Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page



Matthias Halwarta and Anne A. van Damb
a FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Rome, Italy
b UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands

Halwart, M. & van Dam, A.A. 2006. Development of integrated irrigation and aquaculture in West Africa: the way forward. In M. Halwart & A.A. van Dam, eds. Integrated irrigation and aquaculture in West Africa: concepts, practices and potential, pp. 169–174. Rome, FAO. 181 pp.


This chapter provides an overview of critical elements for the promotion of integrated irrigation-aquaculture (IAA) in West Africa. It emphasizes that IIA should be interpreted more broadly than merely in terms of aquaculture in irrigation schemes. Options for integration of fish production (capture fisheries and aquaculture) with production of crops exist in a wide range of environments, from river floodplains and lake basins to inland valleys and irrigation systems. The constraints for development of IIA are different for these different environments and also depend on local conditions. Many detailed constraints for countries in the West Africa region were mentioned in the preceding chapters. Some key factors for successful adoption of IIA across a wide range of environments are reiterated. Participation and empowerment of the resource users (farming and fishing communities) in development of new technologies is crucial for ensuring relevance and making use of existing knowledge about resource use. Cross-sectoral, multi-disciplinary collaboration is needed to bring together the various agencies involved (water, agriculture, environment, fisheries, etc.) at local, national and regional levels. Improved knowledge management is needed to ensure the generation, storage and sharing of knowledge and information on IIA. Innovative ways of working together and modern information and communication technology should be used to support this process through networking.

Integrated irrigation and aquaculture development potential: a synopsis

The results of various meetings and workshops on IIA (Moehl et al., 2001; FAO/WARDA, 2005) and the contributions in this book show the general agreement on the significant potential for developing integrated aquaculture activities in irrigation networks. This potential should be explored, particularly in irrigated systems dominated by rice production. But why is the technology not spreading like wildfire when it has so much potential and so many obvious advantages?

In most studies and reviews, IIA has been interpreted as a combination of aquaculture in irrigation schemes. However, there is a range of environments in which people grow crops or produce fish, and fish production can be enhanced in all these environments ranging from floodplains, lake basins and inland valleys without formal governance arrangements to large-scale irrigation systems with official management authorities. In between, a variety of crop production systems can be found, from different forms of flood-recession agriculture in wetlands through rainfed upland agriculture to irrigated crops. Likewise, fish production can range from unregulated capture fisheries, through different forms of management and enhanced fisheries, to aquaculture with fully controlled culture cycles and clearly defined ownership of stocks. The contributions in this volume show that IIA development efforts should not be limited to “formal” aquaculture in “formal” irrigation systems. A lot of the potential increases in crop and fish production in West Africa lies in enhancing production from extensive, seasonal wetland agriculture and fisheries. Technologies for enhancing such traditional systems should be developed further, building on valuable local knowledge and incorporating concepts from other parts of the world. IIA in this wider sense is a set of technologies for integration of fish production into crop production systems. IIA then becomes part of a natural resources management approach in which water and nutrients are managed wisely for the benefit of the resource users and without detrimental effects on the environment.

Many of the constraints that have been listed for the various environments are not particular to IIA but rather to the development of aquaculture and agriculture in general. The recent recommendations for aquaculture development in sub-Saharan Africa (Moehl et al. 2005) are therefore also valid for IIA development. Many recommendations for dissemination of integrated agriculture-aquaculture in Asia contain valid points for IIA development (e.g., Phillips et al., 2001; Prein, 2002). In general, synergies between irrigation and aquaculture should be exploited to the fullest extent so that aquaculture operations can produce as much fish as possible while irrigation also benefits, possibly beyond enhanced water productivity. An approach to fish farming development at the irrigation system level has been proposed, as this will alleviate constraints that are inevitably encountered if aquaculture is developed in only one irrigation system component (Fernando and Halwart, 2000, 2001).

For individual countries, IIA development requires a sequence of developing a national strategy, identifying high potential areas, identifying suitable production systems, ensuring an adequate number of development participants in a specific zone, and targeting well-focused participatory extension services to these selected groups regularly and over a substantial period of time. It also requires efforts in data collection and documenting successful examples so that suitable technologies can be scaled up, preferably with the involvement of the early adopters. Advice and support mechanisms will be needed at local, national and sub-regional or regional levels so that communities and countries can benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience. The recent developments initiated in the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA) for the establishment of an organization for Africa similar to the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific (NACA) in Asia will be critically important in successful networking.

