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7. Social and Economic Considerations

Improving the quality of life for the poor in developing countries will depend on reducing population growth, while improving nutrition and opportunities for income generation. Demographic trends show that many more mouths will need to be fed before human populations stabilize in most developing countries. Increased consumption of livestock products and fish are indicators of rising affluence. Meeting these needs without resorting to ‘disruptive technologies’ (Harrison, 1992) that together with population growth and increased individual consumption cause negative environmental impacts, is a major challenge. The appetite of growing urban centres for animal products can too often translate into environmental damage and decline of traditional mixed farming (Steinfeld et al., 1997).

Both livestock and fish production can have negative impacts but if production can be integrated, benefits are likely to be more equitable and ecologically benign. Benefits of productive integrated livestock-fish accrue to producers, consumers and society in general. A crop of fish, raised at little extra cost, spread risks and diversifies livestock production. The production cost of the fish should be low since livestock waste is substituted for purchased feeds and/or chemical fertilizers, with potential benefit also to consumers. Moreover, their integration can, through a low technology approach, ameliorate the negative impacts of livestock intensification. Wastes that otherwise adversely affect surface water supplies and the people dependent on them, can be treated at relatively low cost and valuable nutrients used and retained within the farming system (Chapter 4).

Livestock-fish production has been mostly adopted by livestock entrepreneurs, often in periurban areas, rather than the rural poor. Better access to inputs and markets favours this group. As developing countries become increasingly urbanized, the role of entrepreneurs in producing cheap food for poor urban as well as rural people is likely to increase. A major challenge is also to bring the benefits of integration to poorer farmers currently not producing fish at all or raising livestock and fish separately with low and inefficient production.

Fish and other aquatic animals are important both for their intrinsic nutritional value and their major role in the food security of some of the poorest people in the region. People living in Asia’s floodplains have been particularly dependent on growing rice and catching wild fish, so-called ‘ricefish cultures’, but are also now consuming increasing quantities of ‘wheat and meat’. Urbanization and increasing wealth have stimulated these trends toward a more diversified diet. In much of Asia, however, increased purchasing power also stimulates increased consumption of fish, particularly cultured fish. Urban areas as diverse as Bangkok and Hanoi have seen rapid increases in the demand for cultured fish. While fish protein as a percentage of animal protein in the diet declines with an increase in living standards as people consume more meat relative to fish, the absolute consumption of fish tends to rise also.

The integration of fish culture within farming systems could also allow increases in fish consumption by people previously consuming little, or for whom the culture of fish has yet to develop as a viable alternative to exploiting wild stocks. This factor, together with predictions of ever increasing global trade in food, suggest that exports of both livestock and cultured fish will continue to rise. In many western countries, fish consumption is now growing much faster than consumption of meat, partly due to increased awareness of the health benefits of fish in the diet. Where aquaculture is viable in developing countries, promoting herbivorous fish raised on manure, rather than carnivorous fish species fed largely on other fish should be vigorously promoted by national and international organizations. This strategy has the best chance of meeting the needs of poor people, both producers and consumers. It can also avoid negative environmental impacts associated with specialism and separation of aquaculture and livestock production (see Chapter 4).

The use of livestock wastes to raise fish on a household level is a method for people to add value to the assets they already possess, while diversification allows poor people to offset risk. Livestock production is one of the most common methods of saving for the rural poor. Income from sale of livestock products can also be very important. Raising livestock, often on wastes and by-products, is also common among poorer people in peri-urban areas striving to balance a portfolio of different activities. If further value can be added by raising fish on livestock wastes in a water body close to the house, contributions to improved livelihoods may occur in a variety of ways. The nutritional benefit of eating cultured fish has been a major incentive to promote aquaculture, even among people who traditionally consume little. Adopting fish culture may help to develop a broader range of human and physical capital as improved knowledge and skills gained are applied more widely.

Understanding cultural norms concerning consumption of fish, and resource constraints and conflicts, is essential if integrated livestock-fish culture is to be promoted effectively more widely. The factors that drive or restrain the development of integrated farming are complex. On-farm most of these relate to constraints to the collection and use of livestock manures (see Chapter 5) but off-farm factors often dominate. Poor availability of inputs e.g. fish seed and livestock feeds, and markets may restrict interest. An ‘information gap’ is clearly a major constraint that needs to be addressed. Cultural and social values may also support or undermine efforts to promote integrated practices, many of which have their roots in earlier stages of agricultural development.

The promotion of integrated livestockfish culture has been adversely affected by its complexity and the limitations of conventional extension approaches. A range of approaches that are participatory at both the farmer and institutional level show promise for greater success, providing off-farm factors remain positive and supportive.


Summary of key points relating to social and economic issues

  • Improved nutrition through consumption of cultured fish within the household, or purchase of food using income derived from fish sales, can contribute to improved livelihoods as peoples’ health and education improve.

  • Production of both livestock and fish diversifies household assets

  • Entrepreneurs dominate peri-urban integrated livestock-fish production, producing food mainly for those in urban-industrial communities, including the poor.

  • Global trends suggest that the need for cultured fish and livestock will continue to increase as purchasing power and demand for diverse diets both increase.

  • Integration with fish culture can reduce the environmental impacts that non-integrated livestock production inevitably causes, and produce high-value, low-cost food close to the market.

  • Cultural and social values can undermine attempts to promote integrated livestock- fish production.

7.1 Demand

Physical environments, and the cultures that have developed in them, have shaped dietary habits and the acceptability of certain livestock and fish. Taboo foods, be they pork among different groups in arid areas of the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia or fish to certain groups of people in Africa and Asia may have an important underlying basis. Clearly, the promotion of livestock or fish production to people who are disinclined to consume either would be problematic. Recent examples of crop/ livestock systems evolving in Asia can all be linked to a strong market demand for the products, be it the ‘white revolution’ in the Punjab where intensive dairying has developed rapidly, to an expansion of the ‘balut’ duck egg production in the Philippines.

The factors that stimulate growth of livestock or fish to be key parts of any particular farming system are complex but clearly consumer demand is critical. The comment that ‘whatever the biologist may conclude about relative efficiencies of different livestock, farmers will continue to produce what the consumer likes eating, as long as he is prepared to pay for it’ (Spedding, 1971) reflects richer peoples’ attitudes to livestock consumption. Clearly, the major opportunities for growth in integrated livestock-fish lie with species that are culturally acceptable, profitable for the producer and affordable to the consumer. Thus, although most Asian consumers may favour freshwater carnivorous fish species over herbivores, they cannot be raised cost-effectively in wastefed systems. The production of carnivorous fish species on trash fish and fishmeal-based pellets soon reaches a plateau in each society as demand by the wealthier people has been met. In contrast, the rise in production of fish feeding low in the food chain continues to meet unfulfilled demand for low-cost animal protein by the majority of the population in countries promoting aquaculture in Asia.

Experience shows that even new species can become popular with both producers and consumers as their relative advantages become clear. Tilapia has moved from being a weed fish rarely sold in markets to economic significance in several Asian countries. This is mainly because Nile tilapia, which also thrives in waste-fed systems, has substituted for inferior species. Tilapias have come to dominate the production of traditional carps in areas where feedlot livestock waste is abundant and its opportunity cost low such as Taiwan and Central Thailand. The popularity of integrating pigs and poultry with fish in these and other areas is based on the increased demand for a traditional food, i.e. poultry and pig products, that has grown rapidly with improved purchasing power. It is attractive for modern feedlot systems that produce large amounts of nutrient-rich waste to dispose of it in nearby ponds.

Subsistence attitudes

Small-holders, who consume much of what they produce, have different value systems to commercial farmers and urban consumers. The rain-fed, ricebiased agricultural cycle determines both supply and demand for poultry and cultured fish products in much of rural Asia (Little, 1995). Resource-poor farmers raise different livestock for a whole range of reasons, and culture of fish is equally complex. Wild and cultured fish are often viewed very differently. In Northeast Thailand cultured fish are highly valued for their convenience during the rice harvest period when neighbours and relatives are entertained (Box 7.B). This attitude partly explains the prevailing extensive management and the practice of holding fish for prolonged periods (Chapter 8). The view of cultured fish as a ‘convenience food’, a similar attribute to that of home-raised poultry, which can be accessed without planning or using cash reserves is also highly valued.

Both fish and small livestock meet a variety of needs, fulfilling roles defined within both ‘physical’ and ‘social’ assets used in livelihoods analysis. Any promotion of integration of livestock and fish must recognise the diversity and individualistic needs, rather than simple commercial models focusing on ‘efficiency’ and ‘output’. Moreover, wealth, social status and gender further complicate attitudes to, and the practice of integrated farming.

