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RRA was used by a regional aquaculture programme in Southern Africa to investigate the potential for the enhancement of fisheries on small water bodies. The techniques used are described and some of the results obtained and problems encountered discussed.

2.1 ALCOM and small water bodies in Southern Africa

The Aquaculture for Local Community Development Programme (ALCOM) is a regional aquaculture programme of the FAO which has been working in 9 countries in Southern Africa since 1986. It objectives are to develop aquaculture technologies and aquaculture development and extension approaches appropriate for poor rural communities in the region. One of the activities which ALCOM was asked by its participating countries to work on was the development of fisheries in “small water bodies”.

The term “small water bodies” covers a wide range of areas of water of different sizes, environments and uses including irrigation, livestock watering, household water supply, power generation and, in some cases, fisheries.

To address the issues of fisheries development in these small water bodies, ALCOM first of all had to find out more about this range of uses and where fisheries fitted into local people's exploitation of these water bodies. From past experience, ALCOM understood that fisheries in many rural communities in the region was generally only one of a variety of livelihood strategies employed by rural households. Aquaculture development and fisheries enhancement in the past had often been promoted by fisheries planners without a proper understanding of how it would fit into existing rural systems. ALCOM was anxious to avoid similar mistakes in trying to identify avenues for development of small water bodies

So the first phase of the activity was to try to achieve a better understanding of how local people currently used these water bodies, how important fisheries was currently, what the potential for expansion might be, and how fisheries development would fit in with the other multiple uses of these water bodies.

2.2 Why RRA?

ALCOM already had considerable experience with studies like this - much of the first phase of the programme had consisted of studies on aquaculture and inland fisheries in Southern Africa and their place in rural systems. Several structured, questionnaire-type surveys had been carried out generating considerable quantities of data and much valuable information.

But some of the drawbacks of these types of formal surveys had also become apparent. They were time-consuming, expensive and prone to biases. An evaluation of a pilot survey (Wikstrom and Aase, 1988) carried out in Zambia showed how outsiders' preconceptions about aquaculture (for instance that pond harvesting is periodic as opposed to continuous) could lead to serious problems in questionnaire design. Surveys almost always seemed to generate much more data than was really needed and often not all the data produced would be used. There was also a general feeling among both participating countries and donors that preliminary studies were perhaps absorbing too much time and energy.

There was therefore a need to look for an approach to collecting information and identifying potential activities which would do the following:

Quite independent of this particular activity relating to small water bodies, ALCOM was already interested in the use of Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) as an alternative approach to initiating its development activities. RRA approaches had already been used by some workers on the programme to carry out participatory research. The decision to try to develop an RRA approach that could be used for investigating small water bodies was therefore logical.

It was hoped that a shorter, more flexible approach to collecting information could focus more effectively on what was really needed in order to plan an activity. The multidisciplinary approach used in RRA seemed to make it an appropriate tool for looking at the multiple uses and users of small water bodies and for putting fisheries in its proper perspective. The semi-structured interview techniques which are the basic tool of RRA would hopefully allow local people to communicate their own priorities regarding the use of their water bodies, something that would be difficult to do in the context of a structured, questionnaire survey.

RRA clearly would not provide the sort of hard data which would give a precise quantitative picture of conditions in communities around the water bodies being looked at. But it was, in any case, unthinkable that such surveys could be carried out on a large enough sample of small water bodies to accommodate the variations which were known to exist between different locations. For those water bodies selected, RRA could provide a quantitative picture which was “good enough”, at least in the short-term. Qualitatively it could probably provide a better picture as it would allow more attention to be paid to historical processes, social dynamics and unexpected variations in conditions.

What's more, it could do this fairly quickly. If more detailed surveys were required (for example to provide baseline information for monitoring and evaluation) they could be carried out just on those water bodies which had already been identified as possible project sites using RRA. Their scope and coverage could be limited to those issues which really needed to be quantified as opposed to just collecting data for the sake of collecting data.

