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6. Summary and conclusions

6.1 Definition and issues
6.2 Sustainable rural aquaculture farming systems
6.3 Promoting rural aquaculture

6.1 Definition and issues

Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms, has a long history in China and Egypt but is a relatively minor activity globally compared to agronomy and animal husbandry. This applies to most countries in Asia as well as in Africa and Latin America. Until recently wild fish satisfied the needs of much lower human population densities than today in most developing countries but declining per caput availability of wild fish from overfishing and environmental degradation now provides a stimulus for growth of aquaculture. However, aquaculture should be promoted to fulfil its potential and join agronomy and animal husbandry as major farming systems.

Rural aquaculture is carried out by small-scale farming households for household consumption and income generation. For rural aquaculture to address issues of poverty and inequity, would require production systems appropriate to the poor resource base of small-scale farmers (producers) and to low purchasing power of poor rural and urban consumers. These use extensive and semi-intensive modes of production based on low-cost, on-farm or off-farm fertilisers and supplementary feeds rather than nutritionally formulated feeds as in intensive culture.

The traditional carbohydrate-rich staple diet of many developing countries, if consumed in sufficient quantities, is adequate for adults. In contrast to adults, pregnant and nursing women, and infants and pre-school children, are vulnerable target groups which cannot obtain adequate nutrients from a mainly cereal or tuber-based diet. Consumption of fish would provide a more concentrated form of energy, animal protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the latter required for foetal brain development.

Human diets tend to diversity with economic development, leading to increased consumption of animal produce. While animal protein provided by fish declines relative to that from livestock as a percentage of total animal protein consumption, the absolute amount of fish consumed increases as undernutrition is overcome. Aquaculture may thus serve to alleviate undernutrition and to contribute to rising living standards in societies in which fish are a desirable dietary item.

Integrated farming is as an important pathway by which resource-poor, small-scale farming households, relatively few of which farm fish, may become aquaculturists. There is great potential for aquaculture to expand in area through integration with agriculture: integration of fish into rice cultivation may lead to reduced pesticide use; and construction of a pond provides an on-farm reservoir which may facilitate farm diversification through increased production of crops and livestock as well as fish. Furthermore, crop and livestock by-products are likely to provide the initial main nutritional inputs to rural aquaculture.

Due to the poor resource base of most small-scale farms, off-farm nutritional inputs can intensify production although in an environmentally sustainable way. This may be necessary for rural aquaculture to make a significant contribution to increased welfare through subsistence and income generation. This is especially the case with rising aspirations, particularly where there are attractive, alternative opportunities for employment both on and off-farm. Intensification of rural aquaculture through use of off-farm inputs implies the use of recently developed, semi-intensive production technology based on inorganic fertilisers and supplementary feed rather than sole reliance on formulated feeds.

With increased appreciation of the complexity of sustainable rural aquaculture, it is not surprising that many past efforts to promote it have failed. The generally poor results of promotion of rural aquaculture in Africa and Latin America as a means to alleviate poverty have led to its relevance being questioned. However, in several poor countries in Asia where fish is a traditional part of the diet and alternative sources of income are not readily available, resource-poor farmers have shown both interest and ability to culture fish using low-cost inputs. It is not true that aquaculture only has relevance for richer households. Aquaculture does have potential for poor farmers but appropriate technology and means to promote it are needed.

Major constraints to the promotion of rural aquaculture are often not technical. Rather they are the limited ability of developing countries to assimilate and adapt technology for rural aquaculture existing in other developing countries. Promotion of rural aquaculture is also exacerbated by the limited qualified manpower in education, research and development in developing countries.

A holistic systems approach is required to complement the traditional disciplinary, reductionist method of science. Conceptual frameworks could facilitate understanding of the numerous interrelated factors involved in appropriate sustainable technology and appropriate means to promote rural aquaculture. These are outlined in the following two sections.

6.2 Sustainable rural aquaculture farming systems

A systems framework comprising three interrelated aspects of production technology, social and economic factors, and environmental factors is presented for rural aquaculture. Its use would facilitate appreciation of the factors that influence the sustainability of rural aquaculture. Development of production systems for rural aquaculture would then better address people’s needs and be more attuned to the local resource base in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The conceptual framework comprises:

6.3 Promoting rural aquaculture

A conceptual framework of the factors that need to be considered for successful promotion of rural aquaculture by the diverse “actors” involved, both as individuals and in organisations, is outlined. Such a framework clarifies thought and direction of subsequent action, provides a common language so individuals can communicate, and helps to coordinate activities.

The conceptual framework comprises two interrelated parts: the first part is theory and practice, a better understanding of which would facilitate the activities of the various players or human resource capacity, the second part.

Upgrading human resources at all levels is required for rural aquaculture to attain its potential: implementors (farmers, agribusiness) and facilitators (government and non-government organisations; international agencies such as bilateral and multilateral funding agencies; and global, regional and developed country technical institutions). Developmental assistance would also be more effective if it were better coordinated; and if it related to the need for, and potential of, rural aquaculture in specific geographical areas rather than being primarily institute-driven in terms of policies or subject matter interest of various research scientists.

The complexity of factors relating to promotion of rural aquaculture dictates the need for multidisciplinary teams of natural and social scientists. Unfortunately such teams are hard to form and even harder to manage. Specialists from different disciplines have different world views, and use different terms and methodologies. Team or project management is also constrained by the need for a high-level of interpersonal skill and leadership which is frequently limited. Individuals need to develop a personal philosophy involving balance in coexisting with nature, balance in academic affairs by following a systems approach, as well as balance in dealing with other individuals in a flexible and constructive way.

