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Helping fisherfolk help themselves

FAO partnership in Asia-Pacific promotes community-based resource management

19 December 2003, Bangkok, Thailand — Millions of poor families in Asia depend on the bounty of small-scale fish farms, lakes, inland waterways and the ocean for their survival.

In some countries here – such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines – close to 50 percent of people's animal protein intake comes from fish consumption. Overall, the region accounts for around two-thirds of the world's total consumption of fish, FAO studies show.

In fact, for many poor Asian communities aquatic resources represent a crucial rural safety net that not only bolsters household food security but also gives families a way to earn extra cash selling on local markets, says Simon Funge-Smith, FAO regional aquaculture officer for Asia and the Pacific.

A hidden bounty

But though small-scale artisanal fishing and fish farming are crucial to so many of Asia's poor, national policies and development strategies don't always reflect this reality.

"Unfortunately, the benefits of these sectors are often hidden from view, overlooked by agricultural economists or overshadowed by export-focused policies," Funge-Smith explains.

Another challenge facing poor fisherfolk in Asia -- as well as the government institutions mandated to help them -- is the lack of information about small-scale aquaculture and fishing techniques that have been employed successfully by poor communities elsewhere.

"Information sharing among the countries and communities in the region is vital for empowering people and to learn from each other, not only the success stories, but also the costly failures," Rohana Subasinghe, a senior fisheries officer at FAO. "The more we communicate, the more we learn."

Trickle-up development

To help poor Asian families dependent on aquatic resources learn how to sustainably tap those resources to earn more money and produce more food, the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) joined with FAO, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, and Voluntary Service Overseas to establish the Support to Regional Aquatic Resources Management (STREAM) Initiative.

The basic idea: provide empowering support to poor people whose livelihoods depend on fishing, aquaculture or harvesting of aquatic resources while helping them to become actively involved in policy-making related to these resources.

"STREAM is a network aimed at capacity building and information sharing," explains Subasinghe. "We're trying to arrive at a better understanding of how poor people in Asia rely on fishing and fish farming, identify ways we can help them do more, spread understanding of these issues throughout the region, and finally help these communities have a voice in shaping the policies that affect them."

At the same time, he says, STREAM documents what it learns about the livelihoods of the poor – and what capacity-building strategies have proved successful in helping them capture or farm more fish – and passes that information on to national agencies and policy-makers.

"In this way, STREAM is a response to Chapter 26 of Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which calls on the international community to help empower indigenous people and their communities' to participate in the national formulation of policies, laws and programmes relating to resource management and development that may affect them," adds Graham Haylor, the project's director.

Key STREAM activities include:

• convening regional and national meetings and workshops that provide communities, policy-makers and resource managers with opportunities to learn, teach, network and share information across sectoral and national boundaries;

• producing national aquatic resource inventories that take stock of local aquatic resources, document how the poor utilize them and assess the policy frameworks that affect their ability to do so;

• disseminating information via a multilanguage learning journal and an extensive online library and database collection;

• monitoring different management approaches and engaging with policymakers to shape development strategies that help the poor make the most of aquatic resources.

Casting a wide net

Currently, STREAM has offices in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal, the Philippines and Viet Nam. They are woven together into a large network via a coordinated Internet communication strategy, gatherings and workshops, regular conference calls and the publication of learning materials in different languages and dialects.

On the ground, national coordinating teams manage country offices, working in close cooperation with partners ranging from government agencies to academic centres to non-profit organizations and community groups.

The communication that occurs is really quite extraordinary," says Haylor. "STREAM is sharing learning across 14 different languages through a communications process that allows a farmer’s story spoken in chotanagpuri (an Indian tribal language) to be recorded in Hindi, translated into English, then into local languages in many other Asia Pacific countries, and then read by service providers and farmers all across the region."

Since its inception in December 2001, STREAM has chalked up a number of accomplishments.

In India, for example, the initiative helped give poor people from tribal communities a voice shaping that country's current five-year development plan.

In Cambodia, STREAM support paved the way for local communities to assume an active role in co-managing inland fisheries there.

In Viet Nam, STREAM collaborated with the Ministry of Fisheries Viet Nam to create a Sustainable Aquaculture for Poverty Alleviation programme, which, instead of taking a top-down approach, addresses the needs of fishers and farmers from the perspective of their own objectives.

And across the region, national fisheries departments and agencies are using the STREAM network to coordinate activities and pool resources, share information and experiences, and acquire new knowledge and expertise.

George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 53168



STREAM is working with villagers in India to help them engage in policy discussions regarding the management of the aquatic resources on which their livelihoods depend.


Once a small-scale trader in aquaculture seed stock, Ras Behari Baraik of Chhota Changru Village in India now runs his own diversified aquaculture operation, which brings some 50 jobs to his hometown.

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©FAO, 2003