2.3 Trying out the RRA approach

These initial trial RRAs covered three small water bodies in Zimbabwe, taking about 7 weeks overall for preliminary training of an RRA team, workshops to initiate each RRA, field work in each of the three locations and reporting of the results. In addition, a manual on the training approaches used was produced shortly afterwards for use by other ALCOM staff in similar RRA activities in other participating countries in the region.

RRA Team-Formation

It was not possible to have the same participants for all three RRAs. However a core team of ALCOM staff, both international and national, were able to give some continuity to the activity.

The other key consideration when forming the teams for the RRAs was the need to avoid an undue bias towards fisheries, even though ALCOM's primary institutional interest was in fisheries development. To ensure that a balanced view of people's use of small water bodies would be obtained, a range of skills and disciplines were called upon both from within the programme and outside. An ecologist, an economist, a farming systems specialist, a nutritionist and a social anthropologist from ALCOM itself all took part as well as aquatic biologists and aquaculture specialists. From outside the programme, participants were drawn in from national-level aquaculture extension programmes and from a range of national, district and local-level agencies including agricultural extension, community development, youth development and political affairs. A specialist in institutional development from the NGO sector was also involved in one of the appraisals.

In practice, the inclusion of people from a range of institutional levels proved to be as important as the coverage of a range of technical disciplines. Local-level workers who took part in the appraisals were able to provide a very different point of view on local problems to that provided by national and international “experts”, as well as providing crucial links with local people and an important fund of local experience and knowledge. Special attention was also paid to achieving a reasonable balance of women and men on the team as there was a strong awareness of the possibilities for gender bias. Obviously, basic questions of the personnel available and willing to participate also played a considerable role in team formation. Table 1 gives the disciplines and institutions represented in each of the three RRA teams.

Table 1
Disciplines, institutions and gender breakdown for RRA teams on 3 small water bodies in Zimbabwe

Chichewo DamTaru DamMwenje Dam
Fisheries          & Extension Specialists
(M × 2)
National Fisheries Extension ProgrammeAgriculture Specialists
(M × 2)
(F × 1)
District Agricultural Extension ServiceAgriculture Specialists
(M × 2)
(F × 1)
District Agricultural Extension Service
Agriculture Specialist
(M × 1)
District Agricultural Extension ServiceCommunity Development Specialist
(M × 1)
District Political AffairsCo-operatives Specialist
(F × 2)
District Community Development Service
Co-operatives Specialist
(F × 1)
District Community Development ServiceAquatic Biologist
(M × 1)
ALCOMCommunity Development Specialist
(F × 1)
(M × 1)
District Political Affairs
Community Development Specialist
(M × 1)
District Political AffairsEconomist
(F × 1)
ALCOMInstitutions Specialist
(M × 1)
National NGO
Aquatic Biologist
(M × 1)
(F × 1)
ALCOMAquatic Biologist
(M × 1)
(F × 1)
ALCOMRRA Specialist
(M × 1)
(F × 1)  
Aquaculture Specialist
(M × 1)
ALCOM   Agronomist
(F × 1)
(F 1)
RRA Specialist
(M × 1)
ALCOM  Ecologist
(F × 1)
(M × 1)
* Note:
= female
= male
   RRA Specialist
(M × 1)

RRA Implementation

Potential locations for the RRA had been identified by ALCOM staff and some basic secondary data, such as maps and statistics, collected ahead of time for those locations. Also a range of potential participants had been identified and contacted.

Each of the three RRAs then followed basically the same pattern. The team participants, who ranged from 8 to 14 in number, were gathered together in a local meeting room where the best part of the first day was spent providing an introduction to RRA techniques.

Immediately following the review of RRA approaches and training in RRA techniques, the specific preparations for each RRA were made. Secondary data was reviewed, a provisional checklist of topics for discussion with local people was prepared, and possible techniques for approaching each topic discussed. A list of key informants was usually drawn up using the local knowledge of participants already familiar with the working area and the team was provisionally broken up into groups of 2 or 3 for the fieldwork.

