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For people working in aquaculture, there are numerous issues which they need to understand in order to be able to plan aquaculture activities more effectively. The various elements in the RRA toolkit which can be used to address these different issues are described.

As explained already, an important part of the RRA approach is the use of many tools together during the RRA so that different topics are investigated in different ways by different people. This provides a means of quickly cross-checking information and contributes to a more complete understanding of conditions on the ground.

Many of the tools which make up the RRA “toolkit” can prove useful to people working in aquaculture development whether or not they are in a position to organise more structured RRA exercises involving proper multidisciplinary teams. Taken in isolation in this way, RRA tools are sometimes referred to as “Rapid Diagnostic Tools”. These can be thought of as “tricks of the trade” - techniques which people working in the field can use to “structure” their observations and learning when they are talking to people or groups. These can help them make better use of the time they spend in the field.

Whether or not these RRA tools are being used in the context of an organised RRA, certain tools lend themselves better to the investigation and understanding of certain types of issue. This is as true in aquaculture as it is in any other field and this section looks at some of the most important issues which aquaculture workers have to deal with and how RRA tools could help aquaculture workers to address those particular issues.

By approaching these tools from this point of view, there is inevitably some overlap. For example, if aquaculture workers are trying to understand how local people divide their labour and time between different activities so that they can understand how new aquaculture activities might fit in, they should also be looking at the gender aspects of time-use and labour so that they can specifically understand the possible impacts on women. So there is obviously overlap between the sections on labour and time-use and the sections on gender issues. Another example might be seasonality which is an important aspect of almost all issues in rural communities.

Understanding the connections between different sets of issues is one of the strong points of the RRA approach which formal questionnaire surveys have greater difficulty in accommodating. But some other issues, such as incomes, demography, details of land owned (as opposed to forms of land tenure) and precise measures of environmental factors, all of which are important to aquaculture workers, are not easily dealt with using RRA tools.

So this section concentrates on what RRA is good at. For more information regarding specific RRA tools mentioned here, readers can refer to Appendix 2, which reviews some of the principal tools and gives illustrations.

5.1 Land and water tenure

Arrangements for the tenure and use of land and water resources have an important influence on the feasibility of aquaculture.

Land tenure
Where aquaculture requires the excavation of ponds, the labour and investment required are only justifiable where tenure of the land area involved is reasonably secure in the long-term. Rural people concerned with minimising risk and maximising returns on their labour (which is often the only resource at their disposal) will clearly think twice about undertaking the excavation of a pond and investing in aquaculture if there is a risk that the land on which the pond stands could be taken away from them.

Box 10 gives an example of how analysis of existing conditions can help predict what impacts on land tenure might result from an expansion of aquaculture in the future. The names of different forms of land tenure need to be listed (taxonomies and classifications), the locations of different types of tenure mapped and the history and changes documented through interviews and timelines.

BOX 10
In Iringa District in south-western Tanzania small-scale aquaculture was being proposed as a possible means of compensating communities who had lost access to fisheries resources in local rivers as a result of the creation of a national park. In the villages in question, land is normally held by the village with the distribution of use-rights decided upon by the village authorities. In practice, this has generally meant that the rights to cultivate land have been given to the person who opens up land in the bush. This arrangement is widely regarded as the “norm” and it is commonly stated that land is not owned privately and, if a particular shamba or parcel of cleared land falls into disuse for 3 or more years, the village can take it back and redistribute it. Such an arrangement could discourage aquaculture development. However, during a ranking exercise in which local people indicated the distribution of land holdings inside an irrigation scheme among different people in the village, it became clear that tenure arrangements for some land were very different. With the increased diffusion of irrigated crops, the value of irrigated land has risen and, once such land is allocated to individuals, it is reported to be almost impossible for the village to reclaim it, even where it is not being utilised. This is said to be especially the case where “improvements” have been carried out, such as the planting of trees and, in some locations, the digging of fish ponds. In practical terms, where an individual or household plant trees or excavate irrigation channels to a particular parcel of land, that land becomes their private property although nominally it remains “village land”. This principle was said by some to be leading to an increasing concentration of good irrigable land in the hands of those with the resources and capital required to “improve” it. Pond excavation seemed to be developing as another means of “improvement” which could lead to more stable tenure for individuals but fewer land resources for the community.

