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Pedro Bueno, Director-General, Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific

Aquaculture and aquatic resources in the sustainable development of Asian economies: NACA's role in bringing aquaculture development and aquatic resources management to address more effectively poverty, hunger and resource conservation

Historical background

When the setting up of regional networks of aquaculture centres in Asia, Africa and Latin America was proposed at the global conference on aquaculture in Kyoto more than a quarter of a century ago, the best estimate of global production from farming of aquatic organisms was less than four million tons. In 26 years it increased more than 10-fold to 40 million metric tons. Almost 90 percent of this comes from Asia.

The FAO-convened Kyoto Conference on Aquaculture of 1976 conceived NACA. The network - as a UNDP/FAO regional project - became operational in August 1980. Its purpose was to expand the development of aquaculture in the region. Its development objectives were to: increase production of "fish"; improve rural income and employment; diversify rural farm production; and enhance foreign exchange earnings and savings.

These objectives were to be achieved through coordinated action programmes implemented by a network of regional and national centres and associated institutions and bodies.

Rationale for a network organization

The reason for having a network was that sharing resources and responsibilities among institutions (and countries) is probably the only practical and cost-effective means available (then and now) for identifying and solving the diverse problems - arising from a diversity of species, farming systems and environments and varying levels of development - that the countries of the vast Asia-Pacific region face in modernizing, expanding and sustaining aquaculture.

The networking (and sharing) approach was also in line with the policy of the governments to promote regional self-reliance through technical cooperation.

Cooperation becomes even more compelling with the limited resources of governments and donors and their need to best utilize internal resources and external support. The complex and many challenges faced in the development of aquaculture, a relatively new food producing and employment-generating activity, also argue for a collaborative approach to make efficient use of resources and overcome constraints.

Adding another dimension to cooperation, the NACA members have committed to the principle that the stronger shall assist the weaker members.

Policy and operational strategy

When NACA became an independent intergovernmental body in 1990, it adopted a major change in operational strategy. It had to:

a. become self-sustaining in order to finance core activities (such as technical advice, information exchange and overall network activities coordination and secretariat administration);

b. generate revenues by provision of services against payments, develop programmes and projects for collaborative assistance of donors and development agencies; and

c. forge partnerships with other institutions and work with them on areas of common interests.

These provisions made it possible for NACA to continue as a focal point for the implementation of multilaterally and bilaterally funded regional and national projects.

Ownership and continuity of initiatives

NACA ensures that its programmes and projects address the priority issues and needs articulated by governments in various forums in which NACA is involved. The needs and priorities are translated and formulated into a regional action plan by the Technical Advisory Committee of NACA, which is adopted into the regional work programme by the Governing Council.

Three essential attributes of the NACA programme of work emerge from this arrangement; it is:

These attributes in turn create two important conditions:

Activities of finite projects are taken up in NACA's work programme, assuring continuity of the various initiatives, rather then being terminated when the project ends.

The remit of NACA dictates looking at the issues from the perspective of aquaculture development and aquatic resources management. But it does not preclude looking at them beyond the boundaries of the sector. The complexity and interactions among the issues actually compels one to view them in a systematic and holistic way.

The Governing Council in 1991 endorsed a holistic programme on environment and aquaculture development. In 1994, it mandated a re-orientation of NACA's programme towards the grassroots. Then in 2000, the Council crafted a programme that made "aquaculture for rural development" and "addressing poverty through aquaculture and improved aquatic resources management" the core business of NACA, with an initiative called Support to Regional Aquatic Resources Management (STREAM) as the spearhead. This was in recognition of the importance of aquaculture and aquatic resources for rural livelihoods and the potential of improved aquaculture and aquatic resources management for poverty alleviation and food security.

Status of Asian aquaculture: the operating context of NACA

Broadly, Asian aquaculture:

a. Is now more organized with increasing state support but also greater private sector participation;

b. Productivity has increased faster (average of 10 percent or more over the past decade) than any other agricultural activity owing largely from the better application of technology and technical and management skills;

c. Increasing levels of production have improved the general availability of food to the population and increased the export earnings of national economies;

d. Has contributed to better health, nutritional well-being of people and improved their income; and

e. Has shown a growing sensitivity to the fact that practicing socially and environmentally responsible aquaculture makes good business sense.