Specific recommendations for IIA development by key environment (irrigated systems, floodplains, inland valley bottoms) and the type of constraint/intervention (technical, institutional, economic, social, environmental) have been put forward (FAO/WARDA 2005). It is obvious that technical difficulties make up only a small portion of the constraints that have to be overcome. Much can be done to create an enabling environment for IIA development particularly on the institutional side, and governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector should work together in this direction. The following paragraphs provide an overview of critical elements that need to be considered in the promotion of IIA based on FAO/WARDA (2005) and contributions in this volume. Three main issues are highlighted, roughly corresponding to the local, national and (sub-)regional levels: locally, the need for participation of targeted communities and support for their efforts; at a national level, the need for an integrated, multisectoral approach; and at a (sub-)regional level, the need for networking and knowledge management.

Participation and institutional support for local development

IIA development should take a participatory approach, involving the target communities who are expected to adopt IIA technology right from the start of the process in identifying promising technologies and culture systems, developing and adapting technology to local conditions, incorporating local and traditional knowledge into innovative techniques, and disseminating successful approaches to other prospective adopters. Choosing the right target groups is essential. Prevalence of local customs, attitudes to work and innovations, and ethnic origin are factors that can influence the success and uptake of IIA activities. Understanding and sensitivity to these differences and their influence on perception of IIA is a prerequisite. Inter-ethnic relations are equally important and will condition the long-term success of IIA, especially in areas where land is shared by several ethnic groups and rises in land value following the introduction of aquaculture could lead to possible conflicts.

The potential role of farmers in dissemination of IIA technology in West Africa is not completely clear. Farmer-to-farmer training can be inefficient in sub-Sahara Africa because of the long distances travelled and the low number of participants. Conversely, group training was more appropriate and well received (Harrison et al. 1994). Extension of IIA should focus on the groups and systems in high priority areas as identified in the national aquaculture development strategy. Trainers need to spend a considerable amount of time with the farmers, usually at least once a week over a whole season. Also, considerable time is required for farmers/households to become familiar with IIA innovations and new land and water management techniques. A Farmer Field School curriculum that combines integrated pest management, aquaculture and rice farming is urgently needed.

Organized support for farmers at the local level is extremely important. Multi-stakeholder partnerships, consisting of farmer's groups, government agencies (e.g., agricultural and fisheries extension, environmental agencies, research institutes and universities) and non-governmental organizations should be established to assist farmers in development and adaptation of new approaches. Management committees representing all local water users should be established or strengthened. Extension services should be sufficiently funded, and the technical capacity of all stakeholders should be increased with the training of technicians and the strengthening of producers’capacity for the organisational, technical and financial management of IIA activities.

Technically, production technology is important but the rest of the production chain (fingerling and feed production, processing and marketing) and general management aspects should also receive attention. Low-cost systems using locally available materials have more promise of success than intensive, high-input systems. Extensive aquaculture in irrigated rice areas of inland valley bottoms is more suitable than semi-intensive aquaculture in which fish areas are smaller and require more inputs (Coulibaly, 2000). Special consideration needs to be given to marketing issues and prices for fish since rice-fish farmers have less flexibility about timing of harvest and selling the fish than farmers with ponds. Private fingerling production and distribution should be promoted. Wild seed collection and stocking methods for fish to be raised in command areas should be developed. Farmer Field Schools would consider all aspects of production and post-harvest issues leaving flexibility to incorporate farmers’needs.

Agricultural extension staff should be trained in aquaculture and in participatory development approaches (Halwart & Gupta, 2004). These ideas are currently put into practice in a regional Technical Cooperation Project in Guyana and Suriname with considerable success. The extension support should be delivered by a small and well-trained group of extension agents. This group would provide the core trainers who will train others. The extension approach should be participatory in nature giving special attention to gender issues as has been done in the Farmer Field Schools which have so successfully introduced the concept of Integrated Pest Management to Asian and African farmers.

