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5. Guidelines for promoting rural aquaculture

5.1 Conceptual framework
5.2 A systems approach to aquaculture research and extension
5.3 Planning and management for rural aquaculture
5.4 Institutional context
5.5 Human resource capacity building

5.1 Conceptual framework

5.1.1 Purpose, concepts and means
5.1.2 Human resource capacity
5.1.3 Multidisciplinarity and balance

Much of the effort in promoting rural aquaculture has been constrained because of the complexity of the task. A framework that will indicate the major factors that warrant attention is a powerful tool to clarify both thought and subsequent action. A conceptual framework also provides a common language so people can communicate effectively and helps to coordinate the activities of the those involved in promoting rural aquaculture.

A simple framework (de Bono, 1990) comprising sequential steps of definition of purpose, clarification of concepts or philosophy to be followed, and selection of means to achieve the purpose, is used here. The framework comprises two interrelated parts: theory and practice, a better understanding of which facilitates the activities of the actors or players (human resource capacity) who promote aquaculture (Edwards, 1994) (Figure 10).

5.1.1 Purpose, concepts and means

The most important question that should be addressed at the outset is purpose, i.e., what are we trying to achieve? Our overall purpose is the promotion of rural aquaculture. The problem is how to do this i.e., the concept and means to use. Some indication of the difficulty of the task in identifying the factors that need to be both considered and addressed for sustainable rural aquaculture has been indicated in an earlier section (Figure 2).

Fig. 10. A framework for the promotion of aquaculture (Source: Edwards, in press).

The scientific approach is the overriding concept that governs the behaviour and actions of most professionals involved in promoting rural aquaculture. The approach is reductionist. The huge body of knowledge has led to a proliferation of separate disciplines in both the natural and social sciences. Most professionals involved in aquaculture are trained in one of the many disciplines of natural science, usually in fisheries biology or zoology. Because our higher education has been in a single discipline, it becomes so ingrained in our thinking that we have only a limited ability to appreciate the complexity of most problems. Furthermore, the solution of many problems is sought by reducing them to individual parts or aspects by the experimental method of science. We fail to appreciate the need for inputs from outside our own area of expertise. Domination of aquaculture by biologists has led to overemphasis on aquatic organisms and their production at the expense of social factors.

Education, research and development are the means to promote rural aquaculture. Traditional education, besides being limited in scope, emphasises the accumulation of knowledge, often by rote learning or memory. Limited attention is given to developing the ability to think. Textbooks further encourage the idea that life is going to be in neat packages rather than promoting problem-solving. Modern education emphasises problem based learning; students are taught how to be practical and creative.

In research, most scientists tend to focus rather narrowly on component technology, either in the laboratory or on-station. There is a continuing need for this type or research to develop new and improved technology, but the greatest impact on rural aquaculture is by adoption of existing technology to areas where aquaculture has potential. A major constraint to development in general is the limited capacity of developing countries to assimilate existing technology (Juma and Sagoff, 1992).

Development may be defined simply as the introduction of technology for the improved welfare of the rural poor. It includes a wide range of activities which are necessary for rural aquaculture to fulfill its potential, including improved policy, infrastructure and institutions, including those at the local level. In the narrowest sense it may be seen as the dissemination of knowledge and research findings to farmers, but it also implies improvement of human resource capacity, of individuals and organisations who promote rural aquaculture as well as of farmers.

5.1.2 Human resource capacity

That people have a major role in promoting aquaculture either as implementors (farmers, agribusiness) or facilitators is often overlooked. Rural aquaculture is carried out by small-scale farmers, but large-scale farmers may supply seed while agro-industry supplies inorganic fertilisers and supplementary feed inputs. Rural aquaculture is promoted in-country by government and NGOs, assisted in many cases by international agencies such as bilateral and multilateral funding agencies, and global, regional and developed country technical institutions.

The need to upgrade human resources in all aspects of aquaculture promotion cannot be over-emphasised.. This is the context of developmental assistance in the sector. But a major constraint to the promotion of rural aquaculture is the limited coordination of that assistance in its various forms. Ideally, national facilitators, governments and NGOs should coordinate efforts to promote rural aquaculture in specific locations within their national boundaries. It follows that international facilitators would be more effective if their financial and technical assistance were better coordinated. Technical assistance should relate to the need for, and potential of, rural aquaculture in specific geographical areas rather than being primarily institution-driven in terms of policies or subject matter interest.

5.1.3 Multidisciplinarity and balance

The complexity of factors relating to the promotion of rural aquaculture dictates the need for a multidisciplinary team of natural and social scientists (Ruddle, 1993). Unfortunately, multidisciplinary teams are hard to form and even harder to manage, specifically with regard to the need to apply a farming systems approach to fish production (Chong et al., 1985). Specialists from different disciplines almost invariably have different world views and use different terms and methodologies. Inability to communicate is compounded by the widespread human trait of believing oneself to be ‘right’ and the other person ‘wrong’. Both individuals usually are only partly right as the sum of their limited knowledge and experience is often less than that required to solve the problem. For multidisciplinary teams to be effective, one or more members need to invest significant time and effort to learn at least the rudiments of the disciplines of the other team members to provide an ‘interdisciplinary bridge.’

Team or project management also involves a high-level of people-related and self-development skills and knowledge over and above the task-related skills more closely related to solving the problem concerning rural aquaculture. Effective management involves considerable leadership skills and an ability to manage people in a more democratic and participatory way than the traditionally hierarchical view of management replete with rules and regulations.

Individuals also need to develop a personal philosophy to guide their thoughts and actions to better promote rural aquaculture. The central tenet of any philosophy should be balance in coexistence with nature, balance in academic affairs by following a systems approach, and balance in dealing with other individuals in a flexible and constructive way. The ancient Chinese philosophy of Tao, illustrated by the diagram of complementary and ever-changing opposities (yin, negative and yang, positive) provides a useful mode (Wing, 1986). Taoists believe that the perfect person identifies his or her life rhythm with that of the forces of nature. Everything is fundamentally one or a whole and everything in the universe is constantly changing; opposities are two aspects of the same reality in a constant state of flux.

5.2 A systems approach to aquaculture research and extension

5.2.1 The farming systems research continuum

Moving from the philosophical to the practical, we advocate a farming systems research and extension (FSR and E) approach to overcome the traditional problems towards the promotion of rural aquaculture. A systems approach is required to identify the complex of interrelated factors that comprise the system (Checkland, 1981). These need to be studied together rather than in isolation to resolve the problems that stand in the way of improving the system. It is a sobering fact for scientists that farmers have always followed a systems approach as they seek to optimise their farm outputs.

