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4. Conclusions

As the predominant research/extension paradigm in sub-Saharan Africa, the T&V approach must be considered the baseline against which to compare and contrast newer approaches. The T&V approach relies heavily on good quality and properly equipped extension staff that can transfer technical information generated at research stations or universities to poorly educated farmers. These extension agents must be able to read technical journal articles and then condense the key elements based on personal experience with local farm conditions into information packages that are understandable by farmers. Unfortunately, this critical component of the system is usually lacking or available only for short periods of time while donor-supported projects are fully functional. Only a complete reform of the extension service that would substantially improve remuneration packages and reward extension agents for success by promoting them within the field of extension rather than moving them up and away from contact with farmers is likely to render this system functional. Cosmetic alterations based on short-term, in-service or overseas training have made no fundamental changes to the productivity of aquaculture extension.

On the other hand, progress has been made in several countries based on a re-structuring of the relationship between research, extension and farmers. In Madagascar, instead of attempting to directly assist large numbers of small-scale rice farmers to add fish, attention was focused on a much smaller number of individuals who (i) had some experience with aquaculture; (ii) had some education and capital assets; and (iii) were interested in assisting their fellow farmers. Working with these individuals was much easier and more effective because the number of extension agents could be effectively reduced and those remaining better trained and equipped. With this approach, both numbers of farmers and production per farm has increased, albeit at the cost of a relatively long-term commitment from external donors.

In Zambia, a longer-term commitment to participatory development paradigms has paid off in terms of steady, if not staggering, progress. Without large training or equipment budgets, highly generalized and relatively simple technology was easier for extension agents and impoverished farmers to implement. This focus on process rather than technology is now coming to the fore in many countries. However, most of the gains have been in terms of numbers of farmers, each of whom produces relatively few fish with minimal overall impact on national poverty alleviation and food security objectives.

A third approach that has shown promising results in Cameroon is based on the adaptation of more advanced technology to increase both adoption and yield, while remaining within the national budget. In this system, researchers who normally concentrate on controlled experiments and journal articles, are attached to small teams of extension agents who carry-out participatory trials and/or experiments aimed at adapting aquaculture to fit specific farming situations. Rather than working with farmers to comprehend complex systems and then adopting them wholesale, participatory research is evolutionary and comes up with a slightly different technology for each farm. This approach can be highly flexible and usable under a wide range of conditions[2]. By enlisting the direct engagement of researchers, the cost of the overall extension system is somewhat higher, but only marginally so when compared to the low cost-effectiveness of the T&V system currently in place.

Key issues for aquaculture development planning

Based on our review of national aquaculture extension programmes, a number of key issues have been identified that should be considered when planning aquaculture development:

[2] For more information see: Brummett, R.E. 1999. Integrated aquaculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Environment, Development and Sustainability 1(3/4):315-321 and Brummett, R.E. & Williams, M.J. 2000. The evolution of aquaculture in African rural and economic development. Ecological Economics 33:193-203.

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