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8. Transferability of Asian Experiences to Africa and Latin America

The widespread belief that rural aquaculture has been proven to be more appropriate in Asia than either Africa or Latin America is reviewed. A range of shared constraints to adoption of aquaculture has been identified, especially when integrated with livestock, using evidence drawn from evaluations of development projects on the three continents. We firstly consider the general status of aquaculture development and identify common features, before considering information needs for successful adoption of rural aquaculture and the institutional constraints to their development and delivery.

Solving the problems of poor fish seed supply and losses through theft and predation are as fundamental to successful adoption of aquaculture by small-holders in Asia as well as Africa and Latin America. The role of cultured fish in meeting the needs of rural people is compared, and many similarities identified, especially the reliance of fish pond water to diversify and stabilise surrounding farming systems. Benefits from aquaculture within the household and to non-producers are also interpreted from developments outside Asia. Attempts to promote aquaculture on a community-level basis have been made in many developing countries and post-project evaluations of several projects allow some broad conclusions to be drawn.

A summary of some key factors that explains the apparent dichotomy in integrated livestock/fish development among small-holders in Africa, Asia and Latin America concludes the section.

8.1 General Considerations

The broad developmental challenge in both Africa and Latin America is similar to that in Asia: populations are rapidly increasing and environments, and thus the means to support increased numbers of people, are degrading. Although both mean population densities and absolute numbers of poor people are lower in Africa and Latin America than in Asia, acute poverty and highly inequitable development is common to all three continents. Various case studies of attempts to promote aquaculture as stand-alone or integrated activities suggest that many of the constraints and opportunities are similar. A superficial review can quickly result in a conclusion that attempts to promote small-scale aquaculture in Africa and Latin America have failed and have little future. However, one holistic analysis of the causes of failure concluded that fish culture can become established as a valuable part of rural economies (Harrison, 1994; Brummett and Williams, 2000) and this has subsequently been demonstrated in parts of southern Africa (Van der Mheen, 1998). Another issue is the degree to which success is often measured in terms of project outcomes, which can be different to evaluation in terms of the needs of farming households. Many farmers in Asia have begun aquaculture without contact with foreign or government sponsored ‘projects’ and evaluation of impacts of individual projects can obscure a broader-based phenomenon.

Aquaculture in Africa and Latin America covers a wide range of culture systems within variable social, economic and ecological conditions. The promotion of rural, pond-based aquaculture in both regions has often failed, as have many other aspects of rural development, through misconceived foreign aid projects that have not focused on the real needs of the beneficiaries.


Issues and problems from the perspective of aquaculture promoters in Africa, Latin America and Asia




1. The development context

  • projects have an aquaculture focus rather than being needs-driven
  • both needs identification and making the links between these and aquaculture is problematic
  • lack of awareness of off-farm factors and other livelihood options
  • participatory research on needs for and value of aquaculture in specific contexts
  • see 3 below
  • livelihood analysis

2. Lack of sustainability of project efforts, including collapse of infrastructure training

  • inadequate assessment of limitations and priorities of host institution
  • inadequate involvement of all stakeholders in needs assessment and problem identification
  • infrastructure development focus
  • understand institutional legacy: how and why projects fail
  • stakeholder analysis
  • assess proposals for infrastructure in light of potential to meet development needs
  • focus on institutional strengthening including managerial and planning capacity
  • revise project approaches to make them more flexible

3. Problems in extension services:

  • poor morale
  • unable to reach farmers
  • inappropriate advice general overall
  • lack of incentives, little participation in decision-making, dependence on allowances
  • training has been technically and fisheries-based
  • Reassess options for developing and extending information to farmers
  • encourage private sector options
  • ensure that aquatic resource R and D is incorporated into rural development extension models
  • ensure that aquatic resource R and D is incorporated into general focus training locally and towards participatory approaches that seek to strengthen linkages with ARM in livelihoods of the poor

4. Weaknesses in monitoring and evaluation

  • lack of clarity concerning overall objectives and mechanisms for their achievement
  • failure to incorporate intra-and inter-household resources
  • lack or inconsistent data collection
  • projects over focus on data collection; unreliable and inconsistent data storage and use
  • lack of understanding of demand and benefits to consumers
  • introduce relevant and measurable indicators

5. Farmers do not respond as hoped:

  • failure to adopt
  • poor management
  • aquaculture may be attractive and adoptable by only a limited number of farmers
  • fish production below the technical optimum may meet farmers’ needs
  • water resource development may stimulate other uses of water that meet farmers’ need
  • better technical advice/knowledge base required by farmers for improved yields
  • limited capacity to improve yields because of resource constrains, physical factors etc.
  • better-off farmers benefit most, poorest people least
  • needs analysis of target group and responsive extension
  • careful selection of target group for promotion of aquaculture