This process usually took up some time on the second day of the RRA as well, but, by the afternoon of Day 2, the work in the field could usually begin. Field work generally continued for three to four days. Workshops were held each evening, and sometimes on an ad hoc basis in the field, to review findings as succinctly as possible and to review and update the checklists of issues to be addressed. The techniques being used would also be discussed and any other adjustments to the appraisal procedure which seemed appropriate. At these workshops, the working teams for the field would also be continually shuffled so that each team member would work with all the other team members at some stage during the RRA. Where specific technical issues needed to be investigated, participants with relevant disciplinary experience would be assigned to look at those issues.

For the last day of the appraisal a community meeting was held in each community to present the team's findings and discuss them with members of the community. For these meetings, relevant representatives of the local authorities or other agencies concerned with issues raised by the appraisal were also invited to participate.

Subsequently, the materials prepared by team members for presenting the team's findings in these community meetings were elaborated upon for use in the reports for each RRA which were ready within about two weeks of the end of the entire exercise.

2.4 RRA techniques

Semi-structured interviewing

The most important technique used during the course of most of these RRAs was the semi-structured interview. For these interviews, the issues and topics in the RRA checklist for each appraisal were split up among different interview teams and used as a guide during interviewing. There were no pre-set questions posed but the RRA teams were trained to use open questions regarding topics which were of interest. One person in each team did the talking to respondents while the other took notes.

Based on population statistics available, different interview teams were given different areas of the communities around each water body to cover and a very approximate number of households and individuals to contact and interview each day. During the repeated workshops carried out after each day's fieldwork, a progressively better idea of the stratification and the socio-economic or ethnic groupings in each community were developed and this was used to check on the coverage being obtained by interviews. Rough sketch maps of the area prepared with local people's help enabled the team to make sure that they were not “missing” any particular groups or settlements.

Interviews were carried out with a range of people in different situations. A few key older persons in each community were generally identified early on in each RRA and interviewed about historical changes in the area, the history of the water bodies being considered and the cultural, ethnographic and political background of the people living nearby.

In conjunction with these interviews, the RRA team made use of a range of “visualisation” techniques to assist in clarifying ideas during the course of discussions with local people. Information was “triangulated” as far as possible : in other words, for each topic or issue, at least three different interview teams talked to three different respondents or groups of respondents using three different techniques to discuss each issues. This process of “triangulation” permitted as reasonable degree of cross-checking of information obtained by the team about key issues.


As a starting point for discussion with some individuals and groups of people in the villages, rough maps of the area around each water body were drawn up. These were usually prepared on the ground using whatever materials were at hand - sticks, stones, seeds and lines drawn in the dirt. Where possible, nearby hills were used as a means of obtaining a “bird's-eye view” from which local people could directly indicate particular features of the landscape and territory which were of importance to them.

The preparation of these maps served several purposes:

One of these sketch maps is given in Figure 1. The map exercise in this particular case clarified for the RRA team the conflicts between official and actual land uses. The priority given to the communal irrigated vegetable garden, a community initiative, reflected the villager's priorities regarding the use of water from the dam.

Distance charts
Another form of mapping which proved to be of particular use in identifying stakeholders in small water body management was what the team called “distance charts”. These identified, again using simple drawings usually on the ground, all the communities from which people came to use a particular water body, their relative distances and the use they made of it. Other water bodies in the surrounding area were also located and their condition noted, particularly whether they held water year round as this tended to be a prime factor influencing people's movements to other nearby dams.

Figure 2 shows one of these distance charts. The prime importance of this particular dam as a watering place for cattle, particularly during drought periods when many other nearby dams dried up, was highlighted by this chart. The range of stakeholders needing to be drawn into discussions of the dam's future therefore needed to be correspondingly enlarged.

Transect walks through the areas around the water bodies, in company with local people, were used to get a complete picture of the different zones and land use. Problems and issues were then discussed relating to specific zones as opposed to the area as a whole. For discussion, these were represented in a similar way to the maps, on the ground using ad hoc materials. Figures 3 and 4 give some examples of different types of transect diagramme developed with local people's help.

