is. We do know that more and more people are fishing in inland waters, that these people are reporting that their catches are declining, and that the size of the fish they are taking is getting smaller. Importantly, the decisions made about these resources are often based on assumptions about the status of the resource that are not always correct, and all too frequently, the number of people dependent upon inland fisheries resources is assumed to be insignificant. Recently, improved information emerging from some of the largest inland fisheries in Asia, those of the Mekong River Basin, is now showing that far more people than was previously thought depend on fisheries as a coping strategy or simply as an important source of good quality nutrition.

To improve our understanding of the resource issues relating to inland fisheries and the poverty and nutrition-related impacts on the livelihoods of people dependent upon these resources, the fisheries group of the Regional Office (RAPI) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) have undertaken a joint initiative to investigate the relationships between living aquatic resources, rice agriculture and the livelihoods of the people who manage these systems. This assessment is a contribution to the global initiative the "Dialogue on Water, Food and the Environment" and is intended to address the concern that the ecological and livelihood functions and values of rice fields and adjoining wetlands are not fully appreciated in development planning. The assessment undertook participatory activities to assess the local availability and use of aquatic resources, their importance in local livelihoods, and the over-all health and nutrition of the villagers.

The results of these activities illustrate that a broad diversity of aquatic plants and animals (almost 200 species) are frequently used by villagers, and that fish and other aquatic animals make up the main animal protein source in peoples’ diets. Local health and nutritional conditions, however, are quite poor, and evidence of malnutrition (underweight, stunting and wasting) was observed in a significant number of people from all three villages. Typical diets are insufficient in terms of quantity and quality, and are especially low in protein and fats.

These findings indicate that strategies for rural development, food security and poverty alleviation in these areas need to give special attention to aquatic resource management to ensure the health and well being of rural people. Integrated management of freshwater and wetland resources is necessary to increase rice production while maintaining the viability and productivity of the aquatic resources upon which rural livelihoods depend.

A Joint Mission Reviewed the Status of Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries in Myanmar

A joint mission to review the status of aquaculture and inland fisheries of Myanmar was undertaken by a team comprising members from NACA, FAO Regional Office Asia and the Pacific, the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Department of Fisheries (DOF) Thailand and DOF Myanmar. There are repeated references to the crucial importance of fish and fish products in the nutrition of the Myanmar people. The mission team report concluded that while it is certainly recognized that fish is second only to rice in the diet of Myanmar, there is little information available on the patterns of consumption, interregional differences, availability and types of fish consumed. In this respect, Myanmar is similar to many of the Southeast Asian countries, where emphasis is paid to rice production as a crucial element of food security, with little or no recognition of the fish component that gives the rice-based diet much of its nutritional value outside of calories and crude protein. The size and scale of activities and opportunities within the inland fisheries and aquaculture sector varies from very small-scale to large-scale commercial operations.

Myanmar has a coastline of nearly 3 000 km, a continental shelf of 228 000 km2 and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 486 000 km2. Inland freshwater bodies cover 8.1 million ha of which 1.3 million ha are permanent, the remainder seasonally inundated floodplains. Fisheries are the fourth most important source of export earnings, valued at US$218 million in 2001. Marine capture fisheries is reported to produce 932 090 metric tonnes (mt), freshwater capture fisheries 235 530 mt (DOF estimates of leasable, open and floodplain waters) and aquaculture 115 870 mt. It is uncertain whether marine or freshwater capture fisheries still have expansion potential, although recent reviews have suggested that the inland fisheries potential of Myanmar is far greater than the 235 000 mt reported (possibly as much as 600 000-900 000 mt based on revised estimates from the Mekong system). This is partly due to the non-inclusion of fisheries production for household use and the production that is derived from rice fields and their associated streams and channels. Statistics are also focussed on fish production and not on the range of other aquatic products that are also routinely consumed in rural households. The leasable inland fisheries may also be benefiting from the effects of interventions aimed at enhancing production, which also gives encouraging potential for increased contribution for the inland fisheries sector in supporting the livelihoods and food security of the people of Myanmar.

The report of the scoping mission was particularly timely, since so little is known about this crucial food security sector of Myanmar. The report developed from the NACA/ACIAR/FAO mission will contribute greatly to the improved coverage of the inland fishery and aquaculture sectors of Myanmar’s economy. The report of the mission will soon be available on both the RAP Web site ( and the NACA Web site (

Encouraging Farmers to Associate

Grandfather and grandson in the highlands of Viet Nam catching small common carp from their fish pond Rohu cultured in a family fish pond in Myanmar

As aquaculture continues to develop at a rapid pace in the Asia Region (at a growth rate exceeding that of other parts of the agriculture sector), the need to control the quality of the production and the methods of production increases. Much of Asia's aquaculture is still operated as family businesses, giving rise to a huge number of independent operations within any given part of the sector. While this gives Asia's aquaculture much of its diversity and economic robustness, it is becoming evident that it also presents a great challenge in terms of how to ensure quality products that are healthy, safe and that can be exported. At the same time, some countries in Asia are increasingly challenged by the environmental impacts of intensification of small livestock, and some forms of aquaculture are also competing for water resources.