The factors that affect production and consumption of fish are varied and interlinked. Demographic changes point to increasing importance of peri-urban production to meet urban demand and yet aquaculture also develops in the absence of formal markets. Informal sale, exchange and use of fish as gifts are often underestimated and yet form an important component of demand that is underestimated in official statistics. In areas where wild fish are a traditional dietary staple, farmer aspirations may at first focus on subsistence but can shift quite rapidly to income generation once confidence is gained (Edwards, 1997). Natural stocks of aquatic products, including frogs, crabs and various insects were, until recently, adequate for subsistence purposes in all but the most densely settled rural areas of Asia. Undeveloped markets for these highly perishable products probably constrained commercialization (Little and Edwards, 1997).

In a similar manner to poultry, the social values of exchange and reciprocity are more important in rural areas than the cash/credit systems which dominate urban areas. Farming households raising fish may have mixed motives that include reducing costs associated with harvesting dwindling wild stocks, safeguarding food security through consumption, or sale and use of the cash for purchase of alternative, cheaper foods.


Many of the factors driving the specialization of livestock and crop production on Asian farms are related to the two major impacts of urbanization: the creation and growth of urban markets requiring consistent supplies of food; and depopulation of rural areas that dampens demand for food produced in traditional systems (Pingali, 1995). Rural depopulation is often linked to improved infrastructure such as roads and communications; it has varying characteristics that have different outcomes in terms of rural demand. Out-migration may be either chronic or long-term, or seasonal or short-term, in nature. Communities negatively affected suffer in terms of low and erratic purchasing power and low investment in agriculture (Turongruang et al., 1994; Little, 1995).

Industrial food production favours concentration near urban centres because of a range of factors. Of these transport costs and market opportunities are of greatest importance. It is less costly to transport high-energy, livestock feed from distant production sites than perishable livestock products; and this encourages production, slaughter and meat processing facilities in periurban areas (de Haan et al., 1997).


Building social assets

  • Marketing of a proportion of the poultry and fish raised by small-holders is typical among farmers in Northeast Thailand. Although such sales constitute only a marginal source of annual income, poultry are valued for their role as liquid assets as they are mainly sold when cash expenditure of the household is high. The social role of poultry and both wild and cultured fish is particularly clear during the rice harvest season when meat consumption is high as friends and relatives are entertained. Cultured fish and poultry are a convenient and available high-value food used at this time.

  • More than 50 percent of households in a survey of six provinces of Northeast Thailand used the fish they cultured for home consumption alone, but an important category of commercial farmer has emerged in the last decade in response to high demand for cultured fish. This minority of farmers, who are typically resource-rich, has been very receptive to use of high-input inorganic fertilization and integration with feedlot livestock.

  • Households that adopt aquaculture in rural areas of Thailand tend to consume more fish and other high quality food than non-adopters (Setboonsarng, 1997).

  • Poor households in Southern Viet Nam raised fish integrated with pigs primarily as a cash crop; household consumption needs were met through capture or purchase of small wild fish.

Average meat consumption per household by type during the ‘feast’ period around rice harvest time of farmers adopting intensified fish culture practices in three areas of Udon Thani, Northeast Thailand. Source: Little et al. (1992).

The trends of intensification and specialization of livestock production have been challenged on ecological and social grounds. Although intensification should ultimately improve the quantity and variety of livestock products available to urban consumers, the proportion of urban poor will grow as opportunities for livelihoods dwindle in rural areas. Increase in farm-unit size and decline in the total number of farms will increase the flow of the rural poor to urban areas, intensifying urban and rural social problems. These views have popularized the rationale for strengthening crop/livestock linkages through intensification of smallholder systems (Devendra and Chantalakhana, 1992).

Accessing distant markets

The development of markets, be they local, urban or international, both stimulates and controls efforts to promote livestock and fish production. Local adoption of appropriate fish culture techniques can quickly lead to saturation of local markets, which in turn can stimulate the accessing of distant or even international markets. Most species of cultured freshwater fish in Asia, however, are unknown in international markets. Apart from high valued carnivorous species that have specialized markets, mainly in urban Asia, tilapias probably have most potential as a global commodity.

Product quality and uniformity become important if distant markets are to be targeted. Assembling enough fish of consistent quality from small-holders to meet the needs of distant markets is a problem, as is the likelihood of poor bacteriological quality and off-flavours.

Off-flavour problems have been closely associated with freshwater fish such as channel catfish and tilapia raised in ponds or from wild stocks. Off-flavours, caused by geosmin and 2- methylisoborneol (MIB) (Dionigi et al., 1998) are not toxic but can cause rejection of fish by consumers, hinder marketing efforts, and reinforce product safety concerns (Dionigi et al., 1998). Organoleptic testing of tilapias raised in different systems indicates that waste-fed fish are no more likely to suffer off-flavours than pellet-fed fish, and may be superior in terms of flesh quality (Eves et al., 1995). The erratic quality of Taiwan’s frozen tilapia exports have hindered the penetration of larger markets for value-added products (Box 7.C).


Poor quality-control hinders export of value-added fish products

Taiwan is the largest producer of whole tilapias exported to North America. The fish are raised on livestock waste and pelleted feed but poor control of product quality, and a lack of processing labour, results in most of the fish being sold as whole frozen fish cheaply to ethnic markets. Export quality tilapia, for which the largest potential markets exist, requires both significant quantities of fish large enough for processing (500-600g minimum) and commitment to the management of off-flavour problems.

Factors that support the production of exportquality tilapia include:

  • well managed pond-to-processing systems that taste-tests fish just prior to harvest and refuses unsuitable quality;

  • facility for fattening in an intensive system and depuration prior to slaughter reduce incidence of off-flavour;

  • low processing costs to fillets and ready-tocook products;

  • frozen food storage capacity.


Summary of demand-related issues

  • Demographic and socio-economic change affects demand for fish and competing products.

  • Subsistence, exchange and use as gifts may dominate disposal of livestock and fish products rather than cash sale.

  • Urbanization and rural depopulation greatly affect opportunities for, and nature of, livestock and fish production.

  • Small producers of are often disadvantaged in distant markets.

7.2 Nutritional Benefits

Fish are highly nutritious, providing animal protein containing all 10 essential amino acids in relatively high concentrations. Low in cholesterol and saturated fats, they are also rich in key fatty acids, minerals and vitamins.

Inclusion of fish in diets based on traditional high-carbohydrate staples typical of most developing countries is particularly valuable for vulnerable groups of people such as pregnant and nursing mothers, infants and pre-school children. This is partly because fish are a valuable source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PuFAs), now known to be essential in development of the brain and nervous system and the proper functioning of the immune system. Recent research points to freshwater as well as marine fish having significant levels of these essential fatty acids (Steffens and Wirth, 1997).

The importance of fish in household food security in much of Asia has been frequently stated but on a global level fish is less important than livestock as a source of animal protein, supplying less than 20 percent of the total for developing countries. However, the average disguises the importance of fish in many of these countries, where fish meets between 40-70 percent of animal protein needs (Edwards, 1997). There is clearly a huge unfulfilled need for fish to contribute towards the livelihoods of the poor as well as the diets of the affluent (Box 7.E).

Urban markets demand large quantities of livestock products which can result in high concentrations of livestock, such as these meat ducks, being 'finished' in peri-urban areas

Pig pens constructed over ponds in peri-urban areas of central Thailand where land prices and labour costs are high

Where natural food remains abundant, cultured livestock and fish are less important (Prapertchob, 1989; Little and Satapornvanit, 1996; Edwards, 1997). In the Lao PDR small game, both birds and mammals, and reptiles and amphibians are key parts of the diet (Srikosamatara et al., 1992). Foods derived from water be they insects, molluscs, crustaceans or fish contribute to a varied diet in many parts of Southeast Asia. Typically, wild and cultured food is used to meet day-to-day requirements and social occasions. Rural households in Northeast Thailand depend heavily on poultry eggs and aquatic products including fish for daily consumption, whereas poultry meat is mainly reserved as a ‘feast food’ for special occasions (Little et al., 1992). There are important implications for household nutrition in the use of rice by-products for feeding livestock or fish, or in promoting their integration. Whereas pigs are normally marketed outside of the village, poultry meat is used mainly for feasting, and eggs and fish are consumed regularly by everyone in the household.


Nutritional importance of fish

  • In West Bengal, a rice-fish society where much of the agricultural land is flooded for a proportion of the year, market surveys indicate that consumption of fish is far more important than meat (Morrice et al., 1998).

  • In two sub-districts of Bangladesh more freshwater fish was eaten in households with little land than all meat combined (poultry, beef and mutton) (calculated from Ahmed et al., 1993). Fish and chicken were the two main animal protein products produced on-farm in households with ponds, of which more than 80 percent was fish.