Water tenure
Secure access to water resources is a fundamental requirement for aquaculture and the mechanisms which govern access and control of water need to be well understood by aquaculture planners. New activities which involve a change in patterns of water use need to take existing mechanisms into account

Detailed mapping of water control areas and analysis of the institutions governing them can enable planners to predict the impact of new or extended water uses such as aquaculture and where those impacts are most likely to fall.

land tenure
  • secondary data review - community records, land registry, laws on land tenure, land reform measures
  • community ranking / stratification by landholding
  • taxonomy of land tenure arrangements
  • mapping of land holdings / tenure arrangements
  • timelines indicating major changes in land tenure arrangements / land reform
  • key informant interviews - major landholders, pond owners
water tenure
  • secondary data review - water department records, laws on water use, fisheries laws
  • mapping of catchments, water use, water resources
  • ranking of water uses
  • timelines indicating major changes in water use / tenure
  • key informant interviews - water users, fishers, pond owners

In areas where water is more scarce, careful assessment is required of the alternative uses of water resources and whether aquaculture represents a good use of whatever water is available. Ranking exercises can help planners to understand how people decide about water use and look at the priorities of different groups regarding drinking, bathing, subsistence agriculture, vegetable farming or cattle watering.

5.2 Environmental factors

The assessment of the environmental suitability of a particular area for aquaculture obviously plays a key role in the early stages of any aquaculture development programme. Water and land availability and the suitability of soils and drainage patterns have to be assessed accurately as a basis for any further action. Often in the past, technical assessments like these have been carried out in isolation but, if they are incorporated into an RRA, local people's understanding of their own environment can be taken into account and past changes and processes better understood, adding to understanding of the current situation.

agro-ecological zoning
  • mapping of land and water characteristics
  • transects showing land / water use, characteristics, problems, potential
  • decision-trees regarding land / water use
  • historical maps and transects showing changes in land / water use
water availability
  • mapping of seasonal availability of water, extent of waterbodies
  • seasonal calendar showing changes in water availability, demand
  • timeline showing historical changes in water availability

Agro-ecological zoning
The various mapping and transect techniques used in RRAs can help aquaculture planners to understand both the key ecological characteristics of the area under study and local people's own classifications of land. Where freshwater pond aquaculture is being considered, alternative land-uses and the relative risks and potential of different types of activity, including aquaculture, can then be analysed in more depth.

In coastal areas, zoning exercises might be extended into coastal waters where other fisheries activities might be affected by aquaculture development on shore. Where “waste land” or marginal areas such as mangrove swamps are being considered for aquaculture, mapping and ranking carried out with different local groups can focus attention on specific areas and reveal uses and users that may not have been previously suspected.

The comparison of the ways in which different ecological zones are used can also reveal much about people's priorities and decision-making.

Water availability
Mapping and zoning can also be used to understand the water supply situation and provide information about upstream users of the water required for aquaculture, as well as indicate downstream impacts.

Seasonal changes in water availability are often very important. Seasonal water shortages may not necessarily exclude aquaculture as an option but they will radically affect its viability and decisions regarding the types of aquaculture which are appropriate. Even where water supplies are apparently adequate, the frequency of “dry” years needs to be ascertained as they may seriously affect long-term viability.

Longer-term changes and processes affecting water supply, such as land degradation in catchment areas, can be checked during an RRA using timelines and historical transects to see how rapidly changes are occurring.

5.3 Seasonality

A major weak point in most appraisals (and surveys) is that they seldom last for long enough to be able to observe directly how conditions change from one season to another. In most rural communities, seasonality normally affects all aspects of the community, its environment and the livelihoods of the people who live there Ideally, RRAs would be repeated at different times of the year to allow researchers and planners to experience the major seasonal differences directly. In some RRAs, involving small teams, this might be possible. But large exploratory RRAs aiming at identifying aquaculture activities are unlikely to have the luxury of being able to return to the field at a later date.

seasonal analysis
  • seasonal calendars showing activities, labour demand, income, food supply, water supply, flooding, problems
  • mapping of seasonal variables such as water supply, floods, fish sources

This means that RRA teams have to rely on their awareness of the importance of seasonally in order to draw out as complete a picture as possible from their discussions with local people.