FSR and E approaches have been common in agricultural development for the last 20 years, but little progress has been made towards institutionalising FSR and E concepts and procedures within national programs (Craig 1988). Further, the FSR is usually emphasised at the expense of the E, but essentially, the approach involves three sequential stages of research (Edwards et al., 1991) (Fig. 11):

A feature of the FSR approach is the concept of hierarchy. In carrying out the situational analysis and in defining ‘recommendation domains,’ attention should be on three levels: the farm production system, the regional resource system and the national policy framework.

Research is needed at all levels. The policy context and the macro-regional economic situation are important contexts which will influence the potential for the development of rural aquaculture, while the needs of individuals must be taken into account at the farm level. It is important to recognise also that people have a hierarchy of needs. Lower basic needs must be met before higher needs, such as sustainability, which can be addressed by individuals.

Fig. 11. Farming systems research and extension consists of three sequential stages linked together in a dynamic, iterative process. Solid line, first round, and broken line, subsequent rounds of development of aquaculture extension packages (Source: AIT, 1994).

5.2.1 The farming systems research continuum

The emphasis on a FSR approach in agricultural development with its starting point in situational analysis or problem definition has led to the emergence of a major shift in the whole development paradigm. This is away from a technology-driven, “top-down” approached based primarily on dissemination of usually research station-derived findings without adequate situational analysis, adaptation to local conditions or research into extension. The term farmer-first has been adopted for this approach; it stresses the need to learn from farmers’ indigenous technical knowledge and their ongoing experimentation in setting research agenda (Chambers et al., 1989). There are also links to the ideas of (Altieri, 1989) returning to ecological agriculture and low external input, closed systems.

This emerging paradigm obviously has implications for agricultural research and extension. Whereas previously agricultural research could be equated with scientific research in controlled conditions on-station or on-campus, it takes many forms in the new paradigm. In fact it may be seen as taking place at any stage of the FSR and E process. Thus research includes socio-economic studies of farming systems, studies into the institutional base for agricultural extension and on the impact of technical innovation. Research to develop technology may just as well take place in the farmers’ fields as on the research station.

For some scientists, this widening of the research spectrum poses a threat, particularly where proponents of the new paradigm have appeared to deny the need for scientific research by maintaining that farmers can solve problems by themselves. A more balanced view is that there is a need for a broad spectrum of research, the relative importance of which depends on the context and the existing information availability (Biggs, 1995a). In the broader farming systems context, Biggs (1988) and Waters-Bayer (1989) have further classified on-farm research according to the degree of control of the researcher or the farmer in the activity (Table 5), while Garrity (1992) and Knipscheer and Harwood (1989) have attempted to identify the appropriate balance between on-station and on-farm research.

Table 5. Classification of adaptive research.


Scientists’ On-Station Trials


Scientist’s On-Farm Trials (Contractual or Consultative) Farmers’


On-Farm Trials (innovations to be tested and the trial design are determined by scientists, but farmers make the management decisions) (Collaborative)


Farmers’ Participatory Trials (questions are determined by farmers; scientists advise) (Collegiate)


Farmers’ Informal Trials

Source: Biggs (1988), Waters-Bayer (1989); Garrity (1992).

Four major factors influence the decision on type of research, namely, stage of technology development, characteristics of the technology, quality of the farmers’ management skills and type of farming system (Knipscheer and Harwood, 1989).

With type of research there is a spectrum between strategic and adaptive research. Strategic research is typically an on-station (and often laboratory) activity, so that the question is limited to where adaptive research should take place. Although farmers’ management skills relate to technology assessment factors, various factors need to be considered to determine the appropriate position in the spectrum of researcher-farmer management (Table 6). The basic issue is the degree to which a technology is risky in relation to the type of farming system into which it is introduced (Submerge and Okali 1987). The less work which has been done in its development and the higher degree of complexity and novelty, the greater the risk involved. These criteria also relate closely to the criteria involved in the literature on innovation adoption and diffusion (Rogers 1983).

Table 6. Factors to be considered in the on-station/on-farm research spectrum.

(Modified from Knipscheer and Harwood (1989))


On Station Research


On-Farm Research





Managed by




Implemented by




Evaluation criteria




Stage of technology design

National, problem only partly identified Complex and high risk, degree of novelty


Characteristics of technology

Simple, Uniform, Controlled

Developed/Mature Simple and low risk, improvement of existing practice
Complex, diverse, risk-prone

Type of farming system

Rural aquaculture is characterised by a relative lack of indigenous technical knowledge. This is because aquaculture is a relatively recent farming practice in most areas with consequent limited understanding of basic generic issues. Much work, however, is still needed in strategic research because of the relative late development of aquaculture as an applied scientific discipline.

Traditional approaches

The adoption of a more client-driven research and development paradigm in which farmers are involved as partners in formulating appropriate technical recommendations for the improvement of rural aquaculture automatically affects the role and methods of aquaculture extension.

In the traditional transfer of technology paradigm, the extension service passes on the technical messages derived from on-station research to the farmer. The extension worker serves as an intermediary whose role is to teach and train the farmer in how to implement the proposed technical innovations. This is done through a variety of means, mainly involving the individual or group direct contact and a combination of formal technical training and practical demonstration of the technology and its impact. In this mode, increasing stress was placed on the communication of the message, whether through oral skills or use of telecommunications media such as videos.

Criticised in the 1960s for their lack of clear structure and the poor training of the agricultural extension workers, from the early 1970s such services were upgraded under a rather standardised formula, introduced by the World Bank and known as the Training and Visit (T and V) system (Benor and Baxter 1984). This sought a clear structure to agricultural extension services through organisation of farmer groups, regular scheduled visits to contact farmers and regular training of the agricultural extension workers by specialists at higher levels of the hierarchy. T and V also stresses an exclusive dedication to extension work in which extraneous activities such as delivery of inputs and delivery of farm credit were excluded (World Bank 1994).