Integrated, multisectoral, collaborative approach within an IWRM framework

Although the more efficient utilization of scarce water resources is one of the objectives of IIA development, IIA systems will be competing with other water uses. IIA development should therefore be part of an integrated water resources management (IWRM) or integrated watershed or river-basin management approach and be on the agenda of river and lake basin management authorities. Necessary precautions to limit the negative impacts of IIA activities and to strengthen environmental protection should be taken. Potential conflicts between different user groups (e.g. irrigation, fishers, drinking water) can only be resolved at high levels. Caution is needed as multisectoral integration is difficult and requires strong mediation skills. A “sustainable governance” approach to IIA development should be adopted. The governance concept implies the involvement of both public and private actors who share an interest in resource management. Apart from the actor level where most of the resource-use problems and conflicts become visible, institutional arrangements and structures (organizations involved, laws, agreements etc.) as well as shared norms and principles are important. Research for IIA should focus not only on exploitation of the natural and agricultural resources but must include the context in which the exploitation takes place (Giampietro, 2003; Kooiman and Bavinck, 2005).

Most of the environments in which integrated production of fish and crops take place are multi-functional ecosystems (often wetlands) that serve a variety of sectors and stakeholders. However, they are often subject to uni-sectoral planning and as a result, their multiple values are frequently ignored. Fisheries and aquaculture are often separated institutionally, which does not help their integrated development. Many other sectoral agencies are involved, such as environment (wildlife), water and infrastructure departments. Considering aquaculture as a branch of agriculture could be an initial step towards the more consistent promotion of integrated aquaculture and IIA. This should facilitate its integration into agricultural development programmes linked to irrigation use as well as its promotion to farmers by agricultural extension agents. This will only be possible with a strengthening of interdisciplinary collaboration amongst institutions and cross-sectoral partnerships encompassing the multiple interests at stake: water for rice and other crops, irrigation, fish and other uses. Links should be established with the environment and development sectors to look for common objectives of environmental protection and poverty eradication. National IIA strategies should be part of agricultural development strategies. Such an integrated approach can also help states to fulfil their obligations to international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands or the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF). Organizations that are traditionally concerned primarily with protection of wetlands in relation to waterfowl and migratory birds are now seeking collaboration with development agencies and try to develop “wise use” approaches that link the livelihoods of wetland communities to the conservation of ecosystem integrity (see e.g., Ramsar, 2005; Wetlands International, 2005). IIA may facilitate collaboration between wetland and agricultural sectors and provide opportunities to enhance the direct use values of wetlands without destroying their ecological services and functions.

Agricultural services should take the lead in implementation but participation should include other interest groups and the private sector. Rice-fish farming development should be included in national rice production strategies (Halwart & Gupta 2004). Such action is supported by the policy recommendations made to the 61 member countries of the International Rice Commission at its last session in Bangkok in 2002, both on enhancing aquatic biodiversity in rice fields as well as the deliberate farming of fish in rice fields (Box 1). In each country, a multisectoral entity coordinating the development of IIA should be created. This new entity should be financed from existing resources in the participating agencies. Such a body would be instrumental in facilitating the formation of farmer associations and facilitation of credit. Projects on irrigation development and rehabilitation would be screened by this entity ensuring that due consideration is given to the various aquaculture systems in these irrigation systems at the earliest stage, if possible already at the planning or design phase.

A supportive legal and regulatory framework for IIA development should be created, including an updating of regulatory texts on the management of command areas and a revision of land tenure arrangements. Priority zones of intervention need to be identified based on an inventory of all resources and infrastructures to identify IIA potential. Target groups need to be identified, in particular rice farmers and beneficiaries from integrated pest management (IPM) programmes in rice farming. Participatory identification of IIA systems according to the means and characteristics of target groups should be initiated or continued. In this context, better acknowledgement of traditional resource management and enhancement systems is an essential component of a more appropriate and effective approach to inland fisheries and aquaculture development (COFAD, 2001). The needs for and access to credit for the adoption of IIA technologies should be evaluated and facilitated, micro-financing schemes should be reviewed to negotiate preferential rates for IIA producers. The local availability of inputs for IIA should be assessed. Introduction of IPM and reduced pesticide use leads to cleaner aquatic environments and should be stimulated.