On the other hand,

a. Intensified production has begun to stress the land, water and biological resource bases impairing their capacity to continue to support production.

b. More crucially, higher production has not been shown to significantly reduce rural poverty; conflicts over resource use simmer, occasionally flaring up to strain the management and regulatory capacities to deal with them.

c. Promoting cohesiveness and harmony in the face of diverse interests, with the poor and weak often getting ignored, has begun to expose weaknesses in policy-making and governance.

d. Information collection, dissemination and exchange capabilities at the national level have not kept up to par with the modern, IT-led demands of efficient policy-making and management for sustainable development.

e. Finally, there is yet to be a clear understanding and concerted multi-sectoral action to better address trade barriers, competitiveness and other difficult issues in the production and marketing of products in highly competitive markets where it is essential to assume responsibility not only for the price-competitiveness and quality of the product but also for the actions taken, or not taken, in producing it.

This is the context of the work programme of NACA.

Work Programme 2001-2005

The three major guides for the direction and content of this Work Programme are, in the order of their occurrence:

i. The Asian Regional Aquaculture Development Plan prepared by the Regional Planning Workshop on Aquaculture Development held in Kanchanaburi, Thailand in September 1999.

ii. Declaration and Strategy for Aquaculture Development beyond 2000, formulated by the Global Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok in February 2000.

iii. Report of the NACA Task Force, an independent and honorary group of experts[1] constituted by the Governing Council to recommend ways to strengthen the Network Organization; it consulted 19 nations in August-September 2000 and made an analysis of the Organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The Governing Council in its 12th Meeting held in Brisbane in December 2000 adopted the report.

Attributes of the work programme

Thrust: The Work Programme emphasizes rural development, focusing on the social and environmental objectives of reducing poverty, ensuring food security, enhancing livelihoods, managing aquatic resources, promoting a healthful environment and healthy aquatic animals and improving manpower management and technical skills.

Pillars: The Programme is based on building capacities through better education and training and improving support to policies and institutions, facilitating effective research and development by collaborative networking among centres and individuals; and facilitating the sharing of information.

Working principle: The Programme gives coherence and instils relevance to the various efforts to assist governments develop and implement their aquaculture programmes by reflecting their viewpoints and needs.

Guideline for cooperation: Its outlook on regional cooperation is to provide a forum, facilitate the process for stakeholders to act as partners with governments, add value to each other's efforts and collectively own the decisions and policies, therefore drawing stronger commitments from every partner to contribute to the common objective.

Elements of the programme

The work programme has five major elements:

To illustrate the above attributes and demonstrate NACA's support to rural development, five initiatives under the Work Programme are described here:

Support to Regional Aquatic Resources Management (STREAM)

STREAM is a regional initiative to support learning and communication about aquatic resource management, which aims to improve the livelihoods of poor people who depend on aquatic resources. It was mandated by the NACA governments and responds to the needs identified by Asia Pacific governments. It follows from analysis conducted by the Department for International Development (DFID) Aquatic Resource Management Programme, NACA member countries as well as consultations and learning from other initiatives and develops national strategies in consultation with stakeholders. A Country Strategy Paper planning kit is available to explain the national and regional consultative process.

STREAM has the following themes:

Founded by NACA, DFID, FAO and Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), an international NGO, STREAM aims to offer support to the livelihoods of poor peoples who manage aquatic resources (via management of aquaculture or capture of fish or aquatic resources). STREAM was launched in December 2001 and will operate initially for five years. It has set up communication hubs in Cambodia, Viet Nam and the Philippines and begun work on livelihood analyses, capacity building and country strategy papers in these countries. STREAM manages a DFID research project in India, which is identifying mechanisms for transacting policy change. Initial funding for STREAM comes from DFID, AusAID, APEC and Asia-Pacific governments. FAO has contributed (apart from helping develop the concept and collaborating in the precursor activities) a workshop on poverty focusing of small-scale aquaculture. It is now considering support for regional-level activities that will enable wider participation of governments and other sectors.

STREAM responds to requests for support and works in partnership with other stakeholders. There have been requests to support national development processes in Nepal, India and Laos as well as the countries where it currently operates and interest from the World Bank and International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in building partnership links.

Aquatic animal health management in Asia-Pacific

During 1990, a Regional ADB technical assistance project first highlighted the magnitude of the disease problems and identified a number of actions to address these. Under the Asian Aquatic Animal Health Programme, FAO, through a Regional Technical Co-operation Programme (TCP) Project assisted Governments in developing a regional policy to undertake responsible introduction and transfer of aquatic animals. The programme established strategies to minimize the potential health risks associated with live aquatic animal movements and in accord with relevant international agreements and treaties, including the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS) agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the World Organisation for Animal Health). The Regional TCP, implemented by NACA in 1998-2000, in cooperation with 21 participating governments, regional and international experts and regional and international organizations (that include OIE, Fish Diseases Commission (FDC), OIE Tokyo, Aquatic Animal Health Research Institute (AAHRI), AusAID/APEC and AFFA [Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry-Australia]), became the focal point for a strong, multi-disciplinary Asia Pacific Regional Aquatic Animal Health Programme.

