Training and extension in aquaculture
A research institute (Thailand)
Courtesy of NACA
Governments can promote aquaculture development in a number of ways: for instance, by establishing regulations and incentives that encourage the private sector to participate and invest; or through direct government investment in education, research and training institutions and hatchery facilities. Often though, it is ensuring that there is adequate training and extension available that is critical to the success of programmes.
For a newly developing aquaculture industry there has to be a supply of people who have an understanding of how to operate. Many fields of aquaculture use systems and technologies that have been recently developed and are still fast evolving. Typically the necessary techniques are tested in universities or government research centres, sometimes with input from international specialists, and then the methods have to be transferred to outside producers.
For established aquaculture industries in developing countries, modern technologies are often slow to spread because of a bottleneck between the academic and research sector and the farmers and entrepreneurs out in the field. Once a technology is successfully introduced at the farmer level, it will frequently spread rapidly, but scientists and government managers can often fail to devise ways to cross that first important barrier successfully. In the developed countries, industry magazines and the efforts of salesmen promoting new products can play an important role in the transfer of new ideas to the production sector. In developing countries, however, specialized magazines often have limited circulation and the activities of salesmen can sometimes have a negative impact on farmer success. Especially in rural areas and when training farmers of limited education, other vehicles for knowledge transfer have to be found.
Aquaculture is a practical science and hands-on training through demonstrations, pilot projects and training courses with a strong applied component are likely to be the most successful way of effecting this transfer. Traditional teaching methods, with one expert lecturing to an assembly of farmers in a classroom, have their role to play, but this component of a training programme should be limited. It is often difficult for farmers to give up a whole morning, or a whole day from their other work demands to attend such classes; their concentration span may be short, reducing the actual transfer of knowledge; and, they may be hesitant to move from theory to practice. Group workshops, where the farmers talk as well as listen, are often better training structures, especially if they can be held pond-side with a strong practical component. Better still are pilot demonstrations, where the trainer assists a few farmers to carry out the production themselves, using the technologies that the programme wishes to introduce. The farmers need to be chosen to be typical of, yet influential in, their local community. There also needs to be financial support for the pilot project, including underwriting of the costs. When the farmers achieve success this can be a powerful spur for the technologies to spread. Pilot demonstrations only work if they do achieve successful production however, and it is important that the extension staff carrying out the projects have the necessary competence themselves, that the right sites are chosen and that proper follow-up is included in the programme.
Pondside training for farmers
Many extension programmes fail through funding being insufficient or misapplied. It is important that extension workers not only know more about the practical application of their subject than the target farmers, but that they have the motivation to be out in the field actively promoting the target issues. Bonus schemes based on the production improvements gained in the target community are one vehicle to promote the necessary motivation.
For many aquaculture industries there is a need also for a supply of trained technicians and graduates to support the farmer in fields such as disease identification and treatment, feed technology, seed production. In many cases, universities and training colleges are the most appropriate places to establish such training programmes and it is important that central budgeting authorities recognize the needs of the aquaculture sector so that these can be properly funded.
International agencies typically support training and extension through government and NGO programmes. NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) are often well placed to integrate aquaculture into their existing activities in communities. There are also opportunities to use the resources of the private sector to train independent farmers. In some aquaculture industries, the larger companies play an important role in introducing up-to-date technologies and training local people &endash; some of whom may subsequently set up on their own. They are often also willing to run training schemes for local farmers - as a socially responsible activity and to foster good relations &endash; but in addition because the overall health of an aquaculture industry and its surrounding environment depend on the activities of all the players. Better informed small farmers who run their operations responsibly benefit the whole local industry.