Progress in developing integrated livestockfish in both rural Africa and Latin America has been slowed by a failure to recognise and adjust to failure (Harrison et al., 1994). Although aquaculture in sub-Saharan Africa produces a tiny proportion of the world’s cultured fish <0.5 percent (Lazard and Weigel, 1996), aquaculture is traditional in Ghana (Prein and Ofori, 1996) and elsewhere and survives in subsistence form in many countries. It remains an important potential focus for rural development. Demand for cultured fish varies greatly in Africa, depending on the value of fish as a regular food item and the availability of natural fish stocks or cheap imported fish (Lazard and Weigel, 1996).

In certain countries of Africa and Latin America with suitable infrastructure and international connections, high-input intensive aquaculture geared towards export has become established. Atlantic salmon in Chile and intensive cage and raceway-based tilapia production in Zimbabwe and Costa Rica, respectively, are well-established, typically in a vertically integrated mode that parallels that used for broiler chicken. In Columbia, growth in demand by better-off consumers has made feed-based aquaculture an alternative investment to monogastric livestock. In such cases, richer people control both production and consumption and the impact of the industry on poorer people is minor.

A comparison of the development of fish culture in Asia with Africa and Latin America in terms of the perspective of both the promoters and the farmers is instructive (Table 8.1). It suggests that many of the constraints to adoption of productive aquaculture are similar, as is the integration of fish culture with livestock. An important point is that development of aquaculture in the three regions has not been homogeneous; the level of aquaculture development in Cambodia among poor rural people is little different to that of similar and Asia groups in many parts of Africa and Latin America.

High demand for fish, often related historically to high human population densities of river valleys and deltas, and a reliance by such flood-affected people on fish to meet nutritional needs, has clearly been an important stimulus to aquaculture. Rural population densities in Africa can reach levels found in Asia and in such areas a greater reliance on livestock and their manure management is found (Lekasia et al., 1998). Such population concentrations tend to be in highland areas, such as in the Kenya Highlands, where there is less traditional reliance on fish however. However, aquaculture is largely a recent phenomenon in Asia, even in areas where it is now common (Edwards, 1996; Lewis, 1998). Small ponds, often the result of the removal of soil for construction, may be a more common feature of land-holdings in flood prone areas of Asia. This inevitably reduces entry costs and risk, making attempts at fish culture more attractive. In Malawi, even small ponds are uncommon and an important investment for average small-holders, the majority of which have land-holdings of less than 1 ha (Noble, 1996).

Aquaculture development to meet local needs for food fish can be categorized into three stages on all three continents (Box 8.a). The recent acceleration in uptake of rural aquaculture over the last two decades in areas where it has occurred traditionally, may be linked to earlier adoption by a small minority and these may be more numerous and concentrated in Asia than elsewhere. Examples of all three types may be found in Africa, Latin America as well as Asia.


Stages in aquaculture development to serve local demand

Despite differences in current status of aquaculture and its perceived success, the needs and constraints of smallholder farmers that could potentially adopt aquaculture as part of their livelihood strategy in rural Africa and Latin America are remarkably similar to Asia.


  • Little aquaculture adoption, enough wild fish. Early adopters are entrepreneurs, often ethnic or religious minorities. Limited demand, indigenous fish preferred.


  • Early adopters become seed producers; competition among food fish producers stimulates integration with livestock and other resource uses.

  • Secondary, more numerous adopters of aquaculture, many retain a subsistence approach and ponds are multipurpose. Characterized by a broadening range of how aquaculture benefits people, especially the poor, through service and consumption. A minority develops towards a more commercial focus.

  • Vertically integrated operations introduced but often fail as market conditions are undeveloped.


  • Shrinkage in number of operators as low inputoutput fish production has a further reduced role in livelihood systems; more off-farm labour, better infrastructure reduces role of pond as on-farm reservoirs and food production generally.

  • Commercial and vertically integrated concerns compete, driving price of fish down. Sustainability of household-based commercial production and integration with livestock depends on ‘macro’ factors such as feed prices and environmental controls.

  • Early adopters may use assets to diversify away from food fish production to ornamental fish production or unrelated services, urban/professional livelihoods.