The T and V system has worked reasonably well in the uniform, often monoculture farming systems of “Green Revolution” agriculture, where a standard set of well-tested messages were available for contexts similar to the research station (Chambers and Jiggins, 1987a, 1987b). It has also appeared in various guises in aquaculture extension projects as developed by FAO. There are two examples of these in the transitional economies of Southeast Asia, the Lao PDR and Vietnam where projects on the development of fish farms and upgrading the research capacity of national institutions had previously apparently led to the identification of efficient, low-input technologies. Two parallel projects then concentrated on the transfer of these technologies to the farmers. Singh (1994) describes the Lao PDR project as the typical and “most appropriate’ approach as the identification and support of the “Model Farmer” who are progressive in attitude and are ready to serve as village level extensionists or ‘Change Agents’ through local demonstrations on projects as developed by FAO and other multilateral agencies. This appears also to be the thrust in Nepal where Rajbanshi (1995) states that “Field training courses are also conducted for special groups of experienced farmers who intends [sic] to become commercial fish seed producers.”

Such strategies may be appropriate for the ‘type 2’ or artisanal/Green Revolution recipe-type farming systems for which most of them appear to have been designed (Gartner, 1990). However, the T and V System has proved less effective in more complex and diverse situations. It has not facilitated the sort of context specific diagnosis of farmer needs which has been increasingly recognised as necessary in agricultural development. Although T and V did seek to encourage feedback on farmer problems through extension agents, it has tended to maintain top-down bureaucratic attitudes (World Bank 1994) and the tendency to work with those ‘advanced’ farmers who show the best results. The ‘contact or model’ farmer concept has proved one of its greatest weaknesses.

Agricultural extension services in developing countries were usually meant to have an horizontal function, serving a range of technical line departments in the sector. In practice, few have taken on responsibilities outside crop cultivation, leaving departments of livestock, forestry and fisheries to ‘fend for themselves’ in extension activities. Thus departments of fisheries have their own extension services. In practice such parallel services have not been facilitated by national governments, receiving limited budgets and remaining understaffed even when so-called national agricultural extension services have been upgraded by donor projects (Harrison et al. 1994). Where the main thrust of departments of fisheries has been toward the capture sector, fishfarming extensionists have received limited training in aquaculture and most are fishery biologists rather than being broadly trained in the agricultural systems in which rural aquaculture sits. Almost none has received training in extension methods and practices.

The basic situation seems unlikely to change. As Farrington (1994) has observed, “many local governments have for years found it difficult to make adequate resources available for agricultural extension; for some, recent state cutbacks under structural adjustment have exacerbated the situation. In India, for instance, some 20% of village extensionist posts are vacant any one time, mostly in the more remote areas....”

Alternative approaches

Rather than seeing such a situation as a threat to their ability to support the farmer, it may be better for departments of fisheries to regard it as an opportunity. Alternatives are available which in themselves facilitate a change of role on the part of the extensionists (where they exist) and enable others to play that role where they do not.

Farrington (1994) lists the following options, partly basing his views on trends in the developed world:

To these may be added the use of other professionals at the local level to channel messages.

A constellation of extension methods such as those listed should allow the extension worker to concentrate his energies on diagnosis and monitoring of trials, while relying upon others to transmit the proven messages. This is likely to be easier by the technology with a relatively low level of complexity and having already been proven in the farmers’ fields (Figure 12). Connell (1992) wrote that messages do not have to be fully proven. Experimentation with different alternatives in wheat cultivation showed farmers adopting, then adapting, to suit their specific conditions in different areas. He describes this as a ‘minimalist approach’ in which the extension workers only made the original input in the form of presentations on alternative technologies. Such an extension approach also helps address the chief problem of FSR: the diverse environments presented by rural aquaculture. As resource bases are diverse, appropriate technologies are to a certain degree site-specific, in which every new situation could demand another research project. Grove and Edwards (1993) wrote that

Many feel that development of technological packages for each of these situations will exceed the capacity of the global agricultural support system”. It should also help to demonstrate as false the dichotomy of concentration of subsistence or artisanal aquaculture posed by Harrison (1995) when she argues that: “The choice then appears stark: either to try to develop activities which reach the resource poorest, or to focus on technology development which may be viable in the long term, but which is unlikely to be closely related to food security.
Field testing an aquaculture extension recommendation with a farmer in Udornthani province, Thailand. Once the appropriateness of an aquaculture technology has been “proved” through on-farm trials in the farmers’ ponds, extension is facilitated if the message is understood by the target group.

Fig. 12. The need for extension personnel to transmit extension messages to farmers increases with the complexity of the technology although this can be reduced by the extent to which extension messages gave been “proven” by on-farm testing. Three possible points on the curve of intensity of extension inputs in terms of extension personnel are mass media/farmer-to-farmer, farmer groups, and individual farmers.

The reality is that it is possible to address both or rather a spectrum of different ‘recommendation domains’ as proposed by Byerlee (1987) which are a combination of farm types characterised by factors both at the micro-scale (the farm production system) and at the macro-scale (the resource system) into which a technology can fit. The key to this effort is that it should be considered much more in terms of process, with the farmers themselves identifying the choice of components, and the agricultural extension worker playing a changed role as a diagnostician and advisor on available alternatives (Chambers and Jiggins, 1987b).

There is growing evidence within aquaculture that these approaches can work. Decha (1992) has described the process of farmer-to-farmer extension in the spread of rice-fish culture in Northeast Thailand from innovative cores in the province of Surin without funds or hired workers to organise training, field trips and seminars. In the same region, AIT Aquaculture Outreach has used non-specialist channels to disseminate written information on simple technical recommendations to farmers; monitoring surveys have suggested that take up of some of these recommendations after two years was as high as 55% of farmers receiving materials (Demaine et al., 1994a). Posters, radio and television were used to create awareness of the new techniques (Demaine and Turongruang, in press; Demaine et al., 1994b).

As the transfer of knowledge on available technologies in aquaculture development is carried out either by non-specialists or through farmer-to-farmer communication, a dedicated aquaculture extension service is not required, at least at the grassroots level. This is also the conclusion of Harrison (1993) from her review of the African context. Rural aquaculture requires less sophisticated technical expertise and more the ability to diagnose where and how aquaculture fits within the wider rural livelihood system. This calls for general understanding of agricultural development/farming systems. In any case, it appears unlikely that a dedicated aquaculture extension service of the conventional type can be achieved in the present climate of agricultural development funding.