The preparation of an in-depth seasonal calendar showing the activities undertaken by different groups of people, the flows of income, consumption and expenditure, food supply, labour supply and out- and in-migration should all be regarded as of key importance in any RRA. For aquaculture, understanding seasonal changes is crucial to determining where and when aquaculture activities might fit into the livelihood strategies of rural households, how it might be combined with other elements in those strategies and whether it is the best option.

Seasonal calendars prepared with local people can provide a useful focus for discussions about activities and livelihood strategies. Calendars can be represented in various ways depending on how local people are used to representing time Possible alternative ways of measuring and dividing the year - by season, lunar or solar months, by agricultural activity - all need to be taken into consideration.

5.4 Target group identification

Different development programmes encourage aquaculture for very different reasons. In some cases, the potential of aquaculture as an income-generating activity has been emphasised, particularly where there is a strong market for cultured fish species. In other cases, interest in aquaculture has focused on improving food security among poor rural households. Unfortunately, in the past, these two very different sets of objectives have frequently become confused.

Part of the reason for such confusion is a poor understanding and identification of the “target groups” for aquaculture development activities. Rural populations are frequently thought of by planners as being homogeneous and uniform with largely similar interests and motivations. Differences of gender, wealth, social and economic status, culture and occupation are not always properly taken into consideration with the result that interventions are misdirected or inappropriate to large sections of the population.

identification of social, ethnic, occupational, and economic groups in the community
  • Venn diagrams indicating different social, ethnic, occupational and economic groups in the community and the overlaps between them
  • wealth ranking using wealth criteria and classifications elicited from local people
  • mapping of spatial distribution of different groups through community (social, wealth, ethnic and occupational group mapping)
  • specific identification of marginal groups and reason for marginalisation (poor resource-access, gender, age, ethnic or social status)
  • timelines of community development (arrival / departure of different groups, changes in activities)
assessment of target-group needs and capabilities in aquaculture
  • focus group discussions of problems, needs and priorities with ranking exercises
  • ranking of priorities regarding land-use, water-use, crops, income-generation, food supply
  • decision-trees over resource use
  • ranking of priorities regarding fish - consumption, income, seasonality
  • assessment of current farming and livestock practices, water management
assessment of access to required resources for different target groups
  • mapping of land and water use, access to different resources
  • decision-trees for credit, marketing, agricultural inputs
  • Venn diagrams of institutions and authorities governing access to water and land resources
  • focus group discussion for marginal groups (poor, women) of access to support mechanisms - extension services, credit, marketing.
gender issues
  • daily / seasonal activity charts for women from different social, ethnic, occupational and economic groups - identification of different levels of activity by different groups of women
  • mapping of resource-access for women
  • analysis of seasonal time-use for women -

Aquaculture planning can easily be conditioned by general principles applied by rural development organisations which do not take into account the special needs of aquaculture or the real priorities of local people with regard to fish production.

A typical example might be an integrated rural development programme with an established strategy of targeting the “poorest of the poor” for all its activities which has an aquaculture “component”. This could encourage aquaculture planners to concentrate on developing fish culture for poor households even though these households' priorities for land, labour and water use lie elsewhere and their capabilities for the effective management of aquaculture are limited.

Similarly, in programmes where improving food security for poor households is a priority, aquaculture workers might be tempted to encourage fish pond development for “subsistence” purposes even though such activities were uneconomic and unsustainable in the long-term and food security might have been better served by encouraging wealthier people with entrepreneurial skills to produce large quantities of cheap fish for the local market.

Use of the RRA techniques mentioned in Table 5 could help aquaculture workers in such circumstances to better identify and understand different potential target groups. Local people's own classifications can be used to define different sub-groups in the community. Divisions into clan or family groups may be of far more importance than “horizontal” divisions between different social and economic strata.

