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M.C. Nandeesha1, Sabjul Haque1, Manjurul Karim1,
Subir Kumar Saha1 and C.V. Mohan2

1CARE Bangladesh
GPO Box 226
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

2College of Fisheries
Mangalore-575002, India

Nandeesha, M.C., S. Haque, M. Karim, S.K. Saha and C.V. Mohan. 2007. Making health management relevant in the context of rural aquaculture development: lessons from the CARE LIFE Project. p. 297-312. In: J.R. Arthur, M.J. Phillips, R.P. Subasinghe, M.B. Reantaso and I.H. MacRae. (eds.) Primary Aquatic Animal Health Care in Rural, Small-scale, Aquaculture Development. FAO Fish. Tech. Pap. No. 406.


The CARE project, Locally Intensified Farming Enterprises (LIFE), is examining the potential for farmer participatory research to provide solutions to problems confronted by the farmers. Currently, the project is operating in two districts, Kishoreganj and Rajashahi, which are located in northern Bangladesh. In each project village, the farmers are grouped into participatory action research groups (PARG). These groups are provided with support to improve their knowledge in order to research the problems that they have identified, using resources that they can easily access. Most of the farmers involved in pond-fish culture have identified epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS) as the major problem encountered during the winter season. A number of farmers have carried out research to solve this problem using materials such as lime, ash, salt and a combination of lime and salt. Application of these materials not only reduced the prevalence and intensity of disease, but also in some cases, infected fishes recovered from the disease. In addition, farmers felt that the growth and appearance of fish improved in ponds treated with these substances. Farmers were most happy with the results obtained from the application of ash, since this resource was easily available in the villages as a non-purchased input. The results indicate that the participatory research process is helpful in finding solutions that are appropriate to farmers.


With the increasing population and consequent decrease in available land, food security is a major concern in Bangladesh. The average family size is around six, and the average land holding of families is less than 1.5 acre. The Locally Intensified Farming Enterprises (LIFE) Project, initiated by the Agricultural and Natural Resources Sector of CARE Bangladesh, has the primary objective of increasing productivity from this limited land resource, on a sustainable basis, through farmer participatory research. The project looks at problems encountered by farmers in different areas of agriculture including fisheries but excluding animal husbandry. As fish is the most important component of the diet, the project has placed special emphasis on increasing fish production from existing ponds, in addition to encouraging farmers to undertake rice-fish cultivation. The project encourages farmers to undertake research on the problems that they encounter, and to use the resources that are easily available to them to generate farmer/farm-specific information to address the problems.


Formation of Participatory Action Research Groups

The project employs participatory experiential learning as a tool to create interest among farmers and, through analysis, identify production constraints. Since the project does not provide credit or any incentives other than knowledge transfer, an elaborate process is adopted to identify farmers who are interested in solving problems that they encounter using their own resources. As a first step in this process, project objectives and working principles are presented to the farmers at a general meeting in the village, and those farmers interested in taking part in such a process are invited to join the group. The target of the project is to serve those farmers in the community who are affected by food insecurity. Generally, in the selected village, a maximum of 30 farmers who meet the selection criteria of the project are invited to form the participatory action research group (PARG). The criteria are: possession of less than two acres of land; food insecurity, and interest in working with the project using the resources available to them. These farmers elect leaders through a participatory process and set their own norms to ensure proper functioning of the groups. Separate female and male groups are formed, and at present, one female staff member manages three female groups and two male groups, while a male staff member manages three male groups and two female groups. The project works with each group of farmers for a period of one year. Each year, 120 groups of farmers graduate a total of more than 3000 farmers.

Participatory Needs Assessment

In the first learning session after formation of the group, participatory needs assessment (PNA) is carried out in order to understand the different problems encountered. Based on the problems encountered, different learning sessions and action research trials are formulated to address them.

During the PNA session, about 30% of the farmers were identified as having fishponds, and most of them identified ulcerative disease as one of the major problems during the winter season. During 1998, in the majority of the PARGs, ulcerative disease was identified as one of the major problems. Based on this finding, a learning session on epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS) was planned for those PARGs where it was recognised as a major issue. This learning session included information on the history of EUS, the causative agent, and alternative management techniques that have been used for this disease. In designing the learning session, extensive consultations were held with farmers to obtain their views on management of the disease, while researchers were consulted to obtain the latest information available on treatment procedures and how these could best be applied at the field level.