7.3 Gender and Age

The benefits of current livestock and fish production to the household and impacts of their integration need to be analysed from the perspective of both gender and age. Traditional patterns of access and control of resources within the household may be affected by introduction of ‘new’ products such as cultured fish, especially if it involves reallocation of resources. Participatory tools sensitive to the needs of women have been used as part of farming system research and extension methodologies (FSR&E) to understand the importance of gender on attitudes to intensification, resource allocation and use of benefits in livestock production (Paris, 1995). Such methods are useful for evaluating the potential and impacts of integrating livestock with fish culture.


Introducing fish culture can potentially increase workloads for certain family members and reduce outputs of staple crops because feeds or fertilizers have been reallocated. The reproductive roles of women may limit the time they have available for extra productive activities; increasing the workload further through aquaculture could lead to overall negative outcomes on family health.

Increased labour requirements can also result in children spending less time at school, potentially undermining their future livelihood prospects. Improved access to, and control of benefits is required for women to benefit substantially from new developments such as integrating livestock and fish. Understanding the role of different household members in the production, marketing and consumption of both livestock and fish often reveals an important gender dimension. Understanding current roles, before the introduction of fish culture or its integration with livestock, may be important to targeting and orientating information so that women do benefit and are not disadvantaged. Where aquaculture is traditional in Southeast Asia, women in rural areas have important roles in feeding and marketing fish but modernization that has increased yields has totally changed livelihood systems (Box 7.F).


Access and benefits from aquaculture

  • Both gender and age in Hmong communities in Lao PDR affect access to, and benefits from, livestock of various types. Women and children have primary responsibility for small livestock and contribute to the general maintenance of larger animals, but men have most access to resources and benefits from livestock. Men were also the main proponents of introducing fish culture into the farming system (Oparaocha, 1997).

  • In Than Tri district in Northern Viet Nam (Hoan, 1996) intensification of sewage-based aquaculture has had beneficial impacts women who now spend less time on laborious rice culture and more time marketing fish.

  • Meat duck production favoured men more than women and children whereas the opposite was true for egg ducks in Northeast Thailand. Men usually consumed duck meat with alcohol, but duck eggs were a common lunch-time food for school children. The fish produced from the wastes was eaten by everyone in the family however (AASP, 1996).

  • In female-headed households in Cambodia, which are relatively common because of war, aquaculture was more difficult to adopt because of a general labour shortage.

Training and extension

Women have often been overlooked in training and extension. Men, usually the ‘pond owner’ in both Africa and Asia, have most contact with extension agents, who are also usually male. Men also usually have had more access to formal education and generally have greater mobility and access to information. This situation has been exacerbated by poor planning and management of aquaculture training, although alternative approaches have been found effective (Box 7.G).


Training women in aquaculture

  • Residential aquaculture training at a distance from the village made participation impossible for women in an aquaculture development project in Eastern India (M. Felsing, pers. comm).

  • Training women through participatory action learning around their own ponds in the village with flexible, short-term meetings with outside resource persons and early adopters has been successfully promoted by the Vietnamese Women’s Union (Voeten, 1996).

  • Women and girls were less involved in smallscale, backyard aquaculture in Bangldesh even though it often occurred within the homestead. An approach that focused on their needs, without excluding male family members, significantly increased their interest, knowledge and benefits from improved aquaculture based on culturally appropriate methods (Barman, 2000).

  • A comparison of the effectiveness of videos to disseminate information about aquaculture found that women were more able to benefit from this medium than men in a project in Northeast Thailand (Little and Satapornvanit, 1996).

  • Generally poorer literacy levels of women in South Asia excludes their access to aquaculture information to a greater extent than men.

Harrison et al. (1994) explains the lack of pond ownership by women in Africa ‘is partly due to constraints in access to land and labour for pond construction and partly because in the past the technology has been promoted by men for men’. Assuming that knowledge will be transferred from the household member receiving training to others is clearly misguided. Women also have poorer access to credit that may be a key constraint to adoption of improved livestock and fish culture. Microcredit schemes may not provide money on the right basis for supporting aquaculture but has proved highly effective for encouraging women to intensify small livestock production. An extension focus towards women, has been particularly successful for poultry in Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and dairy goats in Ethiopia (Peacock, 1996) and targeting women is an important aspect in successful adoption of fish culture in Northeast Thailand (Little and Satapornvanit, 1996).

Targeting the young

Targeting schools with information about fish culture through school fish pond projects has become an essential part of most extension strategies in South and Southeast Asia as training people who are younger, more receptive to new ideas, and literate is believed to have the greatest developmental impact. The direct nutritional benefits of the fish produced by such students are a bonus. However, retention of this expertise in rural areas is an important constraint as the young are most prone to out-migration. In contrast, interest in aquaculture may be disproportionately skewed towards older family members who view the fish pond as a critical asset for supporting their subsistence needs in later life.

Food security

In Bangladesh, small backyard ponds and ditches are critical to supply the small wild fish used for home consumption (Thilsted et al., 1997). These resources are located within the household, allowing women full responsibility and control, and attempts to introduce more productive techniques will only be successful if women are fully involved. Indeed, aquaculture, as a relatively new activity, may even change intra-household relationships in favour of the weaker members. There may be a risk to household food security if commercially orientated aquaculture is promoted to men and larger, more valuable fish are produced and marketed (Barman, 2000).

Intra-household relationships

The involvement of women can be either encouraged or constrained by the nature of the social norms controlling power relations within households. It may affect attitudes towards intensification and integration. Inheritance practices and divorce proceedings tend to favour men in terms of retention of accumulated assets such as livestock and fish ponds. Control of resources used and generated by integrated aquaculture at the household level is often complex and the effective promotion of integrated livestock-fish requires the control of livestock and feed resources to be understood. Matrilineal societies in both Africa and Asia may share certain advantages with respect to females retaining or developing rights to fish production (Box 7.H).

A developmental focus on certain types of livestock or fish can favour or disadvantage the individuals most at-risk within the household. The consumption of certain ‘luxury’ animal and fish products is often subject to belief and social controls (Box 7.H).


Intra-household relationships affect production and consumption

  • Cash from fish sales is controlled by men, but tends to be used for household purposes in Zambia.

  • Although fish farming is dominated by men in Malawi, production is limited in some households because women refuse permission to use maize bran as a pond input.

  • Pregnant or lactating women are not allowed to consume muscovy ducks (Little et al., 1992), geese and certain types of fish in Northeast Thailand.

  • Consumption of raw and pickled fish with drink by men in Korea results in elevated levels of parasite infection compared to women.

Sources: Harrison (1984); Dickson & Brooks (1997)


Summary of key points relating to the role of gender in aquaculture

  • The traditional role of men within the household normally means they are targeted with information and support for adopting integrated aquaculture. This may explain some of the poor success of attempts to promote aquaculture.

  • Aquaculture is a non-traditional activity in many cases, and for this reason the opportunity for women to become involved in, and benefit from, aquaculture may be greater than other activities.

  • Women and children frequently have responsibility for management of livestock, especially small livestock.

  • Attempts to involve women, children and men in developing appropriate integrated practices requires analysis of how information can be disseminated and used within the household. The needs of women balancing reproductive roles, and childrens’ education need to be considered in training and extension strategies.

  • Power relationships within the household can affect who can participate and benefit from integrated livestock-fish.

  • Involving women and children in integrated livestock-fish does not necessarily benefit them in the short or longer term.

The establishment of farmer groups by gender may not be effective for extension if aquaculture requires agreement and contributions from both.

Using inorganic fertilizers or dried chicken manure to grow back-yard vegetables. Aquaculture may compete for the use of these scarce resources

7.4 Resource issues


Closer integration between livestock and fish production can have impacts at the production or micro-level, the community level and on a macrolevel that affects the regional or national economy. Promoting integration where the use of livestock waste is not traditional is often a key issue and related broadly to the level of evolution of the agricultural system (Chapter 2). How resources such as land, water, nutrients and labour are utilized to support livelihoods is related to their availability. Rapid development and population change can drastically change the ‘resource balance sheet’, requiring radical change in resource use.

Integrated livestock-fish can lead to competition for feed or waste use elsewhere in the farming system, and such changes to the traditional resource base, or its exploitation, can have negative effects. A major challenge is to explore how aquaculture, for fish is typically the ‘new’ component of the food production system, Using inorganic fertilizers or dried chicken manure to grow back-yard vegetables. Aquaculture may compete for the use of these scarce resources can be harmoniously integrated, improving the efficiency by which resources are used.

The effects of household and community access to feed resources is particularly important as fish can compete for use of key by-products. Modern production approaches can affect availability of feeds and waste. The consequences of consolidation of by-products, and livestock that consume them, are discussed in the light of impacts on the potential for integrated livestockfish culture. The implications for resource use at the macro-level are discussed in 7.5.3.