5.5 Social and cultural factors

Beliefs and customs
Local beliefs and customs regarding water and fish will influence people's interest in and attitude to aquaculture. In the space of a short appraisal, it may be difficult to come to a detailed understanding of these beliefs and how they could affect proposed aquaculture development.

RRA teams may have to rely on a detailed search of secondary sources, particularly the anthropological literature, in order to obtain more information on local beliefs and customs. People with close contact and experience of the area can be included in the RRA team and provide first hand knowledge, but frequently secondary data will be the only source available for understanding these factors in detail. The current relevance of such accounts can then be cross-checked during the course of the subsequent RRA.

Levelling mechanisms
In many rural societies where resources are in short supply or subject to acute seasonal fluctuations traditions regarding the sharing of wealth ensure that whatever resources are available provide for the whole community. Such mechanisms may take the shape of social pressure against personal accumulation of wealth or simply a tradition of distribution of surpluses among relatives and neighbours. If such mechanisms exert a strong influence on people's economic behaviour, it may be difficult to encourage aquaculture as an income-generating enterprise at the individual or household level.

beliefs and customs
  • secondary data review - anthropological literature, nutrition studies, mission records
  • key informant interviews - religious and traditional leaders, traditional healers, midwives
levelling mechanisms
  • flow -charts of income use
  • ranking of priorities for expenditure and consumption
motivations and priorities for wealth generation
  • decision-trees over resource use, income-generation, investment
  • ranking of priorities for resource / land use, expenditure

Social mechanisms such as these are not always evident to outsiders and may require a careful analysis of the decisions which people make over resource-use and of the ways in which surplus resources are distributed.

Motivation and priorities for wealth generation
Many aquaculture development activities have been regarded as “failures” because, although many rural people may have taken up the idea, they do not seem to manage their ponds as “economically viable” units. But such “failures” may have more to do with aquaculture planners' poor understanding of the motivations behind people's involvement in development activities in general, and fish culture in particular.

The reasons why individuals or households choose to adhere to a development initiative or take up a new activity can be diverse, even within the same community and it cannot be taken for granted that apparently simple economic logic is a sufficient justification. Desire to be associated with “development”, the social status associated with pond ownership, desire to have a perennial source of fish for household consumption or for ceremonies, even purely aesthetic reasons could all play a role depending on the culture and social setting of the activity. They can also strongly affect the way in which people manage their ponds. If households excavate ponds so as to have a stable supply of fish for the household they will not be interested in the sort of management regime which maximises production but requires complete harvests of the pond at fixed intervals.

A careful look at people's decision-making processes and the way in which existing resources are used can help to provide planners with clues regarding people's real and potential motivations for becoming involved in aquaculture.

5.6 Gender issues

Gender is one of the factors that is most easily ignored given the tendency of many fisheries and agricultural development agencies to be male-dominated. Quite apart from the sex of development workers, it is often assumed that any activity which produces income will inevitably benefit everyone in a community or household when in fact, there are frequently important variations in distribution along gender and age lines.

The gender implications of aquaculture development can be complex and many of them cannot realistically be understood within the time-frame and using the methods of an RRA or PRA. A crucial part of the gender dynamics of a community take place within the walls of a household and may be extremely difficult to understand or even see without long-term close contact and participant observation.

However, all the range of elements and factors which are taken into consideration in an RRA need to be considered from the point of view of gender as most will have a gender dimension which will have some bearing on decisions over development activities.

Certain specific RRA techniques can be used which are especially relevant to achieving a better understanding of gender issues. Most of these can also be related directly to the requirements of aquaculture planners.

  • daily activity charts for men and women
  • seasonal calendars for men and women's activities
women's access to resources
  • mapping of resources used by women
  • seasonal calendars of resources use by women
  • ranking of resources and their usefulness by women
  • focus group discussion of women's resource use
  • taxonomies of resources utilised by women
food distribution
  • focus group discussions with women on consumption and distribution patterns within households
  • 24-hour nutritional recall for individuals (as opposed to households)
  • decision-trees for different household and community-level decisions
control of income
  • flow charts of income from different sources
  • decision-trees for use of income from different sources
  • ranking of priorities for expenditure
  • ranking of income sources
  • focus group discussions with women

Proper time-use studies are likely to be outside the scope of an RRA as they require actual observation and timing of daily routines. However, a more superficial analysis of daily routines can usefully be carried out during an RRA and a reasonably detailed picture of differences in activities between men and women in different social groups built up.