8.2 Information Needs

The need for appropriate information to allow households with few resources to adopt aquaculture ‘successfully’ has rarely been appreciated by promoters. Some observers have linked the failure of African aquaculture to an absence of a tradition of livestock management in general in which fish are treated in ponds similarly to small livestock i.e. left to fend for themselves and used for special needs (Hickling, 1971; Harrison et al., 1994). But this is a similar situation in much of Asia where there is also little indigenous knowledge about aquaculture among the many rural households for whom it could be an option. The key gaps of knowledge that affect African farmers also inhibit small-holder fish culture in Asia. Commonly, people dig ponds with initial enthusiasm but little or no nutrients are used in the pond and fish yields are low. Such under-fertilization, either through poor access to nutrients or limited understanding of the concept, often leads to expectations remaining unfulfilled. Poor stock management in which seed with low resistance to predation are under or over-stocked is also common. This again may partly be related to a lack of knowledge but it may also indicate the farming household’s motivations as indigenous carnivorous fish may be preferred to cultured fish species. Lewis (1997) reports that lack of knowledge rather than credit constrained poor households managing small ponds and ditches profitably for aquaculture in Bangladesh.

Prolonged culture cycles are also a widespread phenomenon. The tendency for farmers to hold fish for extended periods has been related to the pond being viewed as an asset and as a savings bank rather than as a unit of production. Poor harvesting technique or equipment and a lack of knowledge about growth and breeding patterns have also been implicated (Harrison et al., 1994). A similar tendency is common among small-holders in Asia, for whom the pond is an important social asset as a larder or convenience store, especially if regular food needs are met in other ways. Usually, and especially where the culture of wild fish is traditional, the availability of skills and materials to catch fish is not a constraint. However, the widespread availability of very cheap modern synthetic net material in rural Asia may be an important difference to large areas of Africa and the Americas.

8.3 Institutional Constraints

The capacity and sustainability of institutions working to promote aquaculture are key factors of success or failure. A major constraint to institutions working effectively to improve poor household’s nutrition and income through aquaculture has been their technically-led approach (AIT, 1994). This is an aspect common to development efforts almost everywhere. Until recently, this was the case as much for national agricultural research centres as for international agencies. Furthermore, linkages and ‘active partnerships’ have often been lacking between these types of institutions and field-level organizations that have contact with large numbers of rural households. Lewis (1998) describes the institutional constraints to effective development for the poor in Bangladesh under conditions of ‘resource constraints’, not resources constraints for poor farmers but for competing professionals, and this country has one of the developing worlds’ best financed programmes for promotion of rural aquaculture. As Lewis (1998) wrote: ‘it is tempting to suggest that ICLARM and FRI need each other far more for the individual institutional survival of each agency than the average low income farm household in Bangladesh needs new technology for aquaculture’.

Although participatory methods that work within the social and economic constraints of the target beneficiaries are required, a lack of relevant, generic information has been a common need of grass-roots development organizations working with farmers almost everywhere. This is often as true for livestock development as for aquaculture. Applying concepts, techniques and management to specific conditions in partnership with the beneficiaries is a complex and highly skilled task. A major problem is that the skills to do this are not taught at most universities or colleges; the much greater range and availability of institutions delivering education in aquatic resource management in Asia than elsewhere has not returned the expected benefits. Typically the focus is natural sciences alone and Masters level graduates have little if any direct experiece at the village pond side (Lewis, 1997). Improved training of field-level staff that focus on holistic and interdisciplinary skills are an urgent need throughout less developed countries.

As a general rule, human resource development precedes natural resource development and this is best carried out locally (Brummett, 1994). The current reliance on limited numbers of poorly trained and motivated extension staff to promote aquaculture occurs throughout the developing world. This has been a major constraint in both Asia and Africa. For example, the national country-wide extension service in Bangladesh is based on one extension officer in each thana, a local government unit with about a quarter of a million people (Lewis, 1998). Perhaps inevitably, especially as production targets rather than poverty reduction have tended to drive extension efforts, the focus in many countries has often been on richer, more accessible farmers.

Regular and prolonged contact does not necessarily result in effective adoption, especially not if the farmers’ needs were ill-understood and/ or extension agents’ information inappropriate. The lack of long-term, field level implementers in a project in Guatemala was identified at the time as a major constraint to success (Castillo et al., 1992), but post-project evaluation has recently suggested that lack of technical knowledge was not the major reason for farmers neglecting or abandoning fish culture (Lovshin et al., 2000).

Highly dispersed, rural households has been associated with the difficulty of effective extension in Africa but such conditions are also common to many under-resourced, conventional extension services in Asia. On-farm, group-based training is an effective and practical solution and also an approach that has proved more relevant and costeffective in places with higher population densities. Even when limited budgets for field-level, extension staff and operating budgets have constrained the impact of programmes to actively promote fish culture in rural areas, a consistent presence can, over time, be an important stimulus and support for early adopters. This has been demonstrated by both government and non-government efforts in Northeast Thailand (Little and Satapornvanit, 1996).