Using livestock waste where its use is nontraditional

Attitudes to the use of livestock waste vary greatly and are largely a function of the evolutionary stage of agriculture generally. Population pressure in particular has probably played a major role in leading to cultural acceptance of use of wastes (Edwards, 1992). If farming practices are based on extensive, crop-dominated production with low pressure on resources, it is unlikely that people will readily accept manure use in fish production.

A lack of interest in using manures in ponds sometimes also reflects the multipurpose nature of water bodies in which fish are stocked. Farmers usually refrain from manure use if water is also used for drinking or other domestic purposes. Some degree of eutrophication is tolerable if alternative water for drinking is available and water is used only for domestic cleaning. In northern Viet Nam a variety of factors limit the use of pig manure in fishponds, not least the need to use the water for washing and growing aquatic weeds as a feed for the pigs. The traditional shortage of nutrients for the staple crop, rice, has also meant that most pig and other manures are used on these crops. However, attempts to promote the use of livestock waste in small-holder aquaculture, where its use had previously been minimal, have been successful once the underlying constraints have been understood (Box 7.J).


Overcoming constraints to using livestock waste in Northeast Thailand

A cultural aversion to the use of manure in ponds had to be overcome before fertilization with manures and inorganic fertilizers was possible.

  • Extensive agricultural practices and low population densities mean that few livestock are raised intensively by rice farmers and the only manure used regularly is dried buffalo/cattle manure in rice nursery fields and small amounts of poultry manure in vegetable plots (AASP, 1996).

  • ‘Green’ water, in this seasonally water short area, is linked in peoples’ minds to the occasional fetid water bodies in which a crop produced for its fibre, kenaf, is soaked to allow the soft organic matter to decompose (‘retting’). Dead animals or pig manure are disposed of in surface water with similar results.

  • Even farmers who understood the value of plankton as a fish food and the need for fertilization, were initially hesitant until an awareness of green water was promoted in a positive light, focusing on its ‘cleanness’ using a poster campaign.

  • Increases of fish yields of up to 300 percent also convinced farming households of the benefits of fertilization and stocking larger seed (Edwards et al., 1991).

An analysis of the adoption and retention of methods to fertilize ponds disseminated among farmers to whom a simple buffalo manure plus urea message had been disseminated two years earlier found that farmers adapted their knowledge of the benefits of fertilization to the resources available (Turongruang et al., 1994). Nearly half of the farmers continued to use various inputs to make ‘green water’ three years after they had participated in intensive farm trials. (Table 7.1). There were no dominant reasons given by the farmers who discontinued fertilization.

Subsequent attempts to encourage betteroff farmers, who could afford to purchase them, to use increased levels of inorganic fertilizers to supplement limited amounts of on-farm manures, were also successful. All farmers in the trial used high quality monogastric manure even if they had to purchase off-farm, rather than the ruminant manure that they only had available on-farm (Table 7.2; Shrestha et al., 1997).

Competition for feed and waste resources

Introduction of a new activity such as fish culture can increase the strain on the household, community or regional resource base. Alternatively the fish pond, through acting as a focus for recycling and use of manure, can be a stimulus to improved farming practices generally. The availability of feeds and wastes can usually be related to the level of agricultural intensification, market structure and costs of alternatives.


Adoption of livestock wastes and other inputs in aquaculture in NE Thailand


Average amount
(kg. Pond-1 season-1)

Households (n=29)

Buffalo manure



Pig manure



Buffalo manure+urea



Pig manure +urea



Others +urea



Buffalo manure+pig manure



Buffalo manure+others



Buffalo manure+urea +others



Other i.e. duck manure, silkworm waste



Source: Turongruang et al. (1994)


Livestock inventories and fertilizers used in an on-farm trial with farmers in Udorn Thani, Northeast Thailand


Livestock owned

Livestock manure used
(kg. pond.-1 season.-1)

Inorganic fertilizers used (kg.ha.-1day.-1)






























































































Source: Shrestha et al. (1997)

Competition for resources may be categorized into one of two types: Type 1, relating to feeds that were previously available for livestock; and Type 2 to manures and other byproducts of livestock production used as fertilizers or fuel (Figure 23). Examples of the first type are the introduction of rice bran as a supplementary feed for fish into a village situation in which it competes for its use as pig and poultry feed. Another is the collection and/or cultivation of grass to feed to either grass carp or ruminants.

The diversion of livestock wastes for fish culture, rather than conventional crop production as an example of Type 2, could have major impacts on the wider farming system, particularly in nutrient-poor environments. Sustitution of inorganic fertilizers for manures, although achievable under shortterm conditions, may be unsustainable in the long term, partly because of changes in soil structure and chemistry. On a practical level, inorganic fertilizers may be unavailable or expensive in many developing countries.

Overall agricultural and economic development inevitably cause changes in the relative efficiency or kind of resource use. Development of crop production, processing and marketing can totally change the availability of crop by-products for livestock and fish at the local level. Modern varieties, for example, in addition to producing more grain can also produce more by-products such as brans. Modern, high-yielding varieties of cereals are generally short-stemmed, reducing the amount of straw available for livestock feed and bedding.

Traditional uses of cereal bran

The layer of fibrous bran surrounding the starchy endosperm of the region’s major cereal grains, rice, maize and wheat is a key resource for livestock and fish production. Rice bran in particular is critical to the production of monogastrics, especially pigs in Southeast Asia and dairy animals in South Asia. Its use as a supplementary feed for fish therefore conflicts with its current use. The amount of ricebran and other by-products (principally broken rice, husk and straw) available to the household depends on cropping intensity, area, yield and post-harvest disposal of by-products (Box 7.K). Improved varieties and intensification can increase availability of bran considerably to benefit both fish and livestock production (Box 7.L).


Schema showing main possible resource flows in conventional mixed farming and the alternative use of livestock wastes in fish production


Contrasting rice land holding, rice yield and pig production

Land holding and level of intensification affect both rice yield and availability of by-products:

  • in Northeast Thailand yields of around 1.7 tonnes paddy. Ha-1 are normal in the single, annual rainfed crop. Riceland holdings of around 2 ha are the norm, producing 0.4 tonnes of rice bran year-1, assuming paddy contains 12 percent rice bran. The rice miller keeps the rice by-products as a milling fee, and raises pigs which results in concentrations of pigs raised by fewer farmers and generally a much poorer efficiency in the reuse of wastes;

  • in areas of the Red River Delta, Northern Viet Nam, yields of between 4-7 tonnes. ha-1 crop-1 are the norm. Two irrigated crops of rice produce only between 0.2 and 1 tonnes of rice bran as household rice holdings are small (2 000-3 000 m2). Small holders in Northern Viet Nam still raise pigs and retain wastes for use on the farm.


Characteristics of pig production in three areas of Southeast Asia



Cambodia/Lao PDR

Northeast Thailand

Northern Viet Nam

Main feeds

Rice bran
Cooked vegetables
Waste human food

Rice bran
Broken rice

Rice bran
Sweet potatoes
Trash fish

Production system


Mainly peri-urban or rural resource-rich e.g. rice millers


Current integration with fish



Wastage of manure



Rice milling

Hand milled in the household

Milled in village ricemill, rice by-products mainly retained by miller

Milled in village rice mill, rice by-products mainly purchased back by rice grower


In one household, an average of two hours daily labour was required to collect sufficient aquatic weeds to complement the 7-10 kg rice bran and 1 kg broken rice to fatten 4 pigs

Rice millers tend to waste much of their available pig waste. In one study only 12 percent of pig producers raised fish, but more than 50 percent gave the manure away and others sold it for fertilizing rice or vegetables

77 percent of households fatten pigs but only 10 percent of manure is used in the fish pond, 75 percent is used in the ricefields and the balance for vegetables (Dinh, 1997)

+ - +++; low to high


Hybrid maize enhances integrated approach

Growing hybrid maize can result in more bran as well as a higher grain yield. Whereas local varieties produce about 290 kg grain year-1, hybrids can produce 660 kg year-1. This means farmers need to plant only 0.4 ha maize to supply a 300 m2 pond with adequate bran as opposed to 0.9 ha required if the bran derived from a local variety of maize.

Source: Noble (1996)

Benefits for the maximum number of rural people probably relate to raising livestock at the household level with the wastes produced meeting both the needs for crop and fish production. Retention of rice bran by the rice-producing household is a prerequisite for pig production remaining a household level activity, although diversification of the diet to include other homeproduced or purchased inputs is also important. Small-holder pig rearing was formerly common in Northeast Thailand but is now concentrated in the hands of local rice millers and agro-industry. In Northern Viet Nam where household-level pig rearing remains common, production of pigs is linked closely to local feed supplies and markets, whereas elsewhere the introduction of mechanical rice milling by entrepreneurs in the village appears to having stimulated consolidation and specialization of livestock production. In turn this limits access to manure for use elsewhere in the farming system. A comparison of ricebran use for pig production in three areas of Southeast Asia reveals the characteristics of current systems and opportunities and threats to adoption of integrated livestock-fish (Table 7.3).