Daily activity charts have to be collected for different seasons during the year as the differences between levels of activity according to season and stage in the agricultural calendar can be dramatic.

The key function of the analysis of daily activities is to see whether there is scope for new activities which will make demands on labour either for men or women and when during the year such scope exists. Daily activity charts can also help in determining which family members are likely to be assigned different responsibilities in aquaculture activities. For example, where women are routinely involved in the feeding of small livestock around the homestead there is a good chance that they may end up taking responsibility for the management of ponds if these are also close to home.

Other priorities regarding the use of water near to the home may also become immediately apparent through analysis of the time expended on household tasks such as water fetching and washing. Possible negative impacts on women caused by changes in water use as a result of aquaculture activities also need to be taken into account.

BOX 11
In Bangladesh, naturally-flooded ditches and borrow-pits near homesteads are important for women both as a seasonal sources of fish and as an accessible sources of water and bathing. Access to such ditches has generally been open or very loosely controlled and their vicinity to homesteads mean that they are especially important for women whose freedom of movement under is customarily limited. Now, in some areas where aquaculture is developing rapidly, these homestead ditches, or maital, are being rapidly converted into fish ponds or holding tanks for fingerlings. This entails the closing of access to those ponds for women and other people living around them. Some households, with the capital to invest in aquaculture and to lease out such ditches and ponds, are considerably improving their economic situation. But for many women, particularly from poorer households who may not have owned any of the ditches but simply used them, it has meant the loss of yet another open-access resource. In some households which did own ditches, their development for aquaculture has meant that they have moved fully into the sphere of men's activities and both access and the benefits generated are wholly controlled by men.

Women's access to resources
The resources women use, their modes of utilising them and their relative access to those resources is frequently quite different from men's. The reasons for such differences can vary immensely from culture to culture. There may be taboos on the involvement of women in the exploitation of specific resources or men may simply exclude women in order to monopolise access for themselves. Women may exploit certain resources because they are accessible and can be readily reached during the course of their daily work routines. Women's tenure of resources is frequently limited or uncertain and women may rely to a greater degree on common or open-access resources.

The differences in access to resources between men and women can be understood better through careful mapping of women's patterns of resource use, taxonomies of the resources which they exploit and ranking of their resource priorities. These can then be compared with similar information obtained from men in the community. The seasonal dimension of resource use and access for women requires special attention as it can have an important influence on women's work load.

The extent to which women are able to lay claim to, or at least gain access to, key resources such as land and water will have an important bearing on the impacts of aquaculture activities. The encouragement and expansion of aquaculture can often lead to a change in status and value for water and land resources which can have important implications for groups like women whose hold on such resources is frequently tenuous and dependent on others. Box 11 gives an example of this sort of impact which highlights the need for an understanding of differences in men and women's access to resources.

Food distribution
Where aquaculture activities aim to improve food security and the nutritional status of rural households, it cannot be assumed that nutritional benefits will be evenly distributed within households. Frequently first choice of the best and most nutritious foods is given to the heads of households and those regarded as the most important livelihood-earners at the expense of women and children.

As with many intra-household factors, it may be very difficult to achieve a proper understanding of intra-household distribution of food during a short appraisal but focus group discussions with women, particularly if they are led by experienced gender specialists on the RRA team, can provide important indications.

Decision-trees prepared in consultation with women can help to clarify the extent to which women in a community are able to make autonomous decisions and in which spheres of activity. This can be important where aquaculture activities are being considered specifically for control and management by women. The factors which are likely to influence women's ability to make independent decisions need to be understood and taken into account.

Control of income
Flow charts of the way in which income from different sources within the household is used can be constructed to see who makes decisions about income distribution and use. This can provide indications of how income generated by aquaculture activities is likely to benefit different household members.

5.7 Age issues

The way in which the age of a person or the members of a household can affect the decisions they make and their potential interest in new activities such as aquaculture is frequently overlooked. The use of RRA to address this set of issues has not been extensively documented to date but it is a factor which requires attention and can be of some importance for target-group identification and attempts to distinguish discrete social and economic groups within the community.