Similar problems that have confronted institutions attempting to promote aquaculture in Asia have been identified for the other two regions. Indicators of rejection of fish culture such as abandoned ponds and sub-optimal fish management are as typical of rural Asia as they are of Africa and Latin America.

In the past, there was a similar emphasis on renovation and rehabilitation of Government ponds, farms and hatcheries without consideration of their effectiveness and their longer-term sustainability. Planning to ensure realisable objectives, operating budget and staff motivation have often been insufficient. Prevailing institutional cultures that are not responsive to the needs of poor farmers in rural areas are often a fundamental problem. Such factors have often been made worse by aquaculture being located within fisheries departments or D’eaux et Foret, rather than within a broader agricultural extension service (Harrison et al., 1994; FAO, 1997a).

Development of managed aquatic resources is not usually part of a coherent national plan and opportunities for synergism are lost; aquaculture in particular, is typically accorded low priority. Structural adjustment, or roll-back of government support for extension also takes a toll on the conventional extension approach. Even when fisheries development is accorded a high priority, performance is often affected by a limited capacity of the institutions to plan and manage, and poor co-ordination within and between organizations, including many internationally funded and staffed donor projects.

Better integration of institutions promoting household-level livestock and fish culture could have many tangible benefits, particularly in poorer countries with few resources. This has been demonstrated in the Lao PDR where responsibility for extension of livestock and fish production by the same local level extension staff has proved beneficial (Innes-Taylor, pers comm.).

Research is typically separated from extension and focused towards on-station, bio-technical issues rather than being responsive and problemorientated. Even if research on ‘low input’ systems is prioritized, on-station research will still often mis-target research efforts (see Box 8.B).


Poorly targeted research for resourcepoor farmers

  • Standard recommendations for semi-intensive aquaculture in India were highly successful for resource-rich farmers in Andra Pradesh but largely irrelevant for the resource-poor.

  • Fertilizer regimes developed at AIT for optimal production were not adopted by a large proportion of risk-averse farmers in Northeast Thailand, despite proven and potentially high returns (Turongruang et al., 1994). This has since been exacerbated by the recent economic crisis which resulted in a sudden and steep rise in the price of inorganic fertilizers.

  • Project-based research aiming to support fish culture by smallholders in Central and Northern regions of Malawi was based on animal manures that were practically unavailable to the farmers.

Source: Dickson and Brooks (1997)

Many of the institutional constraints to development are exacerbated by the project approach of foreign donors. Indeed the complexity of issues, mixed motivations and negative interactions between various ‘partners’ in development projects are often major causes of failure to impact positively on target beneficiaries. The need for leadership from local actors rather than external development agencies per se has been identified by Brummett and Williams (2000) as a key requirement to stimulate successful rural aquaculture. Generally in Asia this has not required ‘research’ but rather the introduction of ideas and concepts and their adaptation by progressive farmers.

The ‘critical mass’ among the private sector in large parts of Asia is now a major driving force for development. It can give the impression that institutional constraints were, and remain, less important here than in Africa or Latin America However, adoption of aquaculture by poor people remains far from complete in Asia and institutional constraints are, as in Africa and Latin America, are of major importance and largely unresolved (Box 8.C).


Institutional issues constraining aquaculture development common to Asia, Africa and Latin America

  • No review of history and mistakes.

  • Emphasis on infrastructure rather than solving persistent managerial/technical problems.

  • Focus on over-ambitious fish yield targets; often not set in any framework of overall nutritional/ cash needs.

  • Lack of realistic and measurable indicators.

  • Extension service become data collectors for sophisticated, unsustainable data-bases.

  • Poor quality of training for extension staff, dissemination of inappropriate messages.

  • Extension staff mainly biologists not trained in extension.

  • Close linkage with fisheries rather than agricultural extension.

  • Promotion through unsustainable provision of inputs and services.