A system approach commonly referred to as farming systems research and extension (FSR & E) is required to promote rural aquaculture. Essentially the approach involves three sequential stages of research: situation analysis or the assessment of the needs for, and the benefits from, aquaculture technology in a particular area and with a particular client group; the identification or development, and subsequent field testing of appropriate technology; and research into extension models to widely disseminate the adapted technology in recommendation domains or areas where a particular technology is appropriate. Besides the farm production level, research is required at two other levels in the systems hierarchy: the regional resource system; and the national policy framework.

FSR has shifted the paradigm of agricultural research and development from a technology-driven, top-down approach towards a farmer-first, bottom-up approach. Some proponents maintain that farmers always have the ability to solve problems by themselves. A more balanced view of the need for on-farm and/or on-station research is needed, particularly in rural aquaculture which is a relatively recent farming practice in most areas with low indigenous technical knowledge compared to agriculture and animal husbandry.

Alternative approaches to aquaculture extension should also be developed: there are limited institutional resources for extension; and there is great diversity and complexity of situations in which rural aquaculture has potential. A “minimalist approach” to the production of extension messages is recommended. A dedicated aquaculture extension service at grassroots level is not required as generalist extension workers can transmit various technological options to farmers who adapt the most appropriate one to their specific conditions by trial and error. Aquaculture specialists may play a significant role in backstopping generalist extension workers at the grassroots with appropriate, general, technical messages and transmitting problems emerging from the grassroots level to research service staff for resolution.

Another consequence of the FSR movement has been a shift in planning and management for rural aquaculture from a top-down approach by national level experts to decentralised planning at the district and/or provincial level. As with farm level FSR, extreme proponents of the participatory, bottom-up approach have unrealistically assumed that problems can be readily solved by the rural community itself. A more balanced view is now emerging with successive shifts in the rural (aquaculture) development paradigm from top-down planning for the people, to bottom-up planning by the people, to planning in partnership with the people.

A balanced approach is also required to collect adequate information and data to assess where aquaculture might fit into specific rural livelihood systems. A judicious blend of the relative advantages of the techniques of rapid rural appraisal and participatory rural appraisal is needed. More conventional survey data collection using questionnaires are required to analyse complex on-farm situations before technical recommendations can be made.

There is also a need to collect information for resource assessment at regional level, physical and environmental as well as social and economic variables. These need to be assessed in time and space to predict trends, and thus determine relevance and sustainability. Geographical information systems are frequently seen as a promising tool of analysis but their usefulness is constrained at the micro level, which often determines the potential for aquaculture, due to limited availability of data.

Faulty project planning and implementation constrain the promotion of rural aquaculture. Frequently the needs of target beneficiaries and therefore the problems to be addressed are not properly defined. This is compounded by lack of flexibility in project implementation, with allocation and schedule for use of project resources are fixed. There is a need to introduce a “rolling planning” process in which annual operational plans are set within broad project objectives based on the previous year’s project results.

Monitoring is important in the “rolling planning” process called for above, but it is usually equated with impact evaluation which is a distinct stage in the project cycle, usually carried out after project completion. Donors often insist on measurement of increased output of fish to evaluate the impact of rural aquaculture projects but this is difficult to achieve with small-scale households. Farmers’ adoption of a technology is recommended as a viable indicator. Adoption is the end point in a process in which the farmer carefully evaluates change, including reasons for acceptance or rejection of a particular technology.

A number of institutional factors constrain the promotion of rural aquaculture. Projects often fail because of different aims and objectives of donor funded project staff and national agency counterpart staff. Donor-driven objectives increasingly reflect the changing paradigm towards more sustainable development but donors tend to sponsor their own nationals, both consultants and researchers, although they may not be the most experienced personnel available in most situations. Donors increasingly support NGOs as alternative facilitators to government line agencies as they are closer to grassroots but comparative advantages of NGOs are increasingly being questioned. Promotion of rural aquaculture should involve various government agencies besides departments of fisheries, and NGOs and the private sector. Strategic planning is required to define the role of each in relation to their comparative advantages.

Strategic planning is also required to coordinate the development initiatives of donors and national, regional and international agencies. Rather than bypassing government institutions, these should be strengthened to play a more central role in promotion of rural aquaculture. Guidance and leadership may be provided in the most cost-effective way by international research centres and advanced scientific institutions based in specific regions in the developing world.

The major issue in the promotion of rural aquaculture is long-term sustainability. This implies building up national human resources capacity at all levels through education and training to eventually eliminate the need for external project assistance. A problem-based focus involving the promotion of rural aquaculture in specific locations in developing countries is recommended. Three focused components of this strategy are the following:

The essence of the approach is on-the-job training of local officials, supplemented with relevant informal and formal short training courses and degree-level education. The learning process involves field-based, problem-solving experience with associated capacity-building of both research and educational institutions involved in rural aquaculture. This is best facilitated by a regional institute linked with international collaborators to provide focused and cost-effective delivery of assistance. Due to the sheer volume of available information, mostly in undigested form, the learning process requires guidance from experienced professionals on what might be appropriate in terms of existing knowledge for specific local contexts and how best to assess and promote rural aquaculture Learning through problem-solving is the basis of the progressive educational concept of experiential learning which is highly effective as recent experience through the AIT coordinated network to promote rural aquaculture in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam has demonstrated.

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