Increasing the village pig herd in a village in Northeast Thailand-potential impacts on fish production

  • It was estimated from a feeding trial that a herd of around 50 fattening pigs could be supported in the Northeast Thai village of Thap Hai if the animals were raised on a traditional diet based on cooked rice bran, household scraps and aquatic vegetables. If rice by-products available in the village were reduced to only 14 percent of a total balanced diet that included dried cassava chips produced in the village and purchased concentrate, the number of animals fattened could be increased to over 400.

  • If the wastes were used for fish culture, estimated yields of 1.0-11.2 tonnes over 6 months could be increased to over 12 tonnes in line with changes in both quantity and quality of wastes produced. These figures are based on total village level production but could be based on 100 households fattening 4 pigs each or 4 households raising 100 pigs each. The model, however, assumes continuous milling of rice through the year, which in an area of highly variable out-migration practice is unlikely.

(Little and Satapornvanit, 1997)

More livestock - more waste

Increasing the feed resource available is a critical prerequisite to increase the carrying capacity of monogastric livestock and thus the wastes available for associated fish culture. Several ways exist to increase the amounts of livestock and fish that could be produced with the current levels of rice by-products. Mixing limited amounts of rice by-products with purchased concentrates, and/or more feeds raised on the farm e.g. cassava, maize, soybean, sugar cane, dramatically increase the number of livestock that can be raised in the village, manure produced and potential fish yields (Box 7.M). Inorganic fertilization of fish ponds, together with rice bran fed directly, or manure derived from rice-bran-fed livestock also increases fish yields dramatically. In a study of integrated farming in China, the densities of pigs produced were clearly supported by imports of rice byproducts and concentrates into the area (Guo and Bradshaw, 1993).

Consequences of less manure

Diversion of livestock waste to fish production, rather than fertilization of terrestrial crops may threaten the sustainable output of staple crops. Even when inorganic fertilizers are available and used intensively, most farmers living in the Red River Delta, Viet Nam, believe that organic inputs are essential for maintaining yields. Household-level demand for manure is so strong in this area, that its relative value for fish culture must be compared to its use elsewhere in the farming system. Such is the farmers’ understanding of their system that the balance of manure used is probably optimal. The key role of the pig is maintaining soil fertility in the face of declining fertility and soil acidification is a major concern (Patanothai and Yost, 1996). The possibility of more pig manure being used for fish culture as rice prices decline, or smallscale and household-level pig production by rice growers is replaced by large-scale production by entrepreneurs concentrated spatially in the more favoured locations, has important consequences for the sustainability of the wider farming system. Implications for competition for concentrates are considered further in Chapter 8.


Summary of key resource issues

  • Physical environments underlie the cultural value of livestock and fish.

  • Changes in perceptions of fish culture and production of fish on livestock waste are possible.

  • Changes in resource use stimulated by aquaculture could have negative impacts on overall livelihoods.

  • Opportunities for resource use in aquaculture change in relation to the dynamics of the wider farming system.

Mixed farming systems have collapsed when the amount of nutrients from livestock has drastically declined. Although this “involution” has mainly been associated with vulnerable tropical highland areas with high population pressures, changes to the balance of livestock and soils are occurring elsewhere. Most mixed farming systems in the developing world have a negative nutrient balance (Steinfeld et al., 1997) and any diversion of livestock wastes to fish culture must be carefully considered. The key advantages of fibre-rich ruminant manure to soil fertility is through improved capacity to retain nutrients (cation exchange capacity), hold water and maintain soil structure. Their value in fish ponds is much more limited (see Chapter 5), but under most conditions they are still the most widely available and used input. In Bangladesh, 88 percent of farmers used their own cattle dung as a pond input (Gupta et al., 1998), in a country that uses ruminant manure for fuel and house building in addition to a field fertilizer.

In areas where agriculture is less intensive, such resource conflicts for manure and vegetation for feeding fish are less critical but may also be partly attributable to the low levels used. Indeed, the possibilities of increased use of pond water for vegetable production probably increases the availability of green fodders that could be used both for livestock and fish production.

A traditional rice mill in Cambodia. Prior to mechanical ricemills every household would mill its own rice and rice byproducts were available for raising livestock


On a regional level there are implications for promoting aquaculture integrated with livestock or as a specialized activity, on the demand and price of feed grains, and the consequent economics of livestock production. The political economy of livestock development globally favours the growth of vertically integrated transnational agribusinesses producing and trading commodities, rather than improvements in local systems for local people. Export-led growth in agricultural commodities such as grains or after ‘processing’ into value-added livestock or fish (‘seafood’) products is vigorously promoted by many developing countries. Little attention has been focused on improving nutrient efficiency and reuse of wastes by such organizations, except where regulatory authorities, mainly in developed countries have enforced it (Steinfeld et al., 1997). Typically the solutions have been capital intensive and ‘high tech’ in approach but it should be remembered that resource-poor people who compete to extract and use them often add value to wastes in developing countries.

Electric and diesel powered ricemills have changed the availability and quality of rice by-products available to farmers in some areas of Asia


Diversified production of both livestock and fish can lower risk and improve returns on land, labour and investment. Although several studies have shown that better-off households tend to have more livestock and are more likely to be fish producers (Edwards et al., 1983; Ahmed et al., 1993), integration can also benefit a range of other people. Benefits from livestock-fish integration can be viewed from different levels principally those of producers, intermediaries and consumers.

Where aquaculture is well-established and commercialized, consumers benefit from greater choice and lower prices. This has clearly been the case for urban, poorer people in Southeast Asia where the development of polycultures dominated by tilapia raised on feedlot livestock waste, have led to fish remaining affordable over the last two decades. A survey in South Viet Nam indicated that whereas richer people eat wild, mainly carnivorous fish, cheaper and cultured tilapias were favoured by the poorest (AIT/CAF, 1997). In most of Africa, where production is a long way from being sufficiently high to drive prices down and cultured fish are more expensive than alternative sources, the urban poor have yet to benefit in this way from aquaculture (Harrison et al., 1994).

Poorer people in Asia often become involved in supply and distribution networks that develop around integrated production systems. Supplying inputs such as fish seed and trading wastes and byproducts are employment niches that poor people quickly occupy.

Benefits to food security may be relatively more important for household producers who are ‘less successful’ at aquaculture, producing less fish but tending to eat rather than sell them. Rural aquaculture of this type has an important role to play in national food security as it may be the only way that fish can be produced in scattered rural communities with poor infrastructure that cannot be served by conventional market methods.

7.4.5 RISK

It has long been appreciated that livestock are a means to reduce, or spread, risk for farmers (Orskov and Viglizzo, 1994). Risk aversion may also be an important rationale for small-holder farmers to diversify and integrate fish production (Ruddle, 1996).

However, diversification primarily to increase income may be more common. Fish are generally more like small than large livestock in terms of their characteristics affecting risk (Table 7.4). They are generally more marketable locally and easier to add value post-harvest. The ability of smallholders, especially those used to seasonal abundance of fish, to deal with sudden mortalities and emergency harvest of fish, is typically much greater than for disposal of livestock. Fish also have lower individual maintenance, feeding requirements which allows strategic use of scarce resources in contrast to large livestock.

Integration with fish production may reduce the risk to livestock production, or the overall farming system on mixed farms in the tropics, in several ways. Although fish are more sensitive to shortages of water than livestock, their production may enhance and conserve water availability both for livestock directly and their feed production. Improved stability of water availability is a major means for reduction of risk since fishponds often become a focus for diversification. Maintaining fodder quantity and quality for livestock is an example of how pond culture can reduce risks associated with ruminant production. Fish culture is more risky than livestock production in some respects. Observing and assessing the growth and survival of fish and monitoring theft tends to be more difficult than for livestock, for example. However, theft of fish requires specialist gear and skills and is probably more difficult than stealing small livestock. The physical integration of livestock and fish may reduce the costs of providing security from loss of many types however.

How farmers adopt fish culture as part of their farming system is also closely linked to their avoidance of risk. The perception of aquaculture as being a high risk activity may lead to selection of an unsuitable site for pond construction, rather than an optimal site currently used to produce a tried and trusted crop. Farmers may resist production of livestock near or close to fishponds if the pond is located away from the homestead. Their conservative behaviour is often explained by the greater likelihood of theft, of both livestock and fish, in such situations. Rice farmers living on floodplains where wild fish are still seasonally abundant, may only stock fish in years of low flood when both wild fish supplies are low (Gregory and Guttman, 1996) and the likelihood of cultured fish loss through flood is least.