Aquaculture specialists are required to backstop the ‘generalist’ extension worker at the grassroots with information, possibly through focused training or well-produced, appropriate extension materials for farmers and manuals for the extensionists themselves. They have a role in responding to new problems emerging from the grass roots with implementation and monitoring of trials, preferably with the farmers, but where necessary on-station, in coordination with research staff. Such trials also help to keep the feet of aquaculture extension staff firmly on the ground.

5.3 Planning and management for rural aquaculture

5.3.1 Decentralised planning for aquaculture development
5.3.2 Information needs and data collection
5.3.3 Project planning and implementation
5.3.4 Monitoring and evaluation

5.3.1 Decentralised planning for aquaculture development

An FSR approach to rural aquaculture should be extended to planning and management for the sector. Farming systems methodology stresses a holistic approach at two levels: the farm production system and the resource system. We have extended this to include the national policy context. Rural aquaculture needs to be seen in the context of the wider farm production system or the rural livelihood system which in turn needs to be viewed in the context of the regional resource base and the national policy framework. Planning for rural aquaculture then takes place at a series of levels, taking the form of ‘multilevel planning for agricultural development’.

Until the 1970s, planning for agricultural and rural development was characterised by a traditional top-down approach which assumed that the national level experts knew best what was required to develop rural areas. With increasing evidence that such an approach had failed to overcome the problem of rural poverty, planning for the sector has emphasised increasingly a ‘bottom-up approach’. This starts with the identification of the problems of the rural population and then assesses the resources available for their solution. This paradigm stresses the importance of people’s participation in problem identification and in the design and implementation of projects. It has raised consciousness of the importance of mapping rural people’s knowledge (RPK) - originally seen in the narrower context of agricultural innovation as ‘indigenous technical knowledge’ (ITK) - in the process.

In its extreme form, the participatory bottom-up planning approach to rural development carried with it the assumption that problems could be solved through the mobilisation of, and with the resources of, the rural community itself. Such a view sees rural development as an autonomous process leading to self-sufficiency within a closed system of communities insulated from the wider world. In the agricultural and aquaculture sector (Lightfoot and Pullin, 1991; Lightfoot et al.,1993), it finds its expression in views of development through integrated agriculture-aquaculture with low or no external inputs. This is only tenable where there are minimum pressures on the resource system, which is able to provide all the needs of the community. Such cases are now rare.

This view was extremely influential in rural development, especially amongst NGOs. But it steadily gave way to a more balanced view, which sees rural development as requiring a partnership between the rural population and outsiders, whose knowledge (of the outside world and its available technical and economic opportunities) complements rural people’s knowledge and who can bring other resources to bear on problems that cannot be solved at the micro-scale. This shift has been partly brought about by the realisation that, important as rural people’s knowledge may be, it has usually accumulated over time in a slowly changing situation, whereas the modern world is noted for the rapid changes which have opened up the rural environment and undermined the traditional knowledge base and social norms. Traditional safety nets in what has been called the ‘moral economy of the peasant’ are being swept away and replaced by economic norms. A further dimension of the problem is the fact that many rural people are forced - by population growth or through the impact of development projects - to move to new environments where their ITK is largely irrelevant and where new social norms have to be constructed in diverse communities.

This view, now common in the regional planning community, is finding its way into the agricultural development paradigm (Biggs, 1995b). Bebbington (1994), sees several limitations to the approach to rural development taken in the farmer-first literature. In his words:

The emphasis on what farmers know about technology and ecology has diverted attention from the myriad things that they do not know about markets, politics and the machinations of the world beyond the farm gate, that has long pushed the gate open.... The emphasis on revalidating past practices has understated the changes in the present and the implications they have had for rural people
Bebbington sees farmers as “situated agents” [which is the “operational environment” discussed by Smith et al. (1980)], with different capabilities to react to a changing context often beyond their control. Specifically this includes the fact that, again in his words:
Pressures on and challenges to agriculturally based livelihoods are intensifying and undermining the relevance of some earlier agricultural practices... Rural people... have many modern goals and ideas and are constantly presented with new challenges for which locally-generated knowledge may not hold much guidance
His conclusion is that
The ‘situated’ nature of rural livelihoods demands that we look more carefully at this regional context of the rural economy.....agriculture needs to be placed in a wider context.
As aquaculture is relatively recent in many countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, a lack of ITK in this sector has led many families to experiment on the spectre of riches from aquaculture, bringing traumas which have led to its at least temporary abandonment. To avoid such costly mistakes, aquaculture is precisely one of the areas in which the partnership is needed, in which outsiders may assist farmers in advising what is likely to be a sensible investment in their particular context.

The aquaculture planner should identify the contexts in which certain components or packages of technical advice may be appropriate i.e., relevant recommendation domains. In planning for aquaculture development, the key factors which influence the adoption of aquaculture technology must be identified and analysed to offer guidelines for those with the immediate task of advising farmers. Information and methods of analysing it are required, but these should be used easily by the agents of aquaculture development.

Development agents should not be too distant from those they serve. Indeed the further shift in the rural development paradigm from top down planning for the people, to bottom-up planning by the people, to partnership planning with the people, has brought with it a shift in the planning locus to the intermediate level to what is usually termed as decentralised, rural-regional planning, at district and/or provincial level. At this level, government and NGO officials clearly see the different problems of local people, while at the same time putting them in a national and comparative macro-regional context. This so-called ‘cross-function’ (Weitz, 1979) places the provincial and district planners in a key position. This view has been developed by regional planners in the 1980s (Demaine and Malong, 1987, BMZ/GTZ, 1984), but it finds echo in the recent call for a Participatory and Integrated Policy (PIP) framework by Campbell and Townsley (1996) for the fisheries sector in sub-Saharan Africa. This is described as a research, planning and policy partnership between government and the primary stakeholders, which is systematic, but flexible, participatory, empowering, decentralised, and vertically and horizontally integrated planning. This is also the level at which researchers can best respond to farmers’ immediate problems which need mainly adaptive research. This is a direction that the Thai Department of Fisheries has begun to follow in association with AIT in developing its research programs for small-scale aquaculture in Northeast Thailand.

5.3.2 Information needs and data collection

Information collection at the farm level

The decentralised rural-regional approach to aquaculture planning articulating the needs of local people with the sub-regional resource situation involves several steps in the planning process. In line with the bottom-up emphasis, the process is demand-driven and involves an appreciation of the problems of rural people in making a living. Where a project is specifically oriented towards development of a single sector, such as aquaculture, this means an assessment of where aquaculture might fit into the rural livelihood system or, where it already exists, the constraints on its further development. Such an assessment needs information and a crucial planning question is just what sort of information is needed and how it might be obtained.