Action Research on EUS Prevention and Control

Farmers decided to experiment with lime, salt and a combination of lime and salt and ash, with the objective of preventing occurrence of the disease. Application of lime or salt at the rate of 1 kg/400 m2 prior to the onset of the cold season had been suggested by the Department of Fisheries. Studies conducted by ICLARM in Bangladesh have also revealed that farmers who used lime had fewer occurrences of EUS when compared with others (Ahmed and Rab 1995). However, there is no information available on the frequency of application of these chemicals. Therefore, it was decided to apply an initial dose at the rate 1 kg/40 m2, followed by application of half the initial dose at fortnightly intervals until the end of February, during which time the weather would be cold. Researchers also suggested combining lime and salt by mixing them at 50% of the individual dose, but retaining the frequency of application. Farmers also suggested using ash to control this disease. This reasoning was based on its wide availability and that it had been used to control insect pests in horticulture. Farmers were of the opinion that ash, with an action similar to lime, might prevent the disease. Studies conducted by ICLARM have indicated that, among the different types of ash, wood ash could be a good substitute for lime, although the application rate is higher (Jamu 1990). It was agreed that ash would be applied at 3 kg/400 m2 followed by 1.5 kg/400 m2 at fortnightly interval.

Farmers decided to examine the ponds once every 15 days during the learning sessions and to share their observations with other farmers. Fish were examined by cast netting and checking for infection by visual observation for gross clincial signs. Farmers kept a record of their activities, including the application of treatments. At the end of the season, apart from holding focus-group discussions, a questionnaire was developed and used to gather information on various aspects of fish culture, production and disease management. The information gathered was processed using Microsoft Excel and Statistical Program for Social Analysis (SPSS).


Altogether, 123 farmers covering 36 PARGs from Rajashahi, and 192 farmers covering 49 PARGs in Kishoreganj, took part in the study on management of EUS. Among these farmers, there were also farmers who did not use any of the treatments, but acted as controls by agreeing to provide information on the impact of non-adoption of the treatment processes.

Pond Size

The majority of the farmers in both areas owned ponds that were less than 800 m2. The percentage of farmers owning ponds of either 400 or 800 m2 was more or less same in both the project sites. However, in Rajashahi, the number of farmers owning bigger ponds was greater when compared with Kishoreganj (Table 1). Ponds in Rajashahi, being located in the dry zone, are generally larger in size and deeper. In Rajashahi, the average area of the ponds was 1000 m2, while in Kishoreganj, it was 600 m2. Generally, ponds are filled with rain water, but in some cases, they are connected with beels [flood plains] and also receive water from there. In Rajashahi, more than 50% of the farmers removed the wild fish, while in Kishoreganj, less than 50% did so. Farmers used various methods for removal of wild fish, such as poisoning, netting and drying. The use of poison (mostly pesticides) was common in Rajashahi (26.8%), but less frequent in Kishoreganj (5.7%). Pond drying was also practised as a common tool to eliminate wild fishes in Rajashahi (27.6%), but in Kishoreganj, only 12.5% of the farmers adopted this technique. In Kishoreganj, netting was most commonly used (23.9%).

Table 1. Size range of ponds in Kishoreganj and Rajashahi districts.

Pond Ownership

More than 50% of the ponds were under single ownership (Table 2). In both project sites, there were also a good percentage of ponds that were jointly owned [26% in Rajshahi and 58% in Kishorganj]. In Rajashahi, the percentage of leased ponds was higher (17.1%) when compared to Kishoreganj (5.7%). The ownership pattern has an influence on the cultivation practice, and it is common for multiple-ownership ponds to have many more management problems than single-ownership ponds.

Table 2. Pond ownership pattern.

Seed Source

In Bangladesh, patilwalas (seed traders) carry fish seed to almost every part of the country. The majority of farmers in both project sites obtain seed from these patilwalas, although the percentage doing so was higher in Kishoreganj (Table 3) than in Rajashahi, where a higher percentage of farmers obtained seed from hatcheries. This is probably because of the low density of ponds in this area, and the fact that the patilwalas are less active in this area; as a result, many farmers obtain seed directly from the hatcheries.

Table 3. Source of seed for the pond.

