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FAO assists rehabilitation of Tsunami devastated aquaculture sector in North Sumatra, Indonesia - Rohana Subasinghe[8] and Michael J. Phillips[9]

As part of its efforts to help Indian Ocean countries recover from the devastating effects of last December's Tsunami, the FAO held a three-day workshop in July 2005, in collaboration with the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), Directorate General of Aquaculture (DGA) and Provincial Government of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF). The workshop brought state, private, donor, NGO, and other partners involved in aquaculture rehabilitation in Aceh Province together to discuss and develop a strategy for sustainable aquaculture rehabilitation in the province.


The aquaculture sub-sector in Aceh is socially, economically and environmentally important, and a significant part of the livelihoods of many coastal people. The main aquaculture system is brackishwater pond farming (locally known as tambaks) covering around 47 000 ha producing mainly milkfish and shrimp. According to official statistics, in 2003, around 6 100 tonnes of milkfish were produced, destined for local domestic food and bait for tuna long lining; and an estimated 10 300 tonnes of shrimp were harvested from tambaks, destined for export markets (via traders to Medan). A range of minor species were also produced in tambaks, including mullets, crabs, seabass. There were also a small number of fish cages in Simueleu Island producing high value groupers for export. The aquaculture production in Aceh was supported by inputs of fish and shrimp seed from local shrimp hatcheries and nursing of milkfish, and with feed, fertilizer and other inputs through local trading networks.

The tambak farming in Aceh province is dominated by traditional, low input farms producing shrimp and milkfish in polyculture and monoculture. Semi-intensive and intensive shrimp farms are also present, but make up a small proportion of the total area. Intensive and semi-intensive shrimp farming also increases towards Medan, and recently on the west coast. Most traditional farmers are small-scale farmers (<2 ha). Land/farm ownership and employment patterns vary, and include owneroperated, rented, contract farming labour, as well as some community managed ponds. The varied ownership patterns and beneficiaries make post-tsunami recovery interventions potentially complex.

The number of people involved in aquaculture in Aceh is highly significant. According to Dinas Perikanan statistics, there are 14 859 brackishwater farming households. However, it appears that these figures (essentially only farm owners or operators) significantly underestimate the number of people involved, that includes labourers, suppliers of inputs, marketing, services. Each hectare of pond supports between 1 and 2 people/ha, including labour. For 47 000 ha of ponds, there are therefore likely to be up to 94 000 people involved.


The Tsunami of 26th December 2004 severely affected aquaculture in Aceh province, and the island of Nias off the west coast of the province of North Sumatra. The impacts include the following:

Aquaculture facilities. FAO assessments suggest that at least 20 000 ha of tambaks have been effectively put out of production by the Tsunami, with over 13 000 ha of ponds severely damaged or lost, a major loss of a significant source of income and employment for the province.

Households. FAO assessments suggest that at least 40 000 people directly employed in aquaculture in Aceh have been affected, with significant knock-on effects to households dependant on aquaculture. Loss of life was most severe on the west coast, but the Tsunami has destroyed a source of livelihood for many thousands of people living on the east coast where tambak farming was well established.

Public services. Public services, including the Dinas Perikanan (Fisheries Department) at District and Provincial levels, the Ujung Batee Regional Aquaculture Development Centre and Universities in Aceh lost staff and facilities during the Tsunami, severely affecting their capacity to support rehabilitation.

Private services. Private sector organizations, including the tambak farmer associations, also lost members during the Tsunami. Input suppliers, including shrimp/fish collectors, feed business and traders were also directly and indirectly affected. The business of aquaculture has effectively stopped in the major farming areas of the east coast, and disappeared from the severely impacted west coast. Interventions are therefore required for the rehabilitation of livelihoods of people dependant on aquaculture in the short, medium and long-term.

John Ackerman, Australia


Over the past several months, since the Tsunami tragedy, some immediate emergency assistance have been received for fisheries sector rehabilitation, in particular provision of crafts, parts, gear, and other materials necessary for re-establishing fishing activities by the affected communities. However, little assistance for reestablishing productive activities in the aquaculture sector has so far been provided to the communities and the state authorities. This shortfall needs urgent rectification.

It appears that one of the reasons for little rehabilitation work in aquaculture sector is the lack of an over-all strategy for sustainable aquaculture rehabilitation, which includes major areas such as environmental sustainability, social equity, and food safety. No one organization or donor can support the considerable and diverse needs for rehabilitation of aquaculture in Aceh. Several organizations and donor/development agencies are now getting engaged in providing assistance to the communities and the state authorities. These agencies all have important and complementary skills and resources to offer. FAO and NACA thus advocate the adoption of a "partnership" approach, with partnership between government and major supporting donors and technical agencies to promote collaboration and communication in supporting the rehabilitation of aquaculture.

As aquaculture rehabilitation has already begun and various relief groups are working towards sector rehabilitation, it is imperative that the necessary guidelines, principles and norms for rehabilitation are set and agreed, as soon as possible to ensure rehabilitation and rebuilding of the aquaculture sector is environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and economically viable.

The workshop agreed on an implementation plan for sustainable rehabilitation of the aquaculture sector, including a set of environmental principles guiding the process rehabilitation of brackishwater aquaculture ponds in Aceh (see page 37).

Farmers reconstructing aquaculture ponds under the cash for work programme

Hassanudin, Ujung Batee, Aceh, Indonesia

[8] Rohana P. Subasinghe
Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service
FAO Fisheries Department, Rome e-mail:
[9] Michael J. Phillips
NACA, Bangkok, Thailand e-mail:

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