The 'Asia Regional Technical Guidelines on Health Management for the Responsible Movement of Live Aquatic Animals and the Beijing Consensus and Implementation Strategy'[3], the supporting 'Manual of Procedures' and 'Asia Diagnostic Guide' were developed through consensus building and consultations. The 'Technical Guidelines' was adopted in principle in June 2000 by participating governments and by the 9th Meeting of the ASEAN Fisheries Working Group in September 2001. The Asia-Pacific Quarterly Aquatic Animal Disease Reporting System and the Asian chapter of Aquatic Animal Pathogen and Quarantine Information System (AAPQIS-Asia) were established under the same cooperative mechanism. Participating countries have drafted National Strategies on Aquatic Animal Health Management. The Strategies are expected to be integrated into national development programmes of countries.

A major step in moving forward the implementation of the Technical Guidelines is the establishment of the Asia Aquatic Animal Health Advisory Group (AG) - an expert group institutionalised under the intergovernmental organization of NACA to provide advice to Asian governments in implementing (and monitoring) the Technical Guidelines and aquatic animal health issues within Asia. The principal objective of the AG is to advise governments on aquatic animal health management and projecting a strong and coherent approach on aquatic animal health management for Asia, including into relevant international trade and standard setting bodies.

This programme activity has sensitised donors and development agencies to assist in its implementation. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) continues to provide valuable assistance. The Mekong River Commission Fisheries Programme is giving priority to the development of a basin wide strategy for controlling aquatic animal diseases in shared watershed among Mekong riparian countries. Other related initiatives include the harmonization and intercalibration of Asian regional diagnostic techniques, farm level health management, mollusc and marine finfish health, genetics and breeding for disease resistance), carried out with other partners.

Additionally, the lessons and experiences from the project has influenced and activities in other regions and helped FAO establish a regional programme on shrimp health for Latin America, fostering linkages between Asia and Latin America through South-South Co-operation.

An APEC-supported training/workshop on import risk assessment was held for Asian and Latin American government as well as bilateral and multilateral project personnel. It drew the participation of FAO, the World Animal Health Organization and experts from both developed and developing APEC economies and laboratories in France and UK.

Supporting development of responsible farming systems and practices

To support the analysis and sharing of experiences on better management practices of shrimp culture, NACA, FAO, the World Bank and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) entered into a Consortium Programme on Shrimp Farming and the Environment. The Consortium Programme identified better management practices under various environmental, economic and social conditions and is assessing the cost-benefits for farmers to adopt these practices.

The work was carried out in three continents, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Americas and involved the participation of more than 100 researchers. NACA was responsible for collecting experiences on better management in Asia. The results of the programme will provide a basis for agreement on a set of principles for responsible shrimp aquaculture (perhaps a regional code of conduct) and possibly a certification system that provides assurance to consumers of high quality product produced using responsible farming practices.

A consultation that was attended by 30 representatives from private, sector and governments, donor organizations, foundations and NGOs held by the World Bank earlier this year identified follow up actions and collaborative arrangements to assist farmer groups and governments implement good management practices. The studies developed under the Consortium Programme are readily available from the NACA website (

NACA continues to support the collaborative development of environmentally sound and socially responsible farming systems and management practices for other coastal aquaculture systems (including coral reef species), inland aquaculture through its network of aquaculture centres and participating institutions and "people oriented" network.

Regional collaborative programme on aquaculture education

The development of a network of regional training and education providers is considered an important, cost-effective strategy that will enable countries to build up human resources in a coordinated manner. A cooperative mechanism, comprising a formal networking of key aquaculture education institutions in Asia, providing high quality aquaculture education, is being developed and the blueprint for it has been drawn through an APEC supported Asia-Pacific consultations held in Hanoi in May 2000 followed by a smaller expert working group meeting also in Hanoi in November 2001. The programme framework and detailed implementation strategy, involving formal qualifications (possibly leading to a "Regional Aquaculture Degree"); credit transfers, delivery in the distance mode, use of Information Technology, has been drawn up based on recommendations arising from the APEC project "Cooperative Aquaculture Education Programme".

Asia-Pacific Marine Fish R & D Network

A fifth activity is the AP Marine Finfish R & D Network (formerly Grouper R and D Network), illustrates how networking coordinates the participation of many institutions and workers to solve common technical problems and share results equitably. The Marine Finfish network is a people-network layered onto an institutional network layered onto an intergovernmental network. Its objectives are to improve coordination of research, provide opportunities for collaborative research and improve communication among researchers in marine finfish. The programme consists of technical, socio-economic (including livelihoods, alternative employment opportunities), marketing, training and extension and information components.