In many poor rural communities, the relative wealth status of individual households may well be more connected with the age of household heads than the wealth of the family. Young, newly formed households may be “poor” in the sense that they have few resources of their own and have to support young children. Newly married men may be obliged to provide labour for fathers-in-law leaving little time for accumulation of wealth. As children grow and join the labour force, the economic position of many households may improve and then decline again if offspring later leave their parental homes. The precise patterns will depend on local conditions and culture.

The collection of “life histories” from older informants can help RRA teams to understand the patterns of household development which prevail in a particular area and the effect these patterns might have on wealth strata within the community.

5.8 Institutional issues

The form and scope of activity of different institutions can affect aquaculture development activities at two different levels.

At the community level, traditional and non-traditional institutions can play a determining role in the way in which resources within the community are controlled and distributed and in making decisions. Without an understanding of how these local-level institutions work, who their members are and the interests they represent it may be difficult to plan any form of effective development activity in the community.

RRAs can look at the different institutions in the community and determine their spheres of interest, membership, decision-making mechanisms and the extent to which control of institutions resides with different social, economic or ethnic groups. Such information can be represented in Venn diagrammes in order to clarify institutional spheres of influence, overlaps in and conflicts of interest.

This can help aquaculture planners to identify the key institutions concerned with issues such as land tenure and distribution, control of water resources and the distribution of development resources within the community.

Local administration
The structure and division of responsibilities in local government can constitute a major obstacle to the effective management of aquaculture activities. Some of the environmental factors which determine the feasibility of aquaculture may cut across administrative boundaries (flows of water being a case in point) and a project dealing exclusively with one section of the administration may find itself affected by activities covered by another. The boundaries for different aspects of administration may not necessarily be the same i.e. water management areas may be quite different from the areas covered by fisheries or extension services and this can lead to confusion and duplication if it is not taken into account.

Wherever possible, responsible members of all the institutions concerned need to be included in an RRA team as they will be the best people to inform the process regarding administrative responsibilities and coverage. Where there are contradictions and overlaps, flow-charts and decision-trees can help to clarify how mechanisms work on the ground.

community-level institutions
  • Venn diagrams showing membership, spheres of influence, overlaps and relative importance of different community institutions
  • decision-trees for land distribution, water use and other community-level decisions
local administration
  • mapping of areas of responsibility
  • Venn diagrams of spheres of responsibility
  • flow-charts of organisational structures
  • key informant interviews with local extension officers, local officials
development support agencies
  • Venn diagrams showing areas of activity of different development agencies, overlaps, membership
  • local people's ranking of interventions by local agencies according to effectiveness, frequency
  • decision-trees for local people regarding contacts with local institutions, requests for assistance
  • ranking of problems and priorities of different institutions and agencies
  • comparison of problem hierarchies of different agencies
effectiveness of aquaculture support agencies
  • local people's ranking of interventions by aquaculture extension services by effectiveness, frequency
  • decision-trees for aquaculturists showing reactions to different problems - disease, input supply, etc. - who they contact and why
  • comparative ranking of effectiveness of aquaculture and other support services - agriculture, forestry, fisheries, etc.

Development support agencies
Aquaculture development has been hampered by the fact that it has commonly been regarded as a sub-sector of fisheries when, in reality, many aquaculture activities are closer to farming than to fishing.

An integral part of an RRA looking at the feasibility of aquaculture development activities in a particular area would be the assessment of the institutional context of aquaculture development and the ability of existing institutions and agencies to effectively support it. Certain basic factors such as the availability of staff with aquaculture training and the presence of suitable technical support need to be taken into account by planners.

Certain RRA techniques can assist in understanding the real capabilities of existing services to work at the community level and the degree to which existing structures are functional. Focus group discussions in communities can be used to assess people's attitudes and perceptions of agencies and institutions and specific interventions ranked. Local people can also be asked to rank the types of services which they need from support agencies.