8.4 Seed Supply

Poor seed supply has been a major constraint to sustainable adoption of fish culture in all three regions. Adoption of fish culture in the past in traditional areas of Asia depended either on capture of wild seed of Chinese and Indian major carps from rivers, or household-level spawning of common carp. Induced breeding of carps in the 1960s led to available seed of these species, at least adjacent to large, central hatcheries. A focus on self-sufficient strategies based on mixed-sex tilapias has been most successful in many countries in both Africa and Latin America and they have also proved important in much of Asia. Technical specialists have long perceived a reliance on tilapias that breed within the culture system as both a handicap and opportunity for the development of aquaculture in Africa (Lazard and Legendre, 1996). Alternative species, which are more dependent on government hatcheries, such as carps and catfish have proved less sustainable. Projects in Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Congo, Cameroon, Madagascar and Niger promoting aquaculture around a fry production facility found a number of common constraints (Box 8.D), but these have also been identified as being relevant in much of Asia (Shrestha et al., 1997). Where private sector hatchery production was stimulated, as in Cote d’Ivoire, and 60 percent of the fish stocked by the project were produced by farmers, continued subsidised central production probably constrained this private sector development. The same situation was also found in Northeast Thailand before private sector fry production boomed in the mid to late 1980s (Little and Muir, 1987).


Constraints to fish seed production in Africa

  • High operating costs of Government stations.

  • Low levels of technical expertise.

  • Logistical problems in dissemination of seed to farmers.

Source: Lazard and Legendre (1996)

Poor seed supply has undermined project-led, aquaculture promotion in Latin America and Asia. Government hatcheries were unreliable sources of seed but attempts to promote self-sufficiency among farmers, even of mixed-sex tilapias, met with uneven success (Box 8.E). If government-based carp seed production has proved largely unsustainable in Africa and Latin America, its success has also been patchy in Asia. It is likely that poor demand for exotic carps has often been underestimated as a major cause for this failure, which occurred in countries such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka. In countries where riverine carps are indigenous, such as China and India, their controlled reproduction and that of other introduced carps became rapidly established within the private sector. Countries in which distribution of wild caught seed through trading networks pre-dated hatchery development, such as Bangladesh and Viet Nam, witnessed a particularly rapid spread.


Promoting self-sufficiency of fish seed

Tilapia culture was promoted in both Panama and Guatemala to encourage self-sufficiency of seed and reduce dependence on government supplies of carps:

  • supplies of carp seed from government hatcheries in Panama were unreliable, community pond operators were trained in tilapia seed production techniques;

  • after 14 years, most projects still raising fish were not self sufficient in tilapia seed and remained dependent on the government for restocking;

  • a lack of water, difficulties in managing fry production on a community basis, and continued availability, often subsidised, of seed from the Government were major reasons for this;

  • smallholders continuing to stock carps remained dependent on government supplied seed in Guatemala. Most of the aquaculture sustained was based on stocking mixed-sex tilapia obtained locally.

8.5 Theft and Predation

Theft is a commonly mentioned risk to small-holders fish culture, restricting its adoption throughout the developing world. The fact that ‘theft’ may actually be caused by predation of carnivorous fish, mammals and birds is often overlooked. Theft from ricefields stocked with fish was a common constraint in Thailand and elsewhere where traditionally only the rice was individually managed and other foods common property (Little and Satapornvanit, 1996). ‘Redistribution’, either through purposeful theft or accident through flooding to neighbours or extended family, is also common in Africa and Asia. Aquatic environments make fish and other aquatic products more difficult and risky to manage than terrestrial crops. Escaped fish are almost impossible to reclaim as they cannot be easily marked for identification. Individual growth and survival is problematic to monitor, making strategic theft hard to detect.

Proximity of cultured fish to the homestead, or availability of male household members to guard isolated ponds, are important factors reducing the risk of theft, however.

8.6 Demand

The motivations for attempting aquaculture by small-holders in Asia mirror the range observed by Harrison et al. (1994) in Africa. Generally farming households will view the pond, and the fish in it, as part of a portfolio of assets and opportunities. Their strategies for managing and using the water, fish and other products depend on their resource base and needs. The availability of other livelihood options and relevant information are also critical to determining how farmers use their water resource. Farmed fish are an asset that can be used directly for home consumption or reducing cash expenditure on food. Easy access to cultured fish can also reduce the time spent catching wild fish. Products from the pond may be sold, bartered or given away, in expectation of later reciprocation.

The reasons for agencies to promote, and for the farmers to adopt, aquaculture are complex. The idea that successful small-scale aquaculture is commercial in Asia, as opposed to subsistence in Africa (Hecht, 2000), is simplistic. Low population density, abundant land and demand for fish initially motivated households to try aquaculture in Luapula, Zambia. Farmers were less concerned with fish production becoming a source of income than other factors. In contrast, resource pressures made income generation the main motivation for digging and managing ponds in Western Kenya. Markets and market channels were also better developed in the latter (Harrison, 1994). A similar contrast could be drawn between the market responsive farmers of Northern Viet Nam and subsistence-focused households in less developed and populated parts of Southeast Asia. In the subsistence economy of Rwanda, Hishamunda et al. (1998) found that tilapia culture benefited household welfare much more through income generation rather than home consumption as an enterprise within the farming system.

