* WorldFish Center formerly known as ICLARM

Naga - The ICLARM Quarterly
Vol. 23, No. 2 (April - June  2000)

Farming Fish the Right Way

Aquaculture has a poor image for many people and views on its desirability are quite polarized. As an international research center concerned with fish and other living aquatic resources, *ICLARM has a unique vantage point on this. Aquaculture research and development is an important part of our research program designed to improve food security and the environment through scientific partnerships. We recently released a brief note, Farming Fish the Right Way, to explain why we see aquaculture as having an important contribution to make in improving the lives of poor people, while also being positive for the environment.

Farming fish the right way has several facets. It means choosing the right species, the right farming systems and the right adoption pathways, among others. In all these choices the focus should be on what is accessible to poor people and suited to their conditions, while at the same time being positive for the environment. If markets and profit are the only parameters considered, the poorer producers and consumers may not benefit, and the environment is likely to suffer.

*ICLARM’s approach to fish farming can be illustrated with some examples:

One is the development of low-cost, small-scale fish farming techniques in rural Bangladesh, where suitable species and ready markets for fish already exist and where fish is the main source of protein and nutrients for the people. Our studies in the early 1990s showed that standard extension channels tended to reach the better off farmers who adopted fish farming first – a typical outcome for any new agricultural technology adoption. Our subsequent work with nongovernment organizations (NGOs) demonstrated that the poor, and especially women, could become successful adopters if they were given help to access the technology. The efforts of these NGOs are resulting in extending fish farming to millions of rural people in Bangladesh and significantly improving their nutritional and economic status.

Another example is from our efforts to find suitable species to farm in the beautiful but remote islands of the Pacific, where aquaculture species were not yet available. Our choice was to focus on low-input, high-value invertebrates such as giant clams, sea cucumbers and pearl oysters. The village farmers can only manage small enterprises and cannot import feed. Filter feeding and autotrophic (self-feeding) species such as those we chose seem to show the greatest promise. They do not pollute the environment, their natural stocks are under pressure from overexploitation and they have a good market. Although they are not being grown primarily for food, they provide a good income for the small farmers to buy food with. The farmers are also beginning to see the necessity of protecting and adding to wild stocks.                

A fairly different approach is to improve the productivity of popular low-cost species to keep fish within reach of poorer people. The reduction in the availability of fish due to overfishing has raised the price of fish beyond the reach of the poor. The large selective breeding program for the Nile tilapia, a scientific partnership between African and Asian countries and Norwegian and *ICLARM scientists, is starting to yield on-farm tilapia productivity improvements in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Ex ante impact studies in the five biggest tilapia producing countries have shown that the attendant reduction in the price and increase in the availability of fish will benefit all sections of tilapia producers and all classes of consumers, except the highest income groups.

*ICLARM has also developed techniques to introduce fish farming to poor and marginal crop farmers to raise the productivity of their farming systems through scientific integration of farm activities and recycling of resources. Our success at the experimental stage holds great potential for improving the stability and security of such farming communities if undertaken on a larger scale.                                 

We believe that aquaculture has a great potential to provide food for the growing world population and income for the rural poor, help replenish wild stocks and be friendly to the environment, if practiced scientifically and responsibly.

Meryl Williams and Rita Kapadia

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