Traditionally in the paradigm of bottom-up rural development which developed in the 1970s, the search for information meant an agro-socio-economic household survey, within development projects often seen as a mandatory ‘baseline’ against which the impact of the project could later be measured. This view is still remarkably prevalent despite the swinging critique of Chambers (1983) on the theme of ‘survey slavery.’ In adopting the social scientists techniques, agricultural scientists, including aquaculture specialists, have fallen into the trap of seeking a mass of information on farmers’ fishfarming practices at levels of disaggregation which are frequently uncollectable by the normal recall method and which cannot be processed and analysed sufficiently quickly to be of use to the further research effort. Arguably, it is only with such a survey that the key variables to the understanding of the aquaculture system can be identified in a way that subsequent efforts at data collection can be refined, unfortunately, projects do not seem to learn from one another in this regard.

The earlier experience in agricultural and rural development has led critics like Chambers to advocate an alternative or complementary approach to the collection of farm-level data. This methodology is known as Rapid Rural Appraisal or Rapid Reconnaissance. Over time it has developed into a complex of techniques of information gathering and diagnosis. This body of investigative techniques is associated with what has been termed populist approaches to agricultural research and extension, in which the outsider is the main investigator. It has been contrasted with the participatory approaches in the ‘Beyond Farmer First’ mode, in which the outsider plays a more active role of facilitator and catalyst for the farmer (Scoones and Thompson 1994).

Fig. 13. Principles of triangulation: (a) villagers, officials and merchants; (b) social scientists, biological scientists and engineers.

The original portfolio of RRA included a whole series of ‘tools’ of information collection and diagnosis, ranging from investigation of secondary materials, including maps and even student dissertations, through observatory techniques and the interaction of different disciplinary scientists in the field, to semi-structured interviews with key informants and farmer groups (KKU 1987). A key concept in the methodology is the principle of triangulation, obtaining information from different actors with a variety of perspectives to obtain a true picture of the situation (Figure 13). In PRA stress has been laid mainly on the interaction between researchers and farmers to bring out the latter’s understanding of the situation and to use this as a basis of development interventions using the farmer’s or the community’s own resources. This sub-portfolio has included such tools as poverty ranking, resources mapping (Lightfoot et al., 1992), and activity calendars.

RRA/PRA techniques are a valuable contribution to the portfolio of rural farming systems research methods. However, there has been some criticism of the methodology in recent years. Pelkey (1995) has noted that, with the growing number of manuals (e.g. Townsley 1993), there is a danger that the whole method is becoming rigid in its application instead of offering the flexible toolbox that was intended, and more significantly, that it has become an end in itself, rather than one part of the research process.

This second criticism applies to ICLARM’s resource-mapping RESTORE framework (Lightfoot et al., 1994). The RESTORE tool illustrates another important dilemma in the use of PRA techniques, even as a basis for improving researcher understanding of the farming system. The resource mapping tool is described as a reduced data collection process, enabling farmers and researchers to rapidly assess farming/natural resource system operation and sustainability via the simple recording of resource flows in diagrammatic form. However, it also seeks hard data to feed into the RESTORE database, which is difficult to reconcile. The data collection exercise for RESTORE differs little from a conventional questionnaire, with the drawback that it depends on the spurious accuracy of six-monthly farmer recall data. The danger is that such information is not adequate for the analysis of the complex integrated systems which it seeks to address.

It may be that the guiding principle of information collection methods for rural aquaculture development is a judicious blend of the old and the new. There has to be recognition of the relative advantages of RRA/PRA and what they cannot do. The whole RRA portfolio offers a framework for assessment of farm situations at the micro scale as well as its sub-regional context. But it cannot produce the hard data which might be required for detailed analysis of the on-farm situation which may be needed before technical recommendations can be suggested. The more complex and diverse the farming situation, the more likely that RRA/PRA will need to be supplemented by more conventional data collection methods. It is important here not to throw out the baby of survey research with the bathwater of its abuse. Properly focused survey questionnaires or even more intensive methods like input-output monitoring can fill in crucial gaps in understanding which other techniques cannot reach. RRA can be an important first step (Beebe, 1987) in making sure that no general and superfluous information is included in such schedules.

Resource assessment

The question of information requirements at the regional level follows from what has been discussed above. RRA techniques has a useful role in offering a general picture of a situation and current trends, but it may be necessary to supplement such analysis with ‘harder data’ which pinpoints the context across space and time. At the regional level, there are a number of key variables which determine the potential for aquaculture. These include physical environmental variables such as rainfall distribution; water quality, such as salinity, acidity; existence of public water bodies; and height of the water table. Land capability (including soil type) and possibly the distribution and status of forests as a factor in water supply may be important. Of equal importance are socio-economic variables such as population density and trends in growth and migration; market access, including the status and quality of transport service; economic status of the population as a surrogate for purchasing power; economic structure to identify the existence of alternative non-agricultural enterprises; agricultural structure, to assess relative costs and returns and availability of inputs from other farm enterprises; land and water management factors. The last would include irrigation systems; availability of credit; development projects, including again irrigation and other water resource development schemes. Such information is required not only of the current situation, but also in time series so that trends may be predicted and the sustainability of the current situation gauged.

Scale is a continuing dilemma for the regional planner.. Level of analysis depends on the degree of variation of key variables which influence the sector in question. Studies undertaken by AIT in Northeast Thailand and elsewhere suggest that physical environmental variables affecting aquaculture vary not only at the macro-regional level in relation to climate and topography, but also at the micro scale, in relation to soil quality and water availability. These variables require analysis at a relatively small-scale, within a single province in Thailand and Cambodia for example. Ideally such data should be matched by key socio-economic variables. Basic demographic and infrastructure data, offering key measures of demand and accessibility are generally available at this level. In more advanced developing countries, the moves towards decentralised planning in the 1980s have tended to widen the scope of information available at the village and village cluster level and there has always been some tradition of data collection at commune level in the transitional economies.

What tends to be more problematic at this micro-scale are economic variables, indicating trends in purchasing power and economic structures. Hambrey (1995) has called for the construction of a ‘regional profile’ as a basis for resource assessment for the promotion of aquaculture. This includes such economic variables as gross regional product; per caput regional product; average wage; employment and income of major sectors; major natural resource imports and exports; dependency and risk. At the scale at which aquaculture planning needs to take place, these are not available in developing countries and surrogates are required.