Box 1. Recommendations of the 20th Session of the International Rice Commission, 23–26 July 2002, to its 61 member countries.
The FAO's International Rice Commission is the forum where senior policy makers and rice specialists from rice producing countries review their national rice research and development programmes. Its objective is the promotion of national and international action in matters relating to the production, conservation, distribution and consumption of rice. With regard to the presentation on “Recent initiatives on the availability and use of aquatic organisms in rice-based farming” the Commission made the following recommendations:
  1. Member countries should promote the sustainable development of aquatic biodiversity in rice-based ecosystems, and policy decisions and management measures should enhance the living aquatic resource base. In areas where wild fish are depleted, rice-fish farming should be considered as a means of enhancing food security and securing sustainable rural development.
  2. Attention should be given to the nutritional contribution of aquatic organisms in the diet of rural people who produce or depend on rice.
Source: FAO (2002)

Knowledge management and networking

A large body of knowledge and information on IIA is available. Valuable traditional knowledge about fish and crop resources and their management is present among the proposed target groups for IIA development (farming and fishing communities). More formal knowledge about fisheries management, aquaculture, agronomy (including irrigation), environmental impact, marketing, processing and other relevant fields is available in national institutions (universities, government research institutes) and in international agencies. A conscious knowledge management approach should be followed to mobilize, store, organize and exchange knowledge on IIA.

The impact of research on development should be increased. Formulation of research questions should be based on the identification of problems by stakeholders (resource users/farmers and policy/decision makers) in the field. A better communication between researchers and the “consumers” of knowledge will increase the impact of research on development. At a local level, multi-stakeholder partnerships can facilitate this process, but it should also be pursued at national and regional levels to ensure rapid dissemination of successful approaches and prevent duplication of research efforts. Highly successful initiatives, such as the preparation of the resource book on the utilization of different aquatic resources for livelihoods in Asia (IIRR et al., 2001) should be repeated in Africa. Collaborative and integrative learning approaches should be explored to achieve more rapid and effective upscaling of stakeholder-driven innovation processes. An example are Learning Alliances, a series of linked platforms at community, district and national levels that bring together stakeholders in an area of common interest, such as IIA (Lundy et al., 2004; Moriarty et al., 2005).IIA development should be periodically evaluated based on participatory monitoring programmes in the field. Farmers can be involved in monitoring of IIA activities. This would help to evaluate in a comprehensive and inclusive manner the social, economic, environmental and institutional sustainability of IIA systems.

Networking for information exchange and harmonization of approaches should be stimulated at all levels of involvement (policy and decision-making, research, extension, inter-sectoral). Existing national and international networks should be used to enhance the flow of IIA information and knowledge. Knowledge of a wide range of systems and environments is available from all over the world. Information and communication tools should be used to store, organize and mobilize knowledge on IIA.

Need for action

It is high time that the conclusions and recommendations of the wide range of experts who participated in the IIA Workshop in Bamako in 2003 and contributed to this volume are now taken up and implemented. Most countries have the necessary knowledge and other prerequisites to start with small “seed” activities that can demonstrate to policy makers and donors that investing into the scaling up of IIA will be a wise decision with high returns on the food security and poverty alleviation agendas.

At the same time, there are mechanisms available to assist countries in initiating activities on IIA. Besides the bilateral as well as various multilateral opportunities, the Telefood anti-hunger campaign of the FAO can be approached for small-scale projects (FAO, 2005a). Several authors have highlighted the importance of the National Special Programmes for Food Security. Through projects in over one hundred countries worldwide the SPFS promotes effective and tangible solutions to the elimination of hunger, undernourishment and poverty (FAO 2005b). The SPFS strongly promotes national ownership and local empowerment in the countries in which it operates, and it is in the countries'best interest if they make IIA a pillar of their national agricultural development work. Yet another opportunity is through FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme which supports the FAO Member Nations through small projects which address specific problems in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors (FAO, 2005c).

The successful development of IIA in West Africa will need to take place incorporating various components at local, national and regional levels. A regional programme will be necessary to support development efforts, and in fact a programme proposal on integrated inland water resources management in drought-prone West African countries through development of IAA has been prepared and presented to the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA) at its 11th session in Abuja, Nigeria in October 2000. The Committee unanimously endorsed this regional programme (FAO, 2001). Some time has passed, but with the recent advancement of our knowledge on the concepts, practices and potential of IIA the proposed programme has become even more relevant. It is elaborated in detail in the next chapter, for reference, and in the hope that funds can be secured for its timely implementation.


Coulibaly, D. 2000. Etude de cas d'intégration irrigation-aquaculture (IIA) à Luenoufla (Région de Daloa) en Côte d'Ivoire. Consultancy Report, APDRA-CI. Rome, FAO.

