Disadvantaged groups and aquaculture
Rural fishing communities are often disadvantaged
Courtesy of SFLP 2001
There is a growing global trend towards an intensification of aquaculture systems but the bulk of aquaculture production - roughly estimated at 40% of total world production - is still derived from "rural type" small-scale extensive culture systems. As national surveys show, poverty is concentrated in rural areas (though in Latin America, high levels of urbanization mean that the poor live mostly in urban areas) where this type of aquaculture has an enormous non-quantifiable social value in the reduction of poverty.
The term "rural disadvantaged", as with similar social science terms, has a relative dimension but is normally used synonymously with "rural poor". The absolute sense of "poor", following the World Bank definition, refers to those earning less than the equivalent of US$1 a day, a high proportion of whom are ethnic minorities, landless, women, youth, disabled, malnourished, etc.
Generally, the main characteristics of these disadvantaged groups have to do with their resources, or a chronic lack of access to the five basic capitals: natural (land, animals, water), physical (infrastructure, machinery), financial (money), human (education, knowledge) and social (organizational, collective self-help skills). A major reason why the disadvantaged have so much problem escaping poverty is that they have trouble accumulating such capital. Delivering services to disadvantaged groups has a high unit cost-return because their scale of operation is low, they may live in isolated areas and their ability to co-finance the costs of those services is limited.
Children living in poor rural areas can benefit from well
managed aquaculture projects - FAO/FIRI/R.Subasinghe
Rural aquaculture is often more associated with agriculture than fisheries. As such, disadvantaged groups in rural areas are affected by most of the limitations described above.
Current trends towards less government intervention and the reduction of resources to assist disadvantaged groups highlight the need to make full use of lessons learned from the multiple efforts made in this direction.
What is first needed is an appropriate policy mechanism to enable and ensure that governance hindered by institutional weaknesses - common in developing countries - are compensated by the participation of all involved stakeholders (administrators, politicians, aquaculturists, environmental and interested organizations). Usable strategies suitable for implementation must be developed for private sector involvement .
In addition to governance, other sustainable livelihood approaches (SLA) must be applied with emphasis on:
Small-scale aquaculture in general has traditionally received significant assistance from governments and developing agencies until reaching self-sustainability. The new scenario, with less capacity by governments for this type of support, demands alternative innovative development methods bearing in mind that, the poorer the target group, the heavier and longer the assistance. This applies especially to extension and technical assistance strategies. Development projects must last long enough for the activity to become self- sustainable:
The following are some of the most representative initiatives carried out:
Perspectives for aquaculture practiced by disadvantaged groups vary significantly from region to region: as far as small-scale rural aquaculture is concerned, land tenure and increased rate of urbanization is an important issue in Latin America, sustainable resource management (i.e. soil fertility) is very important for Africa and sustainable production technologies (i.e. rice-fish production) is a very important issue in Asia. In any case, it would not make much sense to discuss the future of aquaculture as a tool for poverty alleviation for disadvantaged groups in isolation from whole rural development trends.
Developing countries - in their new "facilitating" role - should retain some "interventionist" functions when dealing with certain issues such as rural disadvantaged groups. The adoption of food producing technologies such as aquaculture should, however, be based on a full knowledge of its potential and limitations. Investments in these projects could in some cases be better used in other more cost-effective activities.
Small-scale aquaculture, like many other food producing methods used in the poor rural world, could be considered a primitive, low-efficient technology, nonetheless it is still a valid way of decreasing hunger in many parts of the world. Modern aquaculture will develop better and more efficient technologies to cope with the increasing demand of fish products but small-scale rural aquaculture will keep being a very important issue regarding food security for disadvantaged groups. It would be too simplistic to think that, as the technology involved is very simple, its implementation is also simple. There is still much room to explore how to improve the existing knowledge on the social, economic and biotechnological components of small-scale rural aquaculture.