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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsfor a world without hunger
Rural fishing communities are often disadvantaged
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
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.

Possible solutions

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:

  • target-group selection - tools for this purpose such as Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) have significantly improved the process;
  • open-ended development projects with flexibility for interventions;
  • identifying and implementing viable strategies to transform structures and processes (laws, regulations, institutions, land tenure, wealth distribution, social equity, etc.).

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:

  • no matter how small a farm that includes some aquaculture component, it must be managed with an entrepreneurial approach. Fish for food is important but fish for cash has proved to be the recurrent motivation;
  • projects must encompass all the components of the activity: technology, training (technical, entrepreneurial, to form associations), inputs, infrastructure, credits, commercialization;
  • from a technical point of view, farming systems and low-energy cost culture methods, are the key elements to success.

Actions taken

The following are some of the most representative initiatives carried out:

  • In the SADCC countries of Southern Africa, the recently-completed FAO Aquaculture for Local Community Development Programme implemented numerous projects addressed to disadvantaged groups. These include utilization of small water bodies in Lesotho, integration of fish farming into the farm-household system in Luapula Province-Zambia, adoption of fish farming in Eastern Province-Zambia, integration of gender issues into fish farming in Chimbote-Zambia, rehabilitation of homestead ponds in Lumombo Region-Swaziland, developing community-based management of fisheries resources in small water bodies in Zimbabwe, utilization of small water bodies in Botswana.
  • The FAO Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) aims at increasing food security in low-income food deficit countries (LIFDC) through rapid increases in productivity and food production as well as through reduction in year-to-year production variability on an economically and environmentally sustainable basis. Small-scale rural aquaculture with important components for disadvantaged groups has been included in many of these SPFS projects that focus on irrigation.
  • A pipeline project between FAO and the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) is bound to become the first systematic initiative to promote small-scale aquaculture and associated aquatic resource management within the Asian region as an important contributor to improved rural livelihood systems that responds to concerns for: improved household food security, poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and gender equity.
  • Rice-fish farming, as a tool for poverty alleviation and food security for disadvantaged groups, has received a great deal of attention in the recent past. FAO has implemented several projects in Africa and Asia in collaboration with the Consultative Group on International Rice Research Institute (CGIAR), the WorldFish Center the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and others.
  • In Latin America, a network on rural aquaculture, partially funded by FAO, advocates for an improvement of target-group identification allowing for the selection of disadvantaged groups, operates from a private University in Chile, based on two regional meetings organized recently on this subject.


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.

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