Large rice mills concentrate feed resources such as here in Battambang, Cambodia. This supports commercial livestock production but may undermine household-level systems


Factors that reduce smallholders’ risk through production of livestock, fish or both


Small livestock

Large livestock


Does integration reduce risk for either livestock, fish or both?


1. Feeding level required to maintain value




Possibly, if 7 is important. Irrigation to maintain feed availability for livestock
Integration with livestock ensures that fish are fed consistently

Fish are cool blooded and lose condition more slowly than underfed livestock

2. Sensitivity to lack of water




Water for fish can reduce water shortages for livestock

3. Local marketability




Local markets are more likely to be oversupplied and alternative products are advantageous

Small units of food can generally be sold more easily

4. Easy to estimate asset value amount




If livestock are penned for more efficient integration, their asset value may be more apparent

Often difficult for inexperienced fish farmers to estimate of fish in their pond

5. Provide collectable nutrients for other on-farm production




Use of livestock wastes for fish may reduce nutrient use elsewhere, increasing risk

Most important where nutrients are most expensive or least available

6. Water available to advantage produce other crops


See 2

The pond as an on-farm reservoir is a very important in water-short situations

7. Opportunities for value-adding post harvest




Sudden loss of livestock or fish may mean total loss but home processing of fish products is relatively simple and thetechniques may be well known because of seasonal surpluses of natural fish

8. Ease of theft




If livestock and fish are raised close to one another guarding is more likely and risk of theft reduced

9. Ability to monitor theft




As above

Similar to (4)

+ - +++; low to high

Overstocking is common practice, both in terrestrial pasture management and subsistence aquaculture, and may derive from farmers’ attempts to reduce their risk. More, if less productive, individual livestock or fish may be a strategy to counter risks of loss and improve opportunities for marketing in resource-poor, unpredictable environments.

7.4.6 LABOUR

Labour is often the most abundant resource available on small-scale farms in Asia and underemployment is a typical feature of the rural economy. The promotion of aquaculture to provide employment opportunities is often advocated but labour requirements are often poorly understood. Furthermore, other activities may be more appropriate to resource-poor peoples needs. Conventional analysis of labour inputs into agricultural activities has looked at returns to labour for different components. In such analyses, however, the labour inputs of women and children have been undervalued and the complexity of integration may obscure conflicts and complementarities.

The importance of off-farm employment options has also often been ignored, despite the fact that if such opportunities increase in rural areas, households adapt and food production quickly becomes only one part of an overall livelihood strategy. How resource-poor people at the household level use their labour to minimise risks and optimise gains is critical in understanding the potential and constraints to integrated livestock-fish. In reality much food production results from part-time farming, the characteristics of which are fashioned as much from the type of off-farm employment opportunities as the physical and social cultural environment. The nature of household-level, integrated livetsock/fish will depend on the relationship between fish and non-fish farm components, access to the resource base and modern technology and will be related to opportunities for non-farm employment.

A common phenomenon related by many to declining opportunities for integrated livestockfish is the off-farm migration of household members. Less available on-farm labour usually results in modifications to farming practices but may also result in benefits. The compatibility of labour demands for fish culture compared to livestock, other farm activities and off-farm employment of various types is critical as outlined below.

Integration to absorb labour

Returns to labour in a tri-commodity on-campus, integrated farm (livestock-fish/vegetable) were highly favourable for fish, favourable for pigs and vegetables but less so for egg ducks (Edwards et al., 1986). The complexity of managing the enterprises at a commercial level on a single household basis probably explains the uneven performance and why such systems are rare. A major finding was that the multi-component 4 000 m2 farm absorbed only 34 percent of the available family labour despite the relatively high inputs required for vegetable production. The relatively low extra labour requirement for fish culture within livestock operations probably explains much of their appeal. It also explains why livestock and fish are compatible livelihood options in peri-urban areas where off-farm employment options are more varied and flexible. Ruddle and Zhong (1988) also found a high level of underemployment in the Zhujiang Delta, China, at the time when management of the dike/pond systems were at their most labour intensive. At this time less than half of household income was derived from the dike-pond system and ‘surplus’ time available for other, often offfarm employment varied from 16-70 percent of the household labour budget. The compatibility of labour requirements for different components of the dike/pond system have age, gender and seasonal aspects (Figure 24). The rapid industrialization of the region, however, is contributing to a breakdown of the system as labour-intensive sericulture, traditionally managed by young women, has become uncompetitive with factory employment and opportunity costs of land and water have increased. Aquaculture has become more intensive, relying even more on external inputs as such costs have risen.


Migration for work can mean long periods away from the farm or short-term or seasonal absences. Household members drawn away from agriculture may be men, women, the young or middle-aged. Migration from the farm does not necessarily mean less potential for aquaculture as it can result in greater household capacity to invest in agriculture. However, balancing on-farm activities such as aquaculture with off farm employment tends to be easier if employment is local.

Options for off-farm employment often change in tandem with a broader dynamism; traditional patterns of labour based on reciprocity, the roles of old and young, male and female, and the proportions of household and employed labour use may all be under pressure or already changed in response to new opportunities. Less labour is required as pond construction and then fish harvest have become more mechanized. Feeds for livestock and fish may be produced industrially, rather than on-farm. Alternatively, labour shortages through migration or other causes may undermine the productivity of, or interest in, aquaculture as it suffers from the labour crunch. If aquaculture, in common with other components of the farming system, is marginal in terms of meeting the household’s needs, it is likely to be abandoned or extensified.


Annual Distribution by Crop of Labor Input to the Dike-Pond System of the Zhujiang Delta, China (percent of Man-day Month-1 Crop-1)

Source: Ruddle (1985)

Integrated aquaculture as a transitory livelihood option

Although increasing opportunity costs may eventually result in small-holder, semiintensive aquaculture integrated with livestock becoming less competitive in certain situations, it is likely to be an important developmental option for the foreseeable future in many developing countries. Similarly, rice/fish production has been adopted as a low risk entry point for farmers to diversify their farming systems in certain parts of Asia, partly because fish culture is less labour intensive than other options. Integrated rice/fish culture, however, requires significantly more labour than rice alone and this factor has been one of the main driving forces for farmers to switch from ricefield to pond culture of fish in Northeast Thailand (Little et al., 1996).

In one example of successful commercial egg chicken/fish system (Engle and Skladany, 1992), the scale of operation meant that household labour alone was sufficient and the income produced at a level that inhibited off-farm migration. Moreover the labour requirements of the chicken and fish components were considered highly favourably compared to the far more onerous on- or off-farm alternatives e.g. field cropping or construction work. This situation can change rapidly when market access improves, land values increase and off-farm opportunities become more attractive, especially for younger people. Expectations of younger members of the family are higher, especially if they have more formal education, and can often only be met from truly commercial level enterprises.

The likelihood of aquaculture integrated with livestock becoming, or remaining, an attractive option will be greatly affected by the cost of labour that in turn is linked to the wider economy. As rural economies change from a subsistence focus, the proportion of landless and resource-poor often grows. As this group typically has few options in the formal economy, their employment in the sectors such as aquaculture and livestock can become crucial to their livelihoods. The contracting out of fish harvest, trading of seed and the removal and trading of wastes often become the preserve of such resource-poor people.

Increasing median age and declining household size are good indicators of changing need and interest in intensification of aquaculture with livestock. Lovshin et al. (2000) evaluating retention of integrated livestock-fish in Guatemala a decade after its promotion found reduced interest in aquaculture, partly as children had left home and remitted urban wages to support older family members left on the farm. Under these conditions there was less need for increasing fish yields and less labour to do so. In contrast, the integration of horticulture and livestock around small, deep ponds is particularly popular with older people in Northeast Thailand as a method to save time and labour. They manage their ponds to meet their daily need for vegetables, herbs and spices rather than optimising fish or any other single product. Such people identify the convenience, and the reduced time and effort spent gathering such products from a dwindling natural resource base, as major incentives.

7.5 Promotion of Integrated Livestock-Fish


Promoting the integration of livestock-fish requires a clear framework to identify major factors of importance, to clarify thought to direct action and to aid in communication between the various stakeholders.

Clarification of purpose is a critical first step in promoting integrated livestock-fish. Is the major objective to improve the livelihood of the landless poor through employment and consumptionrelated benefits, to stimulate agricultural labourers to integrate subsistence-level fish culture within their home plot, or to support commercial farmers capable of producing large amounts of fish for sale locally at affordable prices? An important priority is to identify the major beneficiaries of any promotion and clarify stakeholders that could be impacted by development. If substantive changes to both livestock and fish components are required, clearly the complexity is increased. The need for interdisciplinarity, action at multiple levels (household, local, regional) and with a range of partners (farmers, agribusiness, extension agents) makes the task more difficult.