These transects assisted in concentrating discussions on specific zones and the activities carried out there and identifying some key problems which were of direct relevance to the potential for fisheries development on the dam. For example, in the area illustrated in Figure 3, the transect diagrammes brought out the general scarcity of cow dung for fertiliser for agriculture. Given that addition of nutrients to the dam was one of the main technical options available for fisheries enhancement, this had important implications.

Different forms of ranking exercise also provided a useful focus to interviews with local people. Different crops, types of food, fish species, land uses and water uses were ranking according to a variety of criteria suggested by local people themselves. The ranking could be carried out again using simple visualisation techniques on the ground or floor, depending on the location of the interview. Usually some form of grid would be drawn up with the items being ranked down one side, clearly identified using symbols of some kind, and the criteria for ranking along the other axis, again using symbols of some kind. Figure 5 gives a simple example of preference ranking of fish in one community according to a variety of criteria.


“grazing land”- theoretically for livestock grazing only : no housing or cultivation
“arable land”- officially set aside for housing and cultivation
FIGURE 1- residential area



FIGURE 2-dam with water (September, 1991)
FIGURE 2-dam without water (September, 1991)
FIGURE 2-kraal whose cattle use Taru Dam + distance in kms.
FIGURE 2-kraal whose people fish at Taru Dam + distance in kms.






This ranking exercise highlighted the local preference for fish and the existence of substantial unsatisfied demand. However, discussion with local people of the relative importance of different foods in the local diet also clarified that fish was regarded as a “condiment” rather than a “meat”. The availability of fish therefore needed to be compared not so much with other types of animal protein as with other “condiments”, such as gourds and pumpkins, green vegetables and insects or small animals collected in the bush.

Calendars and time use diagrammes
The ways in which different seasonal activities are woven together to form livelihoods through the year were discussed using calendars, also drawn up on the ground using appropriate materials. This helped the RRA team to understand where fisheries fitted into household livelihood strategies and its relative importance. Figure 6 shows how the supply of fish from one dam corresponded with the availability of other foods from different sources.

The time-use diagrammes used in Figure 7 highlighted the differences between women's and men's activities and the extreme irregularity through the year of employment, particularly for men during the dry season. This would clearly be of significance in the event of a project attempting to formulate income-generating activities in such an area.

Historical events and changes were discussed using timelines drawn on the ground such as that shown in Figure 8. First of all, a few key past events - in most cases periods of drought - were identified and used as reference points for the formulation of the time frame. Then other events mentioned by local people in reference to the dam and water use were located along the line in reference to these events. This helped clarify the sequence of changes and put current conditions in historical perspective.

Venn diagrammes
This form of diagramme was used during the discussion of the institutions and agencies responsible for different aspects of dam management in one of the RRA locations. The graphic layout helped to clarify the relationships between different organisations and eventually helped the team to identify some of the key administrative issues which were creating problems for fisheries management on the dam. Figure 9 show the Venn diagramme developed.

2.5 RRA findings

An important part of the activity was to develop and learn about the RRA process itself and assess its usefulness for the task at hand. This was largely carried out during the training sessions and preparatory workshops carried out for each RRA as well as during the field work where the activity, the techniques used and the problems encountered were continually reassessed during repeated workshops held in the field.


Not bonyGood sizeNo religious prescriptionTaste

SEASONAL CALENDAR showing availability of FISH, VEGETABLES and WILD FOODS (insects and grubs) TARU DAM, ZIMBABWE (1991)








However, the results of the RRAs themselves were indicative of the potential uses, and limitations, of the approach. On the one hand, two of the RRAs clearly showed that fisheries and fisheries development were a relatively low-priority for the people living around small water bodies, at least in relation to some of the other uses of those water bodies. While fish from these water bodies often made a small but significant contribution to people's diet in surrounding areas, uses such as irrigation and the watering of livestock were generally regarded as being more important. On one larger, older dam, fisheries had become a significant source of income for a small group of local people and there was sufficient importance attached to the fishery to generate problems over fisheries management.