These five programmes described above show that a broad-based participatory multi-institutional collaboration multiply benefits to governments and peoples. They demonstrate how cooperation in areas of mutual interests can effectively muster resources, expertise and institutional support to implement regional projects, promoting synergy, avoiding duplication of activities and expanding the range of beneficiaries.

Working with farmers

In 1995 at the Beijing Workshop of the NACA/ADB regional project on aquaculture sustainability and the environment, the farmer representatives requested NACA to assist in the formation of a regional aquafarmers network. NACA approached this by first carrying out a survey of national and local farmers federations, associations and groups in 16 Asia-Pacific countries; the survey covered almost 400 associations and groups with a combined membership of some 400 thousand.

In January 2002, farmers and aquabusiness people joined a Seminar that ran concurrently with the Governing Council meeting (in Malaysia). A joint meeting of the Council members and the Aquabusiness seminar participants came up with a set of recommendations including measures leading to the formation of a Regional Association of Aquaculture Producers.

Information and communications technology and strategy for networking

Information Technology and Communications Strategy (ICTS) is now used to bringing into the regional programmes more intellectual inputs and resources without spending a lot more money.

A large factor in the success so far achieved in regional aquaculture development is the cooperation among governments and the coordinated participation of national institutions in regional activities. Coordination has facilitated numerous and diverse activities enabled the pooling of scarce national resources and a wide and equitable sharing of results.

The resources existing in the region that can be brought to bear on aquaculture development are enormous. Getting this vast reservoir of human and physical resources applied and focused on regional priorities would greatly accelerate the expanded development of aquaculture regionally and within states.

Information and Communication Technology would facilitate an effective and economic regional coordination of efforts. NACA has been investing in resources and efforts to enhance the regional information system-which now includes databases that support specific projects as well as special and general information packages. It will provide three services:

Information and Communication Technology is intended to complement the traditional means of effecting coordination, delivering information and education and fostering interactions among people taking part in network activities. It is not a substitute, but it is now the only known option to cost-effectively carry out a people-oriented and project-expertise oriented networking mode.

In addition the Information programme is moving to help improve national capacities for accessing and assessing information resources by the knowledge workers and information technologists working in aquaculture and resources management in member countries, particularly the less developed.

To learn better how ICTS could be brought to bear on information needs of local communities; NACA joined a Thai consortium of information providers in agriculture, which is facilitated by Thailand's National Electronic Computer Technology Centre.

Intensifying the use of ICTS for networking draws its rationale from the fact that resource-poor countries can (and traditionally have been shown to) benefit cost-effectively from borrowing and adapting technologies from elsewhere. They need not spend scarce resources reinventing the wheel. Information technology will now allow technologists from poorer countries rapid and economical access to a broader range of information and technology.


Multiplier effects from capacity building

From the organizational perspective, the strengthening of national manpower and upgrading of facilities have created a multiplier effect for various assistance programmes. The multiplier effects include: wider dissemination of results; assurance of follow-up activities within governments thus ensuring continuity of project-initiated activities in the NACA programme of work and utilization of strengthened national institutions by various assistance programmes. A list of selected projects to illustrate the added impact of collaborative and coordinated action under NACA appears as Annex 3.

Cost-effectiveness of collaborative activities

NACA has generated support for the implementation of major regional and national activities from bilateral, multilateral and investment agencies. Capsule descriptions of each activity and the national, regional and international agencies involved are listed in Annex 4. These initiatives illustrate the breadth of multi-institutional collaboration that NACA has been able to facilitate, with the collaboration of various partners in specific activities that match their respective agenda but meet common regional needs. This list shows very clearly that investments of donors and NACA governments have generated considerable multiplier effects for governments, donors and development agencies and ultimately for the people.

[1] The Task Force 2000 members were the former Secretary General of SEAFDEC, the former Coordinator of the NACA Project and the Regional Seafarming Development Project of UNDP/FAO, the founding father of Asian Fisheries Society, and a former Senior Aquaculturist and head of an UNDP/FAO aquaculture development project based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. They divided into two teams, each one accompanied by a NACA Secretariat senior officer as resource person.
[2] In other words, it aims to extend the network to participation of poor people in programme development and implementation to ensure that NACA responds to the needs of the poor in its work program.
[3] FAO/NACA. 2000. Asia Regional Technical Guidelines on Health Management for the Responsible Movement of Live Aquatic Animals and the Beijing Consensus and Implementation Strategy. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 402. Rome, FAO. 2000. 53 p.

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