Delivering messages about best practices and proper management techniques is an impossible task if the message must be delivered to farms individually. The grouping of farms or farmers in order to provide appropriate advice is one way to make the task more manageable. Associations (whatever the type) of farmers also offer the opportunity to introduce certification and licensing systems. These are essential steps if quality is to be controlled to a standard that will enable farmers’ products to be acceptable to export markets.

The question remains as to how to start the process of encouraging or enabling aqua-farmers’ association. Many aquaculture operations may not even be at a scale that is considered large enough to warrant licensing, and farmers themselves are wary of licensing and certification systems, due to the fear of taxation and other unknown costs and control. Offering incentives to farmers to associate is probably more effective than trying to legislate or drive farmers together. Such incentives are various, but might include:

  • A higher market price (for improved quality;
  • Access to markets (traceable products, producers group selling to supermarkets, branding;
  • Improved access to extension and private sector information services;
  • Opportunity to access and manage micro-credit/ government loans; and
  • Control of effluents/environmental impacts.

Transboundary Movement of Aquatic Species

Recent years have seen the introduction and movement of a wide range of alien aquatic species around the region, as well as the transboundary movement of native species. The lack of effective controls at the national level and a tendency to "try out" new species are leading to an increased risk that the movement of aquatic species and their diseases could have serious impacts on established aquaculture industries. The escape of some alien species into the wild is another potential risk that is difficult to evaluate, but this could impact wild fisheries and the people who depend upon them. As part of a collaborative FAO/NACA/Mekong River Commission (MRC)/IUCN/Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) initiative to raise awareness and to promote good practice in the transboundary movement of aquatic animals, a workshop on the "Use of International Mechanisms for the Control and Responsible Use of Alien Species in Aquatic Ecosystems" will be held in late 2003. The output of the workshop, a synthesis of the various international mechanisms, will be produced in the form of an awareness/information brochure (to be translated into local languages for dissemination in the region), an outline for the development of best practice guidelines, recommendations on practical follow-up actions and a list of responsible individuals and offices in participating countries, intended to serve as a basis for a future collaboration on alien species in the region.

Asia Regional Donor Consultation

The lack of sensitization of policy-makers to the role and opportunities of aquatic resource management and aquaculture is not necessarily a result of inadequate information but rather of inadequate channelling of the information to the right decision-makers, in a form that is useful to them. There are currently few opportunities for dialogue and mutual learning, and efforts to inform policy-makers of the important role of aquaculture and aquatic resource management are sometimes poorly coordinated. As a result, awareness among policy-makers is low, and this is reflected in the lack of donor intervention in the subsector. Therefore, a Regional Donor Consultation was convened on "the Role of Aquaculture and Living Aquatic Resources: Priorities for Support and Networking" to discuss with donors the role that aquaculture and aquatic resources management play in rural and coastal livelihoods and the regional development requirements for this subsector.

The consultation was convened by the FAO Regional Office Asia and the Pacific, with collaboration from several regional institutions with competence in aquaculture and fisheries: the MRC, WorldFish Center, the SouthEast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) and NACA.

Each of the organizations promoting aquaculture and aquatic resources management presented an overview of its aims, perceived role in the development process and main activities. Four major themes emerged from these presentations. Ten donor agencies were represented and outlined their guiding policies, main approaches and services. All the donors presenting are supporting the fisheries sector through initiatives such as knowledge dissemination, community-based coastal resources management or marine fisheries. Donors agreed that small-scale fisheries and aquaculture are valuable tools for poverty alleviation and rural development and are prepared to fund these activities provided that proposals can be shown to meet the donors’ policy goals.

A pressing need was identified for aquatic resource management and aquaculture to become part of the global discourse on poverty alleviation and to demonstrate that aquaculture and aquatic resources management play a significant role. A number of practical and immediate actions can be taken to make aquaculture and aquatic resources management a larger part of the discourse on rural development and poverty alleviation. Donors are constrained by their own national policies and the policies and priorities of the countries with which they wish to engage. It was also stated that donors often talk to national planners and staff at the various Ministries of Agriculture, which may not always be aware of the importance of the fisheries sector. To assist, regional institutions offered to analyze the range of sectoral strategy papers the various donors are using (trends on development support, inclusion of current issues) and draw up a common document that would be provided to donors. This would include recommendations regarding adaptation and/or revision to current regional and national needs. Additionally, the regional institutions could assess project impact against selected poverty indicators, possibly in the manner of an overall review. The meeting agreed that follow-up consultations between the regional institutions and donors would be fruitful if held at least once every two years.