People's interest in aquaculture will be strongly conditioned by their past experience of it and perceptions of the agencies involved in supporting it. If past aquaculture development activities have led to conflict or have not lived up to expectations, interest in new aquaculture involvement is likely to be low. RRA teams looking at aquaculture need to hear people's accounts of past activities and any problems which may have arisen.

5.9 Markets and demand

In order to develop on a wide scale, aquaculture requires that the marketing arrangements for fish and the demand for the species being produced be well-developed. Where the marketing system is limited and demand for fish is not strong, aquaculture is likely to remain a relatively marginal activity. Assessment of the market is therefore a critical part of the overall assessment of the feasibility of aquaculture.

The importance of understanding markets goes beyond the simple issue of whether or not fish farmers will be able to sell the fish they produce. It also has implications for the long-term sustainability of aquaculture once the support provided by a particular project is withdrawn. In rural areas, the channels through which produce is sold are also likely to become the source of inputs such as fingerlings, fertilisers, lime and perhaps credit. The flexibility of existing marketing systems and their ability to develop in response to changes in the supply of commodities and the demand for inputs needs to be assessed.

market assessment
  • classification of fish species according to price, demand, buyers
  • ranking of fish species by demand
  • mapping of range of operation of fish buyers - points of purchase and points of sale
  • mapping of range of movement of consumers to purchase fish
  • identification and ranking of market problems by different groups - retailers, wholesalers, consumers
  • approximate assessment of volume of fish traded at different levels - retail and wholesale
  • seasonal chart of variations in price, fish volume, species, demand, supply, source
  • key informant interviews with fish traders at different levels - retail, wholesale, shipping, freezing

For rural aquaculture schemes which aim to produce fish for local markets, up to date price information may need to be collected directly in local market places. Prices may be different from those quoted in national level data which are more likely to be based on urban wholesale markets. Prices may also be subject to considerable seasonal fluctuation which may affect the economic viability of aquaculture.

5.10 Fisheries credit and marketing systems

In areas where aquaculture has a sufficiently strong basis to be self-sustaining, marketing mechanisms will often play a key role in the channelling of resources, particularly credit, into the system. The linkage between marketing and credit provision is common in many rural commodity markets and particularly in fisheries.

This linkage has commonly been regarded negatively by fisheries development workers. This is because the perishability of fish and the necessity among fishermen to sell their produce quickly makes them vulnerable to price manipulation and exploitation by those buying fish from them. Cases of severe exploitation, particularly of poor artisanal fishermen by fish buyers and credit providers are common.

However, setting up alternative systems for providing credit in a sustainable fashion to small-scale fisheries is often difficult. Even when apparently viable credit systems have been created, dependent relationships between producers and “middlemen” frequently persist. Often this is due to the extreme flexibility of informal systems, the links of kinship and patronage which often exist between the various actors in these systems and the security which they can offer to rural producers, features which are not easily reproduced in formal mechanisms.

assessment of credit and marketing systems
  • flows charts indicating flows of fish and credit
  • decision trees for fishermen or aquaculture producers over where to sell produce and who to sell to
  • charts showing complexity of marketing system and degree of specialisation

Informal credit and marketing networks have often extended to include aquaculture activities as well as fisheries. The presence of such systems channelling credit to aquaculture and assuring a ready market for aquaculture produce can be a useful indicator of the commercial viability of aquaculture activities.

Investigation of credit flows can be notoriously difficult as rural people are frequently reluctant to discuss indebtedness. Indirect approaches using RRA techniques can provide a complex view of existing mechanisms of credit provision and marketing so that new mechanisms can take the current situation properly into account.

5.11 Food or cash

Small-scale aquaculture projects have frequently “failed” due to lack of clarity over people's priorities regarding pond fisheries production. Many aquaculture projects, particularly in Africa, have ostensibly targeted the “poorest of the poor” on the grounds that they have the greatest food security problems and therefore will benefit from an improved supply of high-quality protein from cultured fish. An alternative approach to the same issue has often been to encourage the culture of low-value fish in order to improve the availability of relatively cheap protein in local markets.

assessing food security priorities
  • ranking of foods by importance, preference, availability, cost
  • local classification of foods - criteria for classification
  • seasonal charts of food availability
  • descriptions / observations of “typical” meals
  • decision-trees regarding sale or consumption of other foods-staple grains, livestock, fruits
rapid nutritional assessment
  • 24-hour recall of food consumption
  • using current levels of consumption as a basis, comparative variation of food consumption through the year

Projects based on these premises have often found, in the first instance, that most of the fish produced is converted into income instead of being consumed and, in the second instance, the culture of low-value fish is rapidly replaced by high value species as pond owners, logically enough, maximise their benefits by producing higher-priced fish.