For ALCOM, this meant that, in two out of three areas looked at, there were no feasible fisheries enhancement measures to be undertaken with local communities in the immediate future. In a third location, assistance was subsequently offered to improve the management arrangements on the dam which suffered from administrative and organisational boundaries which were inappropriate for effective control of fishing.

2.6 “Aquaculture” RRAs

These initial RRAs undertaken by ALCOM generated useful information about the uses and users of small water bodies in a range of locations in Zimbabwe and helped orient ALCOM's work on small water body fisheries development. Perhaps more importantly, from ALCOM's point of view, the RRA approach and methodology were tested and seemed to be well-adapted to looking at small water bodies as systems with multiple uses and highly variable contexts. However, the fact that only one out of three RRAs actually identified a viable activity for the programme highlights an important problem which the use of RRA (and to an even greater degree PRA) raises for institutions or programmes like ALCOM which specifically address aquaculture issues.

RRA - a multidisciplinary approach
RRA explicitly aims to achieve a multidisciplinary understanding of conditions on the ground and avoid bias towards one or another particular discipline. Thus, as explained later in this paper, RRA teams should seek to include a range of relevant disciplines when looking at rural systems - agriculture, forestry, fisheries, social sciences, ecology, land management, etc. This avoidance of a particular disciplinary orientation is reinforced by the use, within the RRA framework, of mechanisms to allow local people, or “target groups”, to express their own concerns and priorities. Clearly people living and working in rural communities do not generally think in disciplinary terms but tend to combine a range of activities in order to ensure an adequate livelihood through the year.

Organisational and institutional issues
As a result, any aquaculture-oriented organisation which uses RRA approaches for project identification or “exploratory” analysis of local conditions is likely to find that as often as not, aquaculture is not a priority for local people and that there is not any viable reason for carrying out an aquaculture project. Externally funded programmes, such as ALCOM, with a mandate to develop and try out new approaches, may be able to “afford” to carry out RRAs which do not lead directly to projects and are therefore “redundant” (in the sense of not “producing” project activities). Indeed, one of the reasons for using RRA in the first place is precisely to avoid attempts to implement projects on the ground only to discover after they have begun that they are genuinely “redundant” (in the sense of not actually addressing the real needs or priorities of the beneficiaries).

However, given the budgetary limitations facing many governmental institutions concerned with aquaculture, carrying out an RRA in a particular location may be regarded as paramount to starting a project there. More rigid bureaucratic organisations may not have the sort of flexibility which allowed a multilateral programme such as ALCOM to carry out an RRA, assess real needs together with local people and, once the relatively low priority of fisheries development on the local small water body was ascertained, simply withdraw.

The use of RRA approaches, and particularly PRA approaches, can therefore give rise to something of a contradiction. RRA can be a useful tool for collecting better information, involving local people in analysing their circumstances and coming up with more relevant development proposals. But, when used by institutions which have a limited technical orientation, its use can easily lead to the identification of issues and problems which that particular institution or agency is not equipped to deal with. This problem does not mean that RRA is not applicable for aquaculture agencies, simply that its implications need to be thought through and accommodated - by the inclusion of non-aquaculture specialists in “aquaculture” RRA teams and the involvement of other agencies that can link with a wide range of supporting institutions which can address issues raised during an RRA.

Aquaculture PRA?
In PRA, as discussed later in this document in more detail, this contradiction is even more marked. PRA places more emphasis on encouraging and facilitating local people in making their own decisions about priorities and potential. Therefore it practically has to be completely open-ended, particularly in terms of its disciplinary orientation. There is a good case to be made that there is no such thing as an aquaculture PRA. Local people would always be the ones to decide what the focus of their PRA should be.

Later in this paper, the sorts of planning framework which are best adapted to the use of RRA and PRA are discussed. There are also ways in which these approaches can be used in a more focused fashion, perhaps limiting the “participatory” elements to some extent but making the techniques more easily adaptable to the sorts of institutional and organisational contexts which most aquaculture workers have to deal with.

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