Management Practices

Application of lime was not practised by all farmers. In Rajashahi, only about 41% of the farmers used lime prior to stocking; however, in Kishoreganj, it was about 21%. Although lime usage was poor in most of the areas, the pH of the water was alkaline, since soils in Bangladesh are generally alkaline. Cow dung was the organic manure most commonly used prior to stocking of fish, along with other inorganic fertilisers like urea and TSP. Some farmers also used small quantities of chicken manure. Ponds were stocked from April onwards with the available carp seed, namely, silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), common carp (Cyprinus carpio), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus), catla (Catla catla), rohu (Labeo rohita), mrigal (Cirrhinus cirrhosus), Kuria labeo (Labeo gonius) and Java barb (Barbodes gonionotus).

Stocking density varied from farmer to farmer, although the density adopted by most farmers was much higher (two or three times greater) than the recommended level. Farmers have a tendency to stock large numbers of fish and resort to periodic harvesting (Table 4). In addition, farmers did not follow any recommendations for species composition, and stocked different species depending on their availability.

Table. 4. Average overall stocking densities in the two districts.

Some farmers practised feeding, with rice bran being the most common feed ingredient used. Some farmers also fed mustard oilcake; however, in most cases, feed was not given on a regular basis.

Management of EUS

All the farmers who took part in the trial indicated that they had suffered from EUS at some time in the past year, but not necessarily on a continuous basis. Farmers decided whether or not to take part in the treatment trials based on the information they gathered from the learning sessions; that participation could help prevent the disease and, as a secondary benefit, that the treatments might promote the growth of fish. Based on information gathered from the farmers, it appears that a major outbreak of EUS occurred in 1988. Nearly 50% of the ponds belonging to the farmers surveyed were affected, and the disease caused substantial damage. Information for 1997 indicates that the occurrence of EUS was higher in Kishoreganj than in Rajashahi. The disease affected more than 50% of the ponds, mrigal, Java barb, snakehead and catfish were most often affected.

Specific treatments for the management of the disease were decided by the farmers themselves based on the knowledge received in training and the ready availability of cash to purchase the treatment compounds. In Kishoreganj, the majority of farmers opted for the salt and ash treatment, while in Rajashahi, the majority opted for lime (Table 5).

Table 5. Number of ponds under different treatments.

Occurrence of EUS and Its Causes

The occurrence of EUS was higher in the combined salt and lime treatment and the ash treatment in both Rajashahi and Kishoreganj districts. In terms of recovery of diseased fish, the percentage was higher in the salt treatment and lime treatment. Farmers assessed recovery from the disease based on the disappearance of clinical signs of infection, which were monitored by periodical sampling of the fish.

Table 6. Number of ponds in each district infected with EUS and recovered.


As EUS is associated with a number of management and ecological factors (Lilley et al. 1998), information was gathered during the survey on a number of potential contributory factors. The factors monitored included drying of ponds, application of lime, removal of wild fish, pond shading by trees, flooding of ponds in the wet season, connection of ponds to beels, presence of ducks in ponds, use of borrowed nets and species stocked, particularly in respect of mrigal and Java barb. Examination of results from the two districts reveals no obvious differences in terms of those farmers who carried out the above practices and those who did not (Tables 7 and 8). The absence of any clear relationship indicates that a combination of several factors may ultimately influence the occurrence of the disease. Although the farmers adopted the treatments, not all of the farmers continued the treatment for the entire period. The maximum number of applications was six, in respect of ash, while the frequency of application of other purchased inputs varied greatly from farmer to farmer (Tables 9 and 10).

Table 7. Occurrence of EUS under different situations in Rajashahi District.

Table 8. Occurrence of EUS under different treatments in Kishoreganj District.


Six of the 40 farmers from Rajashahi encountered EUS, while five of the 30 farmers in Kishoreganj encountered the disease. All farmers except two were able to promote recovery of the fish through the continuous application of lime. There was considerable variation between farmers in the quantity of lime applied, depending on the number of applications. However, the disease occurred even in the ponds of those farmers who had made more than three or four applications.

Table 9. Quantity of materials applied in each treatment with number of applications - Kishoreganj District.

Table10. Quantity of materials applied for each treatment with number of applications - Rajashahi District.