Typically, attempts to promote integrated farming have been made by technical scientists, often working within a narrow disciplinary mode. Failure to assess if promoting livestock and fish, either as single activities or integrated, is appropriate to meet the farmers’ needs and resources is common. Alternatively, grass roots organizations often recognise the need for, but fail to understand, the technical issues and constraints. Although current technologies can be improved, major impacts could be made if existing knowledge were promoted to people with appropriate needs and resources. Limited capacity to assimilate technology is a major constraint to development in general (Juma and Sagoff, 1992).

Participatory research with small numbers of resource-poor farmers in Northeast Thailand led to recommendations that could be promoted to a large group throughout the region. This necessitated producing stand-alone extension materials that could be disseminated by the Department of Fisheries through a variety of agencies present at the local level


A wide range of factors must be considered if livestock-fish integration is to fulfil its potential. Improved policy, infrastructure and institutions at national, and local levels are required, particularly if poor peoples’ livelihoods are to benefit. Where success has occurred on a local basis, it is usually resource-richer individuals who have benefited from any research and development, and a generally supportive commercial environment that has sustained the practice.

The complexity and limited resources contributing to poor peoples’ livelihoods makes developing and promoting useful information to them particularly difficult. Facilitators with experience in practical livestock, aquaculture, and often community development are required to work together if integrated livestock-fish is to be more widely adoptable by small-scale farmers.


The use of a farming systems research and extension (FSR & E) approach to promote aquaculture lags behind its use in agricultural development by at least a decade. Such an approach is essential if linkages between livestock and fish production are to be strengthened.

There are three major sequential steps of research leading towards the development and dissemination of information useful for farmers. A situation analysis should be made initially that assesses the needs and resources for change in the target group, but which also includes identification and understanding of the impacts of this change on other stakeholders. Some form of institutional analysis is also important at this stage since sustainable development is rarely brought about by a one-off event and the constraints as well as potentials of responsible institutions need to be understood. Identification and refinement of appropriate technologies and management through on-station and on-farm trials is the second stage that should be integrated with testing and dissemination of the information. This third stage, developing methods to disseminate information rapidly to large numbers of farmers, needs invariably to consider the complexity of the message, the nature of the audience and constraints of existing extension channels. Early identification of a recommendation domain, a targeted area or beneficiaries with relatively uniform characteristics, and an iterative process relating development of the technology with methods to disseminate it, are required.


The roles of the farmers themselves in the research and development process have been the focus of a major shift over the last two decades. A technology driven, “top-down” approach has been seen to fail especially for resource-poor farmers in marginal environments (Chambers et al., 1989). The need for participation of the beneficiaries in setting the development agenda and involvement in the research process has become widely accepted. The need to integrate farmers’ traditional or indigenous knowledge has been recognized. Focus on ecological agriculture and low external-input systems have also been recommended (Altieri and Anderson, 1986; Reijntjes et al., 1992). The need for a balanced view on research approach in which outsiders, depending on the context and existing knowledge base, complement the farmers’ skills has been proposed (Biggs, 1995; FAO, 1997a).


The success of intensive livestock systems is testament to how the ‘transfer of technology’ has worked for both producers of livestock and the feed companies that support them. In regions of high agriculture potential in both developed and developing countries, ‘Green Revolution’ techniques have resulted in quantities of feed grains sufficient to support modern-day intensive livestock production. Well-tested information has been extended through conventional or upgraded extension services to usually better-off farmers in well-endowed and relatively standard agroecological areas, latterly as the Training and Visit system (T&V).

The agribusiness concerns that control commercial feed grain and livestock production have used similar approaches to deliver efficient, vertically integrated production methods across a huge range of different locations. Broiler chickens are produced in places where agro-climatic and cultural conditions are highly variable. This approach requires huge resources often not available to governments, and has brought benefits mainly to more literate, better-resourced farmers in favoured locations.

The promotion of aquaculture as an option to recycle waste, or just to profitably utilise the borrow pits produced during construction of livestock pens, has often been relatively straightforward. Much of the livestock-fish production in Asia is of this nature and it has often developed with relatively little promotion by government agencies.

Such ‘top-down’, transfer of technology strategies have been less successful for extension to more resource-poor, complex and diverse situations. Agricultural extension services or agribusiness companies in developing countries have often focused on ‘progressive’ or ‘advanced farmers’, often as contact or model farmers, leaving poorer people untouched by such services (Box 7.Q).

Some improvements have been made that have encouraged greater situation analysis and farmer participation, such as the ‘Trickle Down System’ (TDS) promoted in Bangladesh and Viet Nam (FAO, 1999). TDS is based on a reorganization of the conventional extension service based on training demonstration farmers and their subsequent training of fellow fish farmers. However, the basic problem remains: effective transfer of information to poorer people is most difficult. Rather than trickle down, ‘trickle across’ typically occurs, as farmers with more and similar resource levels benefit most from such farmer to farmer contact, leaving the basic problem of more widespread involvement of the poor unresolved. Lewis (1997) notes that despite a raise awareness of the need for partipatory approaches by international research organizations and their national counterparts, more rhetoric than change has occurred. The superiority of formal scientific approaches and a top-down approach remain entrenched attitudes, while interest and understanding in social and equity issues remain a low priority.


Development of livestock-fish systems in Asia

  • Poultry-fish systems (longyam) were introduced into land-limited Java in the early 1980s and have spread largely through informal mechanisms (organic spread) rather than any formal extension service1.

  • In Central and Eastern Provinces of Thailand, commercial livestock-fish has developed to the extent that it is a dominant method to produce herbivorous fish and monogastric livestock. A wide range of variations now exist, largely as a result of farmer experimentation and adaptation of a basic concept to their own resource constraints of labour, land, water, capital and market.

  • Although livestock-fish systems are less common in the Philippines than Thailand, raising fish with poultry in particular was still relatively common in a recent survey among commercial tilapia farmers in Luzon2.

Source: 1Kusumawardhani et al. (1994); 2Molnar et al. (1996)

Methods that farmers could use to collect poultry waste were developed with them and all extension materials tested with farmers to ensure comprehension

Another fundamental constraint is the limited capacity of most extension services and their fragmentation into specialist livestock and fisheries units with few links to broader agricultural extension. Typically their staff have limited knowledge of production systems more appropriate for the poor, have little training in extension methods and practices and are underfunded and poorly motivated.


Alternative roles for traditional extension agents to act as facilitators and promoters to a range of ‘change agents’ have been proposed (Scoones et al., 1994; Edwards, 1997). Depending on the complexity of the technology and the degree of on-farm testing required, a minimalist approach may work well in which concepts and alternative approaches to farm production are presented rather than prescribed packages of tested technologies. Technological packages may just be too expensive for agricultural services to develop and provide in view of the diversity of possible recommendation domains (Byerlee, 1987) and their value too limited in terms of lifetime.

The role of extension worker as a diagnostician and advisor on available techniques that can support to both livestock and fish production suggests that changes in professional training and management are required (Chambers and Jigginss, 1987). The training of livestock and other rural development and extension staff in basic fish culture and aquatic resource management techniques would be highly desirable. The potential training demand for this to occur would be high. Brummett (1994) explains the advantages of vocational training delivered locally for field extension staff. Given the magnitude and urgency of the job, a central role for distance education for professional-level will be necessary and would potentially meet these needs at minimum cost.

Developing capacity for promoting both livestock and fish by the same professionals is a challenge. Castillo et al. (1992) promoting integrated aquaculture among small-holders in Guatemala found that, although benefits were greater among farmers raising livestock with fish, greater technical maturity and support was required from extension staff in its promotion. However, the integration of a fish production component within farms where livestock are raised traditionally can benefit the development of both components. Although indigenous knowledge of natural stocks is often extensive among rural people dependent on fish, this usually does not extend to culture because aquaculture is new or relatively recent. In contrast, husbandry of livestock, and management of the resource base, are often traditional. An approach that values farmers’ knowledge but complements it with ‘outside’ knowledge will allow people to learn about fish culture through their experience with livestock; and concepts introduced with fish can, in turn, educate their views on livestock production. The need to make changes to long-established, livestock management practices because fish culture, as a new component in the farming system, requires it, can act to stimulate positive change of the traditional system. Introduction of improved waste management primarily to ensure adequate inputs for fish production can also improve the health status of livestock.

Traditional livestock management concepts such as nursing and fattening can be useful in improving management of fish. In Lao PDR, a livestock extension network has evolved to support farmers’ efforts in raising fish (Innes-Taylor, Unpub). The cold chain developed to deliver livestock vaccines is also used to disseminate hormones for farmers to breed their own fish and assure local fish seed supply.

In practice adoption of fish culture through farmer-to-farmer extension can be stimulated through a range of change agents and the approaches and motives to improve fish, livestock or crop production interact. Surintaraseree and Little (1998) found that rice/fish farming spread in Northeast Thailand in this way, and that farmers’ holistic view of their system meant that benefits occurred directly and indirectly through livestock, crop and fish components of their system.