The emphasis on spatial variation in physical and socio-economic environment in planning for rural aquaculture suggests the use of geographical information systems analysis (GIS) as a tool of analysis. Kapetsky (1993) has been prominent in making the case for this technique. He argues that investors and government planners need a means of making decisions on risk factors such as water quality, economic and political stability, legal and administrative jurisdiction which vary spatially and that these factors lend themselves to well-structured problem-solving using GIS. In demonstration of this belief, he has conducted a series of analyses at the continental (Kapetsky, 1994), national (Kapetsky et al.,1990) and local scales, the latter with reference to coastal aquaculture. Thu and Demaine (1996) have also experimented with the technique at the macro-regional scale of the Red River delta in Vietnam. Kapetsky’s analysis of aquaculture potentials for Africa includes many of the typical variables suggested above: water-temperatures, water availability, engineering capability of soils and economics through the surrogate variables of population density, density of transport infrastructure and availability of agricultural by-products. Thu and Demaine followed a similar logic, but attempted to focus on the potential for different systems such as rice-fish culture and integrated systems but they only partly helped to suggest the sort of interventions that might be made.

5.3.3 Project planning and implementation

The emphasis placed above on information collection for rural aquaculture development is not accidental. It is increasingly argued that faulty project design is the major constraint to successful development projects and that this is caused by lack of information on the contexts and needs of the target beneficiaries. If the problem is not properly defined, subsequent stages in the typical project management cycle, feasibility analysis and appraisal will not correct the project design.

It is not enough that planning for aquaculture development should spend more time in problem and project identification. In fact, the ‘bottom-up’ planning approach advocated above also requires fundamental changes in planning and implementing rural aquaculture development projects. Traditionally rural development projects as a whole are planned and implemented according to the conventional project management cycle (Figure 14). This is a typically top-down framework for planning in which the beneficiaries (the farmers) and local field staff participate only at the project implementation stage. The project design is the product of outside ‘experts’ and has already set the basic details of implementation in terms of allocation of resources (manpower, budget) and the schedule for their use. The lack of flexibility in project implementation inherent in this process has led to the use of the term ‘blueprint planning’ on the analogy with building design and implementation.

Such a ‘blueprint’ approach is inconsistent with a farming systems research methodology to aquaculture development which is based upon ‘testing’ of promising technical and managerial recommendations, not the ‘demonstration’ of preconceived ideas. In such an approach, what had been anticipated as feasible may turn out not to be so, despite the time spent in problem identification, even with participation of the beneficiaries. This calls for a flexible process of project planning which IFAD has termed ‘rolling planning’ and which relies more upon annual operational plans within the broad project objectives, based upon the results of the previous year’s activities.

In a more conservative variation, detailed project ‘blueprints’ are not worked out until time has been allowed for detailed project identification and pilot testing (Hoare and Crouch, 1988).

5.3.4 Monitoring and evaluation

In such a rolling planning system, regular monitoring becomes an important element in the planning and management process because it leads to adjustments in project activities which should improve their effectiveness. Most donor-funded projects now incorporate provision for monitoring and evaluation, although there has been a tendency for these activities to be underfunded. Monitoring and evaluation is just as important for national programs as it is for donor-funded projects. Unfortunately, it is rare for this to be undertaken. Units established for the purpose are often viewed with suspicion as ‘spies within,’ yet they themselves are often reluctant to offer critical analysis of projects and programs too often associated with senior figures in their organisation.

Fig. 14. The conventional project management cycle. (Source: Conyers and Hills, 1984).

‘Monitoring and evaluation’ are equated, yet are distinct stages in the planning process. Monitoring should be seen as an ‘internal’ function of the implementing organisation which helps programme management solve immediate emerging problems. These problems could be in relation to the implementation process itself or to its impact; it is this latter element of ‘impact monitoring’ which interfaces with the evaluation process. This is usually carried out after project completion so that lessons can be learnt and program/project designs readjusted for a subsequent phase. However, many projects now carry out ‘mid-term evaluations’ which come close to having the same function as ‘impact monitoring.’ Such an evaluation is often carried out by external agencies, appointed by and often including representatives of donor agencies.

Monitoring and evaluation of projects have been widely criticised in recent years. While conventional approaches to project monitoring have been criticised for an overconcentration on evaluation or on impact measures in monitoring and their consequent attempts to collect too much data in the same terms as discussed in Section 5.3.2, new participatory research approaches have been criticised for their failure to measure impact. Castillo (1994) states

Although there are many encouraging reports on the implementation of these approaches, many of them do not go beyond analysis and diagnosis. [They] stop short of impact [assessment], hence the ‘value-added’ from the diagnostic phase and the participation component is largely a matter of justifiable faith rather than systematic evidence.
This is a major dilemma for the new approaches in agricultural research and one faced particularly by projects which espouse them.

The use of Logical Framework Analysis (LFA) is now widespread on the part of donor organisations as a convenient means to monitoring progress, even impact of projects and programs. This analysis commonly calls for ‘objectively verifiable indicators’ (OVIs) against which to measure achievement. The problem is to make sure that such OVIs are consistent with the approach adopted. It is too easy for donors to flop back onto the time-honoured measures of project impact, overall economic rate of return and, as a contribution to its calculation, increased output of fish. However, in rural aquaculture the latter is notoriously difficult to measure since it is often not known what was in the pond/paddy field pre-project and it is difficult, without interfering in a farmer’s survival strategy to know what is there at the end of a season. ‘Artificially’ draining a pond in the sense that a farmer would not otherwise have done this can offer a baseline, but it may have impact on the subsequent use of water. The use of farmer books and recall data may not have this problem, but they tend to require a significant manpower input and are thus confined to an artificial project context, besides recall data being notoriously inaccurate.

A more promising approach seems to be the use of technology/management adoption indicators. Although the theory of adoption and diffusion of innovation has gone out of fashion, its theoretical base still offers value in this context (Rogers, 1983). The theory tells us that adoption is the end point in a process in which a farmer carefully evaluates a possible change in the light of its value in his system. There are various stages in this evaluation, including trials, and it is clear from the long history of rejected technologies that adoption does not come lightly. It implies benefit to the farm family and indicates farmer satisfaction although this may not be quantifiable in production and economic terms. Participatory research approaches suggest that evaluation of technology should be done by the farmer; this is precisely what measurement of adoption (in quantity or number of cases of uptake and quality or nature of the uptake) effectively does. Since most projects or programs seek to bring about technical change, this seems an appropriate focus for impact monitoring and evaluation.