COFAD. 2001. Back to basics - traditional inland fisheries management and enhancement systems in sub-Saharan Africa and their potential for development. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (gtz) GmbH. Eschborn, F.R. Germany. 203 pp.

FAO. 2001. Report of the eleventh session of the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa. Abuja, Nigeria, 24–27 October 2000. FAO Fisheries Report 644. Accra, FAO. 53 pp.

FAO. 2002. Report of the 20th Session of the International Rice Commission held in Bangkok, Thailand, 23–26 July 2002. FAO, Rome. 46 pp.

FAO. 2005a. About telefood - building solidarity to end world hunger (available at http://www.fao. org/food/english/about/index.html).

FAO. 2005b. The Special Programme for Food Security (available at

FAO. 2005c. Technical Cooperation Programme (available at

FAO/WARDA. 2005. Report of the FAO-WARDA Workshop on Integrated Irrigation Aquaculture, Bamako, Mali, 4–7 November 2003. Rome, FAO. 44 pp.

Fernando, C.H. & Halwart, M. 2000. Possibilities for the integration of fish farming into irrigation systems. Fisheries Management and Ecology 7: 45–54.

Fernando, C.H. & Halwart, M. 2001. Fish farming in irrigation systems: Sri Lanka and global view. Sri Lanka Journal of Aquatic Sciences 6: 1–74.

Giampietro, M. 2003. Multi-scale integrated analysis of agroecosystems (Advances in agroecology). Boca Raton (USA), CRC Press.

Halwart, M. & Gupta, M.V., eds. 2004. Culture of fish in rice fields. FAO and the WorldFish Center. 83 pp. (also available at http://www.worldfishcen

Harrison, E., Stewart, J.A., Stirrat, R.L. and Muir, J.F. 1994. Fish farming in Africa: What's the catch? University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. 51 pp.

IIRR, IDRC, FAO, NACA & ICLARM. 2001. Utilizing different aquatic resources for livelihoods in Asia: a resource book. International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, International Development Research Centre, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Network of Aqua-culture Centers in Asia-Pacific and International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management. 416 pp. (also available at aquatic_resources/).

Lundy, M., Gottret, M.V. & Ashby, J. 2004. Building multi-stakeholder innovation systems through learning alliances. Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) Initiative, ILAC Brief 8. Rome, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), 4 pp. (also available at http://www.

Kooiman, J. & M. Bavinck. 2005. The governance perspective, pp. 11–24, In J. Kooiman, M. Bavinck, S. Jentoft and R.S.V. Pullin, eds. Fish for life - interactive governance for fisheries. Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press. 427 pp.

Moehl, J.F., Beernaerts, I., Coche, A.G., Halwart, M. & Sagua, V.O. 2001. Proposal for an African network on integrated irrigation and aquaculture. Proceedings of a Workshop held in Accra, Ghana, 20–21 September 1999. Rome, FAO. 75 pp.

Moehl, J.F., Halwart, M. & Brummett, R. 2005. Report of the FAO-WorldFish Center workshop on small-scale aquaculture in sub-saharan Africa: revisiting the aquaculture target group paradigm. Limbé, Cameroon, 23–26 March 2004. CIFA Occasional Paper. No. 25. Rome, FAO. 54 pp.

Moriarty, P., Fonseca, C., Smits, S. & Schouten, A. 2005. Background paper for the symposium: Learning Alliances for scaling up innovative approaches in the water and sanitation sector. Delft, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. 33 pp. (also available at http://www.

Phillips, M.J., Boyd, C. & Edwards, P. 2001. Systems approach to aquaculture management. In R.P. Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J. Phillips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery & J.R. Arthur, eds. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, pp. 239–247. Bangkok, Thailand, 20–25 February 2000. NACA, Bangkok and FAO, Rome.

Prein, M. 2002. Integration of aquaculture into crop-animal systems in Asia. Agricultural Systems, 71: 127–146.

Ramsar. 2005. Wetlands and water: supporting life, sustaining livelihoods, 9th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands, Kampala, Uganda, 8–15 November 2005 (available at http://www.

Wetlands International. 2005. The wetlands and poverty reduction project. Linking wetland conservation and poverty alleviation. Wageningen, Wetlands International (also available at

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page