|Expert consultation on small-scale rural aquaculture (1997)|
The focus of the Consultation was small-scale rural aquaculture. This term requires some clarification, because the term aquaculture generally covers a broad range of culture systems and practices. These range from industrial scale intensive fish fanning undertaken principally for financial profit, to small-scale fish fanning as an integral part of rural development. The bulk of aquaculture production comes from small-scale farmers in rural areas. For many of the adopters of this kind of aquaculture, it is a secondary activity. It may be integrated with other aspects of farming, such as crop and livestock production, with each aspect enhancing the benefits of the others. Small-scale rural aquaculture has a potential for enhancing food security. It also has an important potential role in a number of other areas: as a supplement to incomes, a source of extra food, and a means of spreading risks. These features of small-scale rural aquaculture have made it a focus of development assistance.
Although small-scale aquaculture has a long history in some parts of Asia (China and India for example) which is reflected in a thriving sector, optimism about the prospects for developing similar models elsewhere has waned in recent years. This is most marked for Africa south of the Sahara and Latin America. The precise nature of the failure is complex. However, certain factors are characteristic: the reluctance of farmers to adopt the technology, a tendency for ponds to be abandoned, less than optimal productivity, and the poor sustainability of aquaculture development projects. On the departure of external assistance, aquaculture activities have often slowed down, and eventually stopped. Arguably, such problems have beset many other aspects of rural development.
The FAO/NORAD/UNDP Thematic Evaluation of Aquaculture (1987) reviewed FAO assistance to aquaculture between 1974 and 1984. The Evaluation drew attention to a number of weaknesses in small-scale aquaculture development projects. These combined technical, economic and social factors. They often involved a failure to establish the economic viability and social acceptability of proposed culture practices. Other problems concerned the lack of well-articulated policies and rationales for aquaculture development, to faults in project design and conception, and to poor management.
Since this time, the context for aquaculture development has changed in many countries. There has been a revision of accepted approaches to government involvement in development. In many sectors, the role of the state is reduced and there has been a pressure to turn over previously government-controlled activities to the private sector.
Recently, a number of attempts have been made to learn from the findings of the Thematic Evaluation and the prevailing sense of earlier failure. These include the work of the FAOs Aquaculture for Local Community Development (ALCOM) Programme in Africa and the Regional Project for Aquaculture Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (AQUILA). Research has also been supported through the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Thailand, the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), the Overseas Development Administration of the UK (ODA), and the French Ministère de la Coopération et du Développement. The WB/FAO/UNDP/CEC Study of International Fisheries Research (SIFR) and its follow-up studies in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, have provided a comprehensive overview of research needs and an indicative action plan for research.
Although diverse in geographical coverage and approach, this work produced a number of common findings. These include the need for greater clarity about objectives, the means for their achievement and their measurement. Other findings concern the need to support aquaculture within the framework of rural development as a whole, the importance of the institutional context, the need for more iterative and appropriate approaches to extension, and the need to rethink the concepts of target groups previously in operation. Efforts to address these issues and to build on more participatory approaches to rural development (such as participatory appraisal and fanning systems research/extension are relatively recent).
Before the Consultation, little attempt had been made to digest or synthesize the implications of this work or to reflect on the impact and effectiveness of recent actions. Such a process was felt to be necessary in order to provide guidance for appropriate future actions. Planners and policy makers need a clarification of options, the key questions to ask for different contexts, and the likely results of subsequent choices.
The Consultation brought together selected experts from both within FAO and outside for critical discussion of four related themes. For each theme a keynote paper was presented, followed by focused discussion. On the final day, interim conclusions were outlined and their implications discussed as summarized in the next section.