Sixteen farmers in Rajashahi and 48 in Kishoreganj attempted this treatment. In this treatment also, the quantity applied and the number of applications varied. Disease problems were encountered by 18.8% of the farmers in Rajashahi and 14.6% of the farmers in Kishoreganj. Interestingly, in both locations, application of salt assisted in the recovery of almost all of the infected fish (in Rajshahi fish in all infected ponds recovered, while in Kishoreganj recovery was seen in six of the seven affected ponds). It is interesting to note the impact of salt at such a low dose rates on the prevention/cure of the disease [initial dose of 1kg/40 m2 followed by fortnightly application at 0.5 kg/40 m2).

Lime and Salt

Thirty-three farmers from Kishoreganj and 20 farmers from Rajashahi adopted this treatment. The percentage of farmers who encountered EUS was almost 30% in both places. Of the affected ponds, 30-40% did not be recover. This may indicate that the combined effect of these two chemicals at this low dose [initial mixture of 1:1 given at 1 kg/40 m2, followed by fortnightly application of 0.5 kg/40 m2.) may be poor. Although higher doses of these chemicals might be effective, increased costs would hamper adoption of this treatment.


In Kishoreganj, 47 farmers took part in the trial compared to 16 in Rajashahi. The occurrence of EUS in Rajashahi was 31.2% and in Kishoreganj, 21.3%. Using this treatment, the percentage of ponds recovering after occurrence of the disease was lower when compared to other treatments. Studies conducted by Jamu (1991) indicate that the neutralising effect and increased alkalinity occurring when ash is applied varies depending on the type of ash, the most effective being wood ash applied at 3 mt/ha. Most of the farmers in the project area used rice-husk ash, whose value when compared to wood ash is not known. From the results, it appears that higher doses may give better results in disease prevention and control, although farmers might find it impractical to adopt higher dosages.

In general, farmers were happy with the results obtained, since they witnessed the impact of the treatments on EUS. Of the different treatments tried, farmers preferred ash treatment, as they can obtain ash as a non-purchased input. This is particularly important, as farmers prefer to use non-purchased inputs, even though the results may not be completely satisfactory.

Species Affected

Infections were common in both wild and cultured species, but predominated in wild species (Table 11). Most of the wild species, such as snakeheads, barbs and catfishes, are highly susceptible to EUS. In beel areas, farmers have reported a severe decline in the numbers of these species since the first occurrence of EUS.

Among the cultured species, silver carp was commonly reported as being affected in all treatments, and in some treatments, grass carp was also listed as infected. While the occurrence of EUS has been reported in Indian major carps, Chinese carps appear to be much less susceptible. Although lesions similar to those seen in EUS were evident on all these species, no tests were carried out to confirm that the lesions were actually due to EUS.

Table 11. Species affected by EUS.


Farmers were encouraged to observe the growth and appearance of fish grown using these treatments. Production statistics for the treatment year and previous year were compared, and it was seen that there had been a general increase in production in all the treatments (Table 12). The increase ranged from 9% to 30%, depending upon the treatment. In Rajashahi, the increases in production were generally less than in Kishoreganj. For both areas, the production increases in the salt and ash treatments were higher than for the other treatments. Farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India commonly include salt in the artificial feed to reduce stress and promote the growth of fish (Veerina et al. 1993). Controlled studies conducted at the College of Fisheries, Mangalore, India, have confirmed that salt can be used to reduce stress and enhance growth in carp when incorporated into the diet at a level of 1%.

Table 12. Production in different treatments.

Ash contributed to the highest increase in yield in both Rajashahi (30.6%) and Kishoreganj (26%). Ash is commonly used by farmers as a fertiliser in both vegetable and paddy cultivation. With its high mineral content, it appears that the addition of ash contributed to substantial increases in production in both the project areas. The improved production added to the farmers' satisfaction regarding the use of ash as a treatment for EUS.

Happiness of Farmers with Production

The percentage of farmers happy with production was higher in Rajashahi than in Kishoreganj (Table 13). A good percentage of farmers from both the areas (29.3% in Rajshahi and 35.4% in Kishoreganj) were not happy with their production. The reason that production did not reach their expectations may be due to the fact that, in most cases, farmers did not follow practices like fertilisation and feeding, which are essential to increase growth of fish. Additionally, stocking densities were, in most cases, three to four times the maximum recommended for composite culture of carps.