The amount of fish cultured by households may have less impact on diets and income than is often assumed. In Africa, farmers most successful at producing fish also obtained significant quantities of fish from wild stocks and markets (Harrison et al., 1994). Fish culture had less impact on their household food security than households producing less fish themselves, but with poorer access to alternative sources. Aquaculture was promoted in Northeast Thailand for decades before the impact of the relatively small amounts of cultured fish were placed in context with the generally far more important quantities of fish purchased or caught from the wild (Prapertchob, 1989; Little and Satapornvanit, 1996).

Demand for any type of food reflects cultural norms, availability of substitutes as well as purchasing power and resource wealth. In much of Southeast Asia, fish consumption, by choice, can reach levels of 60 kg. caput-1 year-1 (Sverdrup-Jensen et al., 1992). Clearly, rural households raising fish often have a range of options. Subsistence may still be the major objective of small holders raising fish, even when fish is highly marketable locally. More than half of farmers stocking fish in Northeast Thailand sell no fish (AIT/DOF, 2000) and Lovshin et al. (2000) found that a similar proportion of smallholder fish culture in Guatemala was subsistence-based. Farmers may also view entry into aquaculture as an option to reduce risks associated with declining abundance of wild stocks or to substitute cultured for more valuable wild fish in the diet (Box 8.F).

The need to intensify either livestock or fish production to meet food security and cash needs is still undeveloped in parts of both Africa and the Americas, but this reliance on natural populations or extensive production methods also remains the case in parts of Asia (Little and Edwards, 1997). Traditional livelihoods have often been affected by opportunities in urban markets but have yet to develop towards more intensive food production. As a result, interest in livestock and fish production may remain low even while households lack food. In parts of Ghana, the importance of highly marketable bush meat constrained interest in small livestock that are commonly raised but used mainly for ceremonies and as an emergency reserve (Ruddle, 1996). Project-affected households farming fish tended to sell their game and eat their own cultured fish.

Clearly the development of aquaculture will be slower where fish and other aquatic products are a less important part of traditional diets. Levels of fish consumption are far higher in parts of Africa and Latin America than many areas of Asia. In Iran and Pakistan for example, traditional consumption levels are very low and mainly limited to consumption of marine fish by coastal communities; inland populations in these semiarid environments traditionally have little access to freshwater fish. Large-scale irrigation of inland areas of these countries, such as the Punjab in Pakistan, did little to change traditional attitudes and fish consumption levels have remained low. Demand for fish in these countries is growing more rapidly among urbanized populations than in rural areas.


What happens to farmed fish in rural Africa, Latin America and Asia?

Farmed stocks contribute to household food security through:

  • direct consumption to substitute for declining wild stocks;

  • direct consumption allowing more valuable wild stocks to be marketed off-farm;

  • indirectly through sale for cash as less valuable, small wild fish are available and used for subsistence.

8.7 Multi-purpose Use and Benefits

A common phenomenon is the value of ponds being recognized by rural people in more holistic terms than planned by promoters working towards fixed technical goals. Success in meeting demand has to be considered in more holistic terms than fish yields alone. Production levels of fish in both household and community-level ponds in Latin America were not sustained at levels that met the expectations of their promoters. Ponds were managed principally as a source of irrigation water for rice and/or vegetables once project support was withdrawn. They were also an important resource for watering livestock. Evaluating the contribution of fish alone towards household food security is therefore misleading. Ruddle and Prein (1998), modelling the value of pond water in Ghana, found that water used for vegetables had more impact on cash generation and household food security than the limited output of fish from small ponds. Even significantly increased levels of fish production were found to have marginal impacts. Increased interest in ponds during prolonged periods of drought, principally for the value of the water stored for vegetable and livestock production rather than stocked fish, was common to smallholders in Malawi (Noble, 1996) and Northeast Thailand (Surintaraseree and Little, 1998). The value of the ‘fishpond’ as a multipurpose resource has been accepted in Asia perhaps longer; water resource projects were occasionally ‘disguised’ as fish culture projects in the 1970s and 1980s to fit with donors interest in aquaculture development. The major purpose from the outset, however, was rehabilitation of community water bodies to meet a variety of needs. Holistic analyses of the role of pond and ricefield-based aquaculture within diversified farming systems elsewhere in Asia point to their importance as a multi-use resource, particularly where off-farm irrigation is lacking.