The key to such an approach is the careful choice of indicators. These need to reflect the project objectives, but in the context of the rural livelihood system, at least at the monitoring stage, they should not be confined to the aquaculture sub-system alone. Monitoring takes place during the course of a project to allow management to make adjustments. A project management needs to know why an innovation or different innovations are more or less successful with different groups of farmers, why they have been accepted or rejected in order to make adjustments in the technology and/or the extension/information diffusion approach. Rejection could imply that the innovation has a negative impact on other parts of the farm economy. Establishing such trends requires at least minimal data on the farm economy and possibly direct questioning of farmer opinion.

The project also has to bear in mind collectability. The more ‘hard data’ sought, the more difficult they are to collect through local, usually inexperienced or possibly cynical, offices. But to go outside this group prejudices the sustainability of the whole process and means that ‘participatory’ development will disappear with the project. Data collected by outsiders may even be perceived as a threat to the local officers. On the other hand, reliance on ‘soft’ data fails to convince the outside world and may prejudice a project just when it feels that it is achieving breakthroughs. Project management in this context again need to steer the crucial middle path between the devil and the deep blue sea.

5.4 Institutional context

5.4.1 Donor projects and national agencies
5.4.2 Non-governmental organisations
5.4.3 Institutional home for rural aquaculture

5.4.1 Donor projects and national agencies

Perhaps the most difficult element to get right in the formulation and subsequent implementation of rural development projects and programs is the institutional framework. As Korten (1980) demonstrates, projects often come to grief because of the lack of ‘fit’ between the development aims of the project and its organisational structure on the one hand and the lack of capacity in the implementing organisations on the other.

Although this problem is by now well-known, it has proved difficult to correct. Much of the problem stems from the different aims and objectives of the parties concerned (Leach, 1995). Despite their appraisal scrutiny of project proposals, donors do seek to maintain a portfolio of projects, particularly those which correspond to the development aid policies of their respective governments. Even the tendency to be over-optimistic in the expectations of yield increases tends to be overlooked in approval (Harrison et al., 1994).

Donor development policies are often based upon a changing paradigm of development in the developed countries. Unfortunately this is shared only by a minority in some developing countries. While project documents may be prepared by that minority, project implementation may still be in the hands of those who adhere to different development concepts, often as a consequence of previous training in the West in less enlightened days.

Added to this tendency towards donor-driven development objectives, there may be the need to follow extremely detailed and often rigid norms in project management and administration, particularly in the case of multilateral agencies. In contrast, in many bilateral projects, recipients are required to accept expensive consultant inputs which help to maintain the ‘development advisory industry’ in the countries concerned. Nor is this situation confined to ‘development’ projects. Research projects frequently take on similar characteristics; governments in the developed world now expect that research institutions will derive part of their income from competitive bidding on research and development funds; grants have to be awarded regardless of their development relevance to the countries concerned (Farrington and Martin, 1988).

Projects are thus pushed through containing objectives and implementing guidelines which the implementing agency (sometimes a consultant) and the recipient national agency find difficult to accept or adhere to. Why then are such projects tendered for and accepted? The answer is simple and inevitably comes down to resources (Collinson, 1988). Governments in the least developed countries in particular need such projects to survive, or at least ensure the survival of the particular government agencies involved. In this context there may even be rivalry between agencies, each attempting to secure a larger share of the project pie. This leads to the sidelining of other agencies which might have played a key role in projects which, from the donor end, often stress greater collaboration and coordination of effort. Survival does not mean only the financial resources which come with projects, but also the ‘perks’ in training and equipment which are also normally included. Although donors set norms under which there are limitations to particular budget heads in a project, these can be circumvented to a degree. Projects thus often begin with a lack of real congruity between the objectives of the donors and governments which condemns them to failure. In her review of the African context, Harrison et al., (1994) also reported that field work confirmed her suspicion of the different agenda of donors and host stakeholders and this negatively affected projects.

Another adverse factor is the lack of a clearing house on development initiatives between donors, despite UNDP efforts in establishing country directories, projects with similar but conflicting philosophies and objectives, are implemented at the same time. This stretches the resources of the implementing agency to the limit and creates competition for the limited trained manpower available.

5.4.2 Non-governmental organisations

Donors in the 1980s began to despair of working with government line agencies in agricultural and rural development. They turned instead to alternative national facilitators, the non-governmental sector. The argument was that NGOs were closer to the grassroots and less burdened by bureaucracy so that they could better identify real problems and be relied upon to get a greater proportion of development resources. NGOs were also more in tune with the changes in thinking about development which were taking place in the western donor countries. According to Harrison (1995), however,

... this comparative advantage is only potential. In practice, many NGOs fail to achieve the participation and flexibility promised. They may be constrained by government authorities, by financial and infrastructural difficulties, or may become dominated by elites, and fail to ensure the full participation of intended beneficiaries.
Even in relation to NGOs’ apparent advantage in facilitating people’s participation,
... a recurrent and widely voiced criticism is that NGOs’ rhetoric on participation exceeds reality. NGOs are self-appointed rather than elected bodies and control institutional resources from within” (Farrington and Bebbington, 1994).
Farrington and Bebbington (1994) also identify the following main weaknesses amongst typical developing country NGOs:
Their small size and limited resources limit NGO activity to the applied end of the agricultural technology development spectrum; funding patterns tend to be short-term and pressure from funding agencies is towards ‘action’ and results’, thus hampering work on issues requiring long-term R and D; small size, combined with poor coordination among NGOs, makes it difficult for effective two-way links to be established between them and government research services.

5.4.3 Institutional home for rural aquaculture

As the promotion of rural aquaculture requires a multidisciplinary approach both in terms of its typical setting within a wider agricultural system and in terms of the multifarious factors which influence what is feasible where, the promotion of aquaculture is not the sole prerogative of any one development agency and should not automatically be the preserve of departments of fisheries. These certainly have a role to play in offering technical support, but other agencies, whether government, NGO and private sector, can equally claim to be important stakeholders in the process.