Table 13: Happiness of farmers with their production (%).

Attitude of Farmers towards the Results of EUS Treatments

More than 70% of the farmers in Kishoreganj and 63% of those in Rajashahi were happy with the results (Table 14). However, a small percentage of farmers (about 6%) were not happy with the results obtained. The majority of the farmers from the control group opted not to provide comments, while a considerable percentage of farmers in Rajashahi indicated that they could not decide on the results obtained. Also, some of the farmers who encountered disease problems provided no comments, and other farmers who got mixed results felt that they needed to verify the results in the coming season before they could decide on the merits of the treatment. The farmers gave various reasons for their happiness; these included better growth, no occurrence of disease, and better appearance of the fish.

Table 14. Happiness of farmers with the EUS results (%).

Economic Impact

Information was collected for the base year (1988) when the disease was first noticed, the year before experimentation commenced (1997), and the treatment year (1998). These figures, based on what the farmers could recall, provide interesting observations on both project sites (Tables 15 and 16). The results clearly show that there has been an increase in economic loss due to disease over the period 1988 to 1997, and even during 1998, the losses incurred by the control group of farmers were still very high. Adoption of different treatments not only resulted in the reduction of loss, but also helped to increase production, which has compensated for additional costs incurred in applying the treatments.

Lime has a proven capability to increase productivity, but many farmers are yet to use this as a common pond input. Non-availability of lime in rural areas is also a limiting factor, and although farmers are aware of its benefits, its use is limited. Experimental evidence exists to show that salt acts as a growth promoter and reduces stress; however, this being a purchased input, farmers do not have access to it. In view of its availability at the village level as a non-purchased input, ash appears to be a good input. Most farmers felt happy with the results obtained from its use and will promote it as a common pond input. However, ash is a commonly used fertiliser in paddy fields and is also used in vegetable gardens for the management of insect pests; there will, therefore, be competition for this resource.

Table15. Economic loss encountered by farmers in Rajashahi District due to EUS (Taka/ha/yr; 1US$ = 48 Taka).

Table16. Economic loss encountered by farmers in Kishoreganj District due to EUS (Taka/ha/yr; 1 US$ = 48 Taka).


The results of this study indicate that experimentation by farmers, to develop a system that is appropriate to them, is a useful way to develop sustainable technologies through participatory approaches. Although these results have limitations, the observations of the farmers could be used as a baseline for more controlled studies, which might produce results that could be returned to the field for testing. Different results obtained for the same treatments indicate that the ecology of the ponds are different, and that each farmer needs carry out experiments to decide on the treatment procedures appropriate for his/her pond ecosystem. It is because of this difficulty in prescribing standard packages appropriate for all farmers, that the LIFE Project has been experimenting with the process of "extension through research," where every farmer is encouraged to experiment, but using variables which involve low risks. This provides an opportunity for farmers to decide what is appropriate to them through their own investigation or through investigation by other members of their community.

The results obtained by participating farmers were shared within PARGs through workshops. For wider dissemination of these results, selected farmers from these PARGs presented results in the farmers' science seminar at the thana (sub-district) level and at the farmers' science congress held at the district level. The experience of the LIFE Project in EUS experimentation, as well as in addressing several other agricultural issues involving farmers, indicates that, given the opportunity and confidence, farmers can become good partners in research and can help evolve techniques appropriate to their farming systems.


Ahmed, M., and M.A. Rab. 1995. Factors affecting outbreaks of epizootic ulcerative syndrome in farmed and wild fish in Bangladesh. J. Fish Dis. 18: 263-271

Jamu, D.M. 1990. Ash as a liming agent. In: B.A. Costa-Pierce, C. Lightfoot, K. Ruddle and R.S.V. Pullin. (eds.) Aquaculture Research and Development in Rural Africa. ICLARM Conference Proceedings 27.

Lilley, J.H., R.B. Callinan, S. Chinabut, S. Kanchanakhan, I.H. MacRae and M.J. Phillips. 1998. Epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS) Technical Handbook. The Aquatic Animal Health Research Institute, Bangkok, 88 p.

Veerina, S.S., M.C. Nandeesha and K.G. Rao. 1993. Status and Technology of Indian Major Carp Farming in Andhra Pradesh, India. Asian Fisheries Society, Indian Branch. Spec. Publ. No.9, 52 p.

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