8.8 Beneficiaries

Non-fish farmers

Efforts to promote aquaculture have typically focused on a sub-set of individuals within communities and, indeed, within households. They have often ignored broader resource issues, and benefits and disadvantages, that result for the wider community. Clearly access to, and exploitation of, community water and nutrient resources by some individuals can impoverish others. However, non-fish producers may benefit from aquaculture through improved availability and lower priced fish.

Reduced access to land and water by poorer people as it is appropriated for use for aquaculture by richer people appears to be a significant emerging problem in areas of resource scarcity where, incidentally, conditions are often suitable for aquaculture. Use of low-lying wetland areas (dambos) in Luapula, Zambia for fish pond construction stimulated a scramble for resources in which other uses and users were excluded (Harrison et al., 1994). The same is clearly an impact of successful aquaculture adoption in Bangladesh where drainage of common property water bodies for privatelyowned ponds and encroachment by rice growers is reducing the availability of small indigenous species of particular importance to the poor (Thilsted et al., 1997).


The focus on extension of aquaculture technology to male head-of-households has been questioned for a variety of reasons in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Again, there is probably as much variation within as between these continents, with respect to how decisions of resources are used and benefits distributed. Unequal opportunities within the household to use and inherit land (and ponds), obtain credit, market or distribute products and access information occur widely. Genderblind planning, with negative consequences, has typically been the norm as has a failure to understand other age and power relationships within and between households. Intra-household relationships may be particularly important where food is scarce. Insufficient staple and complementary crop production underlying the malnutrition of resource-poor households farming fish in Ghana are exacerbated by cultural factors governing intra-family food consumption.

Community and group-based development

Promoting aquaculture to groups of farmers has been tried with varying success in all three regions. Sometimes groups are used as the extension focus for either individual household-based production, or for a community-based activity. Efforts to ensure equitable development of aquatic resources have often been an incentive to promote community or group-based aquaculture. A community approach may also result from a lack of potential for the targeted group to have individual ponds, or the fact that the water resource already exists but is underutilized. Rural communities are often situated around natural water bodies. In addition to them being a source of water, they also typically act as drainage basins for livestock and other wastes, and are often highly productive as a result. Sometimes, often as part of efforts to integrate rural development, livestock components have been actively promoted, such as in the Village Fish Pond Project in Northeast Thailand (Box 8.G).


Factors affecting the success of integrated livestock aquaculture in community managed water bodies in Northeast Thailand and Lao PDR

  • The nature of current interaction with livestock. Conflicts arising through access of large ruminants to wallow in community ponds are resolvable through access restrictions.

  • Spatial location of community ponds and settlement pattern of the community1.

  • Traditional management and feeding systems e.g. free-range ducks, liable to theft of eggs and animals led farmers to pen ducks in the homestead plot, reducing access of ducks to water body once intensified1.

  • Use of pig manure allowed the benefits of integration to be appreciated before pigs were relocated to household-managed ponds. Many households abandoned pig production after initial subsidies were withdrawn1.

  • Requirements for an alternative water source for domestic purposes were resolved through provision of shallow well nearby2.

  • The level of regular stock management and harvest.

  • Active village committees, representative of the community and reactive to their needs are critical. Benefits need to be seen to be accorded to the community as a whole, rather than benefit a small elite.

  • Continued access of the poorest to non-fish resources e.g. aquatic plants, crustaceans, amphibians and snails4.

  • Management of stocked community ponds and reduced fishing effort resulted in an increase in the role of the pond as a refuge for wild fish species with potentially beneficial effects on seasonal rice field fish yields5.

Sources: 1AASP (1996); 2Garaway (1995); 3Garaway (1999); 4Lorenzen et al. (1998a); 5Lorenzen et al. (1998b)

A range of management issues reduce opportunities to intensify production, although provision of alternative domestic water supply overcomes some of the problems. Many similarities can be found with the situation in Panama (Box 8.H) where efforts to promote the use of community ponds for fish production have resulted in multiple uses and products being developed, but fish yields well below those technically possible.

Community approaches to extension have proved successful in Asia. In Bangladesh such are the social constraints to targeting aquaculture development to the poorest in the community, a whole village approach has achieved good results. Such community development is not only efficient in terms of extension effort, but the inclusive approach also ensures that social tensions are not exacerbated between wealthier people and poorer groups. The participatory techniques that support the approach have also allowed social constraints, such as participation by women in pond activities, to be overcome by encouraging peer support and evaluation (NFEP, 2000).