The issue is where each player can be most effective and ensure that the role of each is clear. There is need for strategic planning of what all are doing in relation to the overall objective of rural aquaculture development and where all the players fit in relation to their comparative advantages. The same applies to the role of regional and international agencies.

It is not an easy task. Contrary to the move towards by-passing national agricultural research systems (NARs), Ravnborg (1992) sees the only viable recourse as strengthening them to play a key role in problem definition and priority determination in a demand-driven system. However, the process of strengthening is likely to be lengthy because of entrenched ideas and habits. All concerned have to work long and hard to change the institutional “spots” of various organisations:

There is need for guidance which is probably the role of the international research centres and advanced scientific institutions in specific regions. Specifically, Ravnborg (1992) notes that “new ecoregional entities will become part of the solution, since they are envisaged as lead centres coordinating between global centres and national systems.” Ravnborg’s view of the role of these centres is focused on research coordination in relation to specific commodities. However, they should see themselves as having a wider function in promoting new approaches to rural aquaculture development, acting as mentor and guide to national institutions and training their scientific and extension staff through collaborative activities and formal and informal training.

5.5 Human resource capacity building

Perhaps the major question in the framework for the promotion of rural aquaculture is the long-term sustainability of the process. This implies building up the national capacity usually in the form of training of local staff, to ensure that key inputs outside the farmer’s own production system are maintained in the absence of externally-funded project assistance.

Key questions to be answered include the following:

The most important people to be trained are the farmers themselves, but, in discussing human resource capacity building, the focus is on those with responsibilities to support the farmers’ efforts in policy making, planning and management, research and extension. However, this narrowing of the target group only helps to a limited extent. Several groups could be the focus for training and each may need a different content and method of training. Key questions for a project may then be which group to train and in what and by what means to offer the maximum impact in the short-term.

There are many dilemmas in capacity building. Training the staff of tertiary educational institutions for long-term degree training removes key staff who could play a crucial role in improving the programme of those institutions in the short-term. Concentrating resources upon such institutions only addresses the needs of the present generation, not the many staff already working in aquaculture development who have been deprived of such training for a variety of reasons in the past. Emphasis on formal technical training in aquaculture may bypass the needs of those already involved in rural aquaculture development. In the Lao PDR, for example, the conventional focus on degree level training at the higher level agricultural college is inappropriate, since there will be few opportunities for graduates from there in aquaculture in the next ten years. Local agricultural school facilities may need to be used for a more radical training programme for district field staff on a modular basis, possibly involving distance education methods.

A proposal is that training should relate to identification of sites and target groups rather than focusing on “site-specific rural aquaculture projects” Harrison et al. (1994). This suggestion to complement the usually technical emphasis of training in aquaculture is welcome but the AIT Outreach Programme indicates that a problem-based focus involving promotion of aquaculture in a given area can be rather effective. On-the-job training of local officials working with the Outreach program’s field projects in Northeast Thailand and Indochina is supplemented with relevant formal and non-formal short-course training. Staff of cooperating national institutions also attend AIT and other institutions for M.Sc. and Ph.D. degree education, but are encouraged to conduct the research required for the degree in-country within the project area.

AIT has established a novel type of network through its Aquaculture Outreach Programme which focuses on the promotion of rural aquaculture, where appropriate, in specific locations in developing countries (Figure 14). The three focused components are:

Outreach comprises two interlinked components: FSR & E to promote rural aquaculture; and strengthening the capacity of both research and educational institutions involved in rural aquaculture. Both are directed by a problem-based approach with AIT and its partners jointly identifying key researchable constraints to rural aquaculture, leading to establishment of projects. New approaches and knowledge generated by the research are fed back into training and further research. Outreach and on-campus activities are closely linked in a mutually reinforcing, two-way interaction. Involvement of campus-based faculty and staff in field research keeps them informed of current developments, thereby improving the relevance of AIT’s service to the Asian region. The resources required to significantly increase the capacity of even a single national institution are beyond what a single institution such as AIT can raise. AIT thus uses its comparative advantages of a local, regional base (Ravnborg’s ‘eco-regional entity’) to facilitate the inputs of other institutions to the mutual benefit of all parties, as well as better focused and more cost-effective delivery of assistance.

Attitudes are being changed by a learning process through problem-solving more than formal training. Hence the most liberal framework of formal training should include real field experience, both for trainers and for students, if the current split between formal education and experience is not to widen. For institutions, there may be issues to solve such as balance between full-time and part-time teachers, teachers’ involvement in outside work, and government departments and the private sector’s roles in training. Conceivably, if the main target group are those already in service, they are more likely to relate to more experienced and more highly trained senior staff within the same line agencies, than to relatively inexperienced college teachers, although such duties would bring yet more pressure to bear on already overburdened people. Ideally there should also be partnership here and close managerial relations between training institutes and the public and private sectors which they serve (or should be serving) which will help to bring this about. The growing interest in the western concept of community colleges in some developing countries may be productive.

This discussion is at the heart of the major educational debate in relation to teaching versus experiential learning, of content versus process. Proponents of the learning process approach have argued that teaching mirrors the transfer of technology in its classic ‘learning from above, teaching to below’ mode (Pretty and Chambers, 1994) and that ‘teaching can threaten sustainable agriculture’ (Ison, 1990). At its extreme, the learning process approach would argue that even content should be obtained through a process of discovery, a process now made easier by the construction of the information superhighway even down to local level. The problem is that much of this information is available in an undigested form and that its sheer volume is liable to produce indigestion among potential users. To continue the dietary metaphor, nor do the packages in which the information arrives indicate its nutritional value on the label. A more balanced view dictates that the learning process must go together with, at the very least, advice from the experienced professional on what might be valuable in the context of the existing knowledge.

It is probable that a human resource capacity building programme for rural aquaculture involves a whole series of training opportunities and modes at different levels. What is important is that there should be at least some element of common understanding of concepts and methods at all levels. There are and have always been dangers that external or even national university level training creates a product which is so isolated from the needs of farmers, and even from the understanding of fellow workers in the system, that it perpetuates the classic split between research and development which the framework presented here has been at pains to break down. Common conceptual and methodological themes in training seeking to bring about a ‘one-mindedness’ from policy makers down to local officials/extensionists can help to avoid that tendency.

Fig. 15. Promotion of aquaculture by strengthened capacity of national institutions through coordinated activities facilitated by ecoregional centers.

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