A clearer understanding of local people's priorities for food security and consumption patterns can help planners to avoid these “problems”. Where there is some capture fishing being carried out, people engaged in “subsistence” fisheries can be asked to explain how they dispose of catches to distinguish the quantities and species which are sold as opposed to consumed and why.

Clarifying local people's ways of classifying different types of food, including fish, is extremely important if subsequent more detailed study of consumption patterns is to make sense. Nutritionists might readily assume that patterns of fish consumption should be compared with those of other animal proteins such as meat and chicken whereas, in many areas, fish may be regarded above all as an accompaniment for the staple food. In such situations, local people may compare fish as food with vegetables rather than with animal proteins. Ranking exercises carried out during an RRA can help in this respect as they can elicit local classifications and enable nutritional assessments to be phrased in terms readily understood by local people.

5.12 Labour and time use

Aquaculture frequently represents a entirely new component in farming systems. This not only means that it places a fresh set of demands on the resources available to rural households, it also places demands on the time of household members. All too often, new aquaculture activities have been proposed on the grounds of their technical feasibility without considering the availability of labour among household members to carry out key tasks. Where the labour requirements of a new and potentially risky activity, such as aquaculture, coincide with seasonal peaks of labour demand for other, more familiar tasks, the latter are liable to get priority.

labour patterns
  • daily activity charts
  • seasonal calendars of activities and labour demand
  • detailed accounts of activities on a specific day
  • decision-trees regarding daily activities - i.e. work in own fields / hired labour
gender issues in labour and time-use
  • daily activity charts for women
  • seasonal calendars of women's activities and labour demand
  • detailed accounts of daily activities
  • listing of different women's activities
  • classification of women's activities and criteria

Existing patterns of time use therefore have to be carefully analysed in order to understand when and where local people might have periods of relative under-employment when time could be devoted to a new activity without impinging on other activities or creating an excessive work load.

Gender issues in labour and time use
This careful analysis of time use is particularly important for women in rural communities. Much of the reproductive work carried out by women in order to maintain the household is not readily observed or is frequently regarded as marginal or absorbing only small amounts of time. Activities such as child care and the collection of water and firewood are easily glossed over as relatively unimportant although they can sometimes consume large proportions of the day for women and children.

Where aquaculture activities are to be located near to homesteads, there is a good chance that many of the routine tasks will be carried out by women. This means that the existing demands on women's time have to be carefully analysed.

5.13 Conclusion

No review of aquaculture issues can be exhaustive - the kinds of problems, possibilities and the issues they raise vary with every single location where aquaculture workers have to work. The issues highlighted above are intended to give an idea of how RRA could be applied to some of the more widespread and important issues which aquaculture workers encounter.

But it needs to be remembered that RRA developed out of practice in the field where development workers tried out new approaches which they thought would work, saw which ones actually did work, discarded others, developed what was useful and, in the end, thought out ways of putting different techniques together into an “approach”. Aquaculture workers need to do the same. If there is something useful which has come out of RRA practice it is that development workers should not take “standard” approaches for granted but should always question whether they are appropriate and what other approaches might be better.

The same goes for RRA - an aquaculturist might try getting people to rank members of the community according to wealth and find that respondents simply do not respond either because they do not understand what is meant by wealth or they feel uncomfortable about making such comparisons. In which case insisting on trying to come up with a ranking simply because the activity is called “RRA” would be as much a waste of energy as giving written questionnaires to be filled in to people who cannot read or write.

Experience has shown that those planning aquaculture need to be aware of as broad a range of factors as possible which can affect, and be affected by, their activities. In the same way they need to be as open as possible to different approaches to findings out about those factors and effects - RRA can be one of those approaches.

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