The relatively high retention of livestock integrated within community pond systems in Panama, albeit on a more extensive and less consistent level than envisaged by the project planners, is noteworthy. External factors (roads, feed availability and marketing opportunities) had become more positive since project inception. There is also evidence that access to benefits had become more concentrated towards single owners and related kin. The focus on using ponds for rice production suggest that this was a de facto ‘privatization’ of the community resource (Lovshin et al., 1986).

The timing of interest in intensified fish production is often critical. An expected future shortage of fish stimulated attempts at low input community aquaculture in Nigeria, but the relatively high residual wild fish availability and a poor understanding of the social issues undermined the attempt (Thomas, 1994). The constraints identified to (Box 8.I) have also occurred in Asia with similar agro-ecological and social environments.

8.9 Comparing the Regions

A range of factors can be identified that have influenced the belief that rural aquaculture has met with more success in Asia than either Africa or Latin America (Box 8.J). The analysis suggests that a generally higher population density in Asia and greater relative reliance on aquatic food in most rice-dominated agroecologies explains much of this dichotomy, but that aquaculture integrated within the farming system can often be relevant to the needs of poor rural people. The basic constraints to adoption of aquaculture by this group, and its integration with livestock, are similar.


Promoting community-level aquaculture in Panama

In Panama the promotion of aquaculture among organized groups of poor farmers (campesinos) was supported through training, assistance in pond excavation and setting up integrated livestock and crop production over a two year period

Early evaluations found that:

  • groups worked best when the community was not highly stratified;

  • groups in communities with relatively few public and private commercial services;

  • groups with their leadership drawn from within, rather than elites, were most sustainable.

After a period of 14 years, an evaluation found that adoption had not been sustained at the level, or in the manner, planned. Fish production levels had declined and direct nutritional benefits from fish judged minor since the time of the project. However, the community had generally adapted ponds to produce rice, which were often integrated with fish culture, and continued to use them as a focus for livestock and fruit production. Unfortunately, an evaluation of the benefits from these activities was not presented but it seems likely that the current utilization was meeting some needs of the communities involved.

A range of social, economic and technical factors were identified to explain this, all of which could be drawn from projects in Asia:

  • lack of timely availability of fingerlings hindered the efficient use of ponds;

  • groups found it difficult to manage livestock, especially financing inputs. Livestock numbers and management were ‘sub-optimal’ but this was the only major source of nutrients entering the ponds in community projects;

  • poor site selection, especially when water retention was poor and culture seasonal;

  • out-migration of the young, reducing labour availability e.g. men leaving for construction industry;

  • difficulties in managing loans;

  • land ownership issues of community projects.

Source: Lovshin et al. (2000)


A failed attempt at community aquaculture in Nigeria

Situated in the Hadejia-Nguru wetlands of Northern Nigeria, a community approach to aquaculture was promoted in a village of 1200 people. Although fish production per hectare was 171 percent greater in managed compared to unmanaged ponds, and returns to labour were favourable to alternatives, the project was not sustained:

  • the technology was ‘simple’ i.e. wild seed surplus to catches of food fish stocked in ponds fertilized with cow manure;

  • poor levels of community participation were related to:

    ¨ lack of any custom of community fishing, and

    ¨ inappropriate management structure, despite being based on indigenous institutions and maintaining linkages with State organizations.

  • poor levels of education (literacy and numeracy) prevented the community monitoring the project effectively;

  • fishers were reluctant to contribute even low value fingerlings because they were not convinced of a return;

  • change in how the fish were harvested and disposed of conflicted with traditional practices;

  • reduced rights of access to certain groups which increased social tensions between ethnic groups;

  • aquaculture didn’t meet the needs of particularly the poorer people who would rather catch 1 kg of wild fish than obtain more fish later.

Source: Thomas (1994)


Factors influencing the relatively lower success of rural aquaculture in Africa and Latin America than Asia

1. Greater dominance of ‘projects’ in evaluation of success, criteria for success and farmers attitudes to inputs. Greater importance in the ‘culture of development’ to adoption.

2. Less availability of markets and market channels for inputs such as cheap, synthetic net materials.

3. Less long term consistent attempts to promote aquaculture by Government and NGOs.

4. Less core resources developed in terms of early adopters that can support new entrants, although where they have, suggestive of a similar role to that in Asia. This may be related to (3) and a lack of traditional wild seed collection and use.

5. Lower population densities and need for cultured fish and on-farm irrigation also reduces effectiveness of change agents in aquaculture and other new activities.

6. Less traditional importance of freshwater fish in the diet. Relatively smaller proportion of the population in Africa and Latin America where fish and aquatic products constitute a major proportion of dietary animal protein.

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