In the same region, written information on simple technical interventions involving the use of livestock waste and inorganic fertilizers in fish culture has been taken up by up to 55 percent of farmers receiving materials (Turongruang et al., 1994). Moreover, as this approach did not require contact with an extension agent, information could be delivered through non-specialist channels at low cost. The private sector can also participate in this process. Commercial media disseminate information as attractively packaged technical articles on television and printed form in many countries. Institutional structures are often a barrier to this type of innovation and even when a more farmer-first approach is accepted, implementation can be slow or ineffective. The specialized education that professionals receive has been identified as one reason (Chambers, 1993) but the cultural norms of institutions and the wider culture typically accentuate the conservative view. Narrow outlooks on production systems also require broadening to encompass the wider resource system and an understanding of rural peoples’ livelihoods (Edwards, 1997; Carney, 1998). (Box 7.R) Decentralized and more pro-active institutions are required if progress is to be made in improving access to relevant information by poor people.

Problems in the promotion of aquaculture or the integration of livestock with aquaculture are not unique and need to be put in perspective with success in other fields of rural development. Harrison (1994) noted that ‘the legacy of previous development interventions has a profound influence on the way that rural people respond to new ones’ with regard to adoption of aquaculture in Africa. Many of the problems that have beset extension of aquaculture and its impact in rural communities, be they poor rates of adoption or ‘low’ output, are common to ‘top-down’ development initiatives in other sectors.


Development of integrated livestock-fish production in the provinces around Bangkok, Thailand

  • Aquaculture is not traditional in Thailand. Peoples’ appetite for fish to complement a diet of rice and vegetables was met through capture of wild fish and a host of other aquatic animals until relatively recently. Chinese immigrants introduced aquaculture, of common carp, and Chinese carps, in the early 20th century although cultivation of native fish e.g. Pangasius hypothlalmus, Oxyeleotris marmoratus and Trichogaster pectoralis, on a small-scale may pre-date this practice (Edwards et al., 1983). It was only with the decline of the wild fish harvest and as techniques for the controlled breeding of these species became known that their culture became more widespread. In the 1930s attempts to popularize the culture of Trichogaster, failed. Culture of tilapias in ricefields and ponds was promoted in the 1950s, and people were encouraged to raise fish together with pigs and poultry. One pamphlet describing how to culture tilapia sold over 300 000 copies in two editions at the time (Edwards et al., 1983). Irrigation projects were also beginning to have a major effect on the availability of natural fish stocks in the Chaophraya basin that dominated Central Thailand, especially after the completion of the Chainat Dam and distribution system in the early 1960s.

  • In the first detailed survey of its type, it was found that aquaculture, in a variety of forms, was practiced by around 3 percent of farms in one central province, Pathum Thani by the early 1980s. Integrating livestock, especially pigs but also chickens and ducks with fish culture had become established in the early 1980s; most practitioners began five years prior to the survey. Longer established operations were concentrated around the central provincial city. Farmers continuing to produce rice and raise fish as a minor crop were much less likely to integrate livestock with fish. Farms raising fish for between 10-30 years were more often diversified and operated by farmers of Chinese descent.

  • During the 1990s, as Thailand’s industrialization accelerated, the centre of integrated farming has moved outwards from Bangkok as land values have soared and factories and residential areas have developed. Integrated livestock-fish has grown rapidly in response to market demand generated by urbanization and rising purchasing power. Initially beneficiaries were more urbanized people, closest to information, inputs and markets but recent trends indicate the entry of rice farmers into aquaculture, after conversion of rice fields into shallow ponds. Pig and chicken manure is purchased or removed free from nearby intensive operations and often transported by middlemen. In these livestock-dense areas of Central Thailand, livestock farming at the scale required needs high investment, but pond culture of fish has much lower capital costs, especially as the cost of mechanically constructed ponds has steadily declined. Improved market access and road infrastructure has also reduced the entry costs, opening fish culture as an option for a wider range of farmers. Knowledge about raising livestock and fish together has been disseminated in the media and through vocational training. Credit, often from Government agricultural banks, is now also more widely available.


“Top down” small-scale duck-fish integration fails

  • Farmers who adopted, and benefited from, integrated livestock-fish in Pathum Thani by the early 1980s were a small rural elite with significant resources. The relative poverty of the majority of farmers growing rice in the same Province stimulated the concept of scaling-down livestock-fish farming to meet the needs and resources of ordinary rice farmers. Rice farmers, especially those with poorly diversified farming systems, were more likely to seek off-farm employment, and consumed significantly less fish than average. The rationale of introducing livestock-fish systems was to improve both household nutrition and income. Both on-station and on-farm trials were run to develop a technical model that could be managed and sustained by resource-poor farmers. Farming households were actively involved, participating in pond construction and provision of a proportion of the livestock feed. The researcher-managed trials followed a structured design that farmers followed, and there was little flexibility or involvement in decision-making. Egg-laying ducks were chosen as a suitable type of livestock, as a preliminary assessment had found duck eggs to be readily marketable in the village and their integration with fish culture technically feasible using locally available materials. A standard design of pen that kept the ducks enclosed over the pond water at all times ensured that all the manure and spilt feed entered the pond. If ducks are allowed to scavenge for a portion of their own feed, pond dikes quickly become eroded, and much of the waste lost. On-station research found that 30 ducks kept in this way over a 200 m2 earthen pond stocked with Nile tilapia for 6 months produced enough fish to meet all the estimated animal protein requirements of a family of five.

  • Unfortunately, once support for the purchase of livestock feed was withdrawn, the farmers were unable to sustain the system. The ration given to the high-yielding ducks had to be purchased as the farmers’ own paddy rice was unsuitable for inclusion in the balanced diet required to maintain egg-laying rates at economic levels. Most families found managing the high level of inputs and outputs difficult. A regular cash outlay for feed was required and the large numbers of eggs produced daily were difficult to market. The relatively large amounts of fish produced were greatly valued but the system did not fit within the farmers’ overall resource base, with cash and time being particularly limiting.


An approach to understanding constraints to fish production in rain-fed cascade tanks systems in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka

  • The ancient hydraulic civilization located in the dry zone of Northwest Sri Lanka was based on ‘tank’ irrigation. The storage of rainwater in ‘tanks’, large, man-made reservoirs, within watersheds that could be used to irrigate the crop of rice was critical to reducing vulnerability to shortages of water and also provided an important source of fish. In the last century these systems have been rehabilitated and watersheds have become more densely populated. The pressure on the resource base has intensified, especially as the water held in these community-managed tanks is used for a variety of purposes. Most households rely on them for domestic water supply, and in the dry season they become an important grazing and water resource for livestock in addition to their primary purpose to supply irrigation water for the rice.

  • The tanks, arranged as a complex mosaic within watersheds, interact in terms of movement of both water and fish through the seasons. As the rains begin and the upper watershed tanks fill, they begin to overflow into the catchment of the tanks below. This allows upward migration of aquatic animals to repopulate upper tanks that may completely dry out during the dry season.

  • Understanding how individuals from communities gain access to, and benefit from, these aquatic resources is complex. Their intensified management is a challenge. The nutrient links between management of grazing livestock and fish are clearly important and a major determinant of overall productivity.

Working with communities surrounding different tanks in the same cascade to improve livelihoods requires an interdisciplinary approach to understand and resolve potential conflicts. A stakeholder approach that builds on an understanding of the resource base and the interactions between the various components is a useful way to realise the potential of these systems for equitable development.


The adoption of integrated livestock-fish has been uneven throughout the developing world, even in places with suitable agro-ecological conditions. Sustained periods of warm temperatures are required for the most efficient treatment of organic wastes but in practice successful integration occurs across a wider range of environments. Where the practice has become established, and is today most significant, overall economic and infrastructural development have been more important than formal extension. A historical dependence on fish is far more important than any tradition of aquaculture as the rapid adoption in Thailand has shown. In certain areas e.g. West Java and the Philippines, high land costs and a relative abundance of large water bodies appears to favour the development of cage-based operations but pond-based fish culture has also continued to develop, particularly in West Java with fewer problems of land tenure for small-holders than the Philippines.

In countries where economic conditions are suitable and an entrepreneurial class has access to land and water, integrated livestock-fish can spread with relatively little formal support, at least among better-off farmers. Technology transfer by agribusiness has been effective in the transfer of modern intensive livestock systems, and if other resources and market opportunities are suitable, entrepreneurs have quickly used the waste for aquaculture and/or horticulture (Box 7.P). Where integrated practices have become established such as in Thailand, the media and agribusiness have supported information flow and wider economic development has stimulated intensification of livestock production.

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