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  • Writer's pictureTarun Shridhar

SAFAL: Could the Acronym Spell SUCCESS For the Fish Farmer

”It is said that if you give a man a fish, you would feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime. I say, teach a wo(man) how to culture fish, you will empower the entire country” ― Dr. Charles John Bhaskar T

Improving food security by enhancing fish production and income from sustainable and resource saving aquaculture in ponds is the stated objective of the GIZ sponsored project Sustainable Aquaculture For Food And Livelihood, India. The moniker translates into a catchy acronym SAFAL. The German agency for international cooperation viz. GIZ has launched a special global initiative called Transformation of Agricultural and Food Systems with an objective of eradicating hunger and malnutrition through agriculture, rural development and food security. SAFAL is one of the projects under this initiative. The states of Assam and Odisha are the defined project areas. The success of SAFAL would determine if aquaculture could be an effective vehicle to address the challenge of nutrition besides enhancing income of the rural communities.

Why aquaculture? Since wild or capture fishery is under a constant and irreversible threat of extinction, a shift from hunting fish to farming fish remains the only future of fish: for food and nutritional security, and for securing livelihoods in some of the poorest parts of the world. A diligent reading of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) prestigious publication State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture leads one to an alarming inference that above 90% of the global marine fisheries resources are either fully exploited or over exploited or depleting. So, mankind is left with less than 10% of the resources that remain to be harvested for its future food. The status of inland capture resources too does not offer much hope; what with competing priorities for water usage- irrigation, sewage, hydel power etc., fisheries inevitably lands at the bottom of the list of priorities. The consistent decline in marine capture fisheries becomes all the more worrisome when we witness the rapidly growing demand for fish food, from less than 10 kilograms per person per annum more than half a century ago to above 21 kilograms today.

World aquaculture production recorded an all-time high of 122.6 million tonnes in 2020. The total farmgate sale value of this product is pegged at US Dollars (USD) 281.5 billion. The major share of this total production consisted of 87.5 million tonnes of aquatic animals, basically fish and crustaceans, worth USD 264.8 billion, and 35.1 million tonnes of aquatic algae valued at USD 16.5 billion. The global aquaculture production has been growing on average at about 5.5 percent per year. The rate of growth of aquaculture production has progressively surpassed that of capture fisheries. “Farming more than hunting/catching” has been the globally acknowledged strategy for enhanced fish production to meet the ever growing requirement and demand for animal protein. The growth of inland fish farming has been much better than marine aquaculture, especially in the South Asian Region. In 2020, inland aquaculture contributed 54.4 million tonnes of aquatic animals, accounting for 62.2 percent of the world’s farmed food fish production.

Asia shares a whopping 91 percent of the world aquaculture production, with China, contributing 58 percent being the undisputed leader by miles. India with a share of around 9 percent and Bangladesh 3 percent though far behind China are the other global aquaculture giants; the rest of Asia produces approximately 8 percent of the world total. Therefore, quite evidently, besides China, it is the Indian Subcontinent which is befittingly called the aquaculture hub of the world. It has been a very traditional activity in the Southern Asia Region in general, and the Indian subcontinent in particular. The earliest examples of aquaculture were raising fish in homestead ponds primarily for family consumption. Post-independence, India and Bangladesh laid emphasis on the development of modern aquaculture. Specialised institutions catering to aquaculture promotion were established and community associations were organised to undertake collaborative fish farming. International development agencies and FAO also played an important role in the transfer of technology and policy development in the region to promote aquaculture. Subsequently, domestication of Indian Major Carps (IMC), the introduction of other carps, mainly Chinese carps and common carp, development of shrimp farming with its tremendous trade potential, introduction of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) and the introduction of the Pacific white leg shrimp, Litopenaeus vannamei catapulted the sector into big league. Bangladesh and India have been the biggest beneficiaries of these developments. Over time these countries have not only emerged as global leaders in aquaculture but also consolidated their position in the global fish trade.

Against this background and fast moving developments, the GIZ has understood that aquaculture, albeit sustainable, could be a robust medium for securing rural livelihoods and nutrition. A part of the Global Programme on Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture which commenced in the year 2016, SAFAL has tried and tested models to emulate, in fact improve upon them. That fish production can be enhanced only through aquaculture should no longer be in doubt in view of the scenario detailed above. Obviously, sustainable and resource efficient fish farming would lead to not only an increased availability of protein rich food but also enhanced incomes for rural communities.

The catchy slogans to generate interest and encourage greater participation are “More Fish - More Work”, the focus being increased production and greater employment through aquaculture; and “Sustainable Fish” promoting responsible management of resources so that production and livelihoods remain not only secure but translate to greater prosperity.

The striking feature of SAFAL is its uncompromising focus upon small and marginal fish farmers. The selection of the beneficiaries, or should not one say participants, in the project has been guided by rational and pragmatic factors such as difficulty in accessing technology, affordability of inputs, reach to information etc. Beneficiaries, selected through this rigour, should be members of an existing Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO) or a Self Help Group (SHG). A community and cooperative approach would be a sine qua non for the success of the project of this kind; after all sustainable food production accompanied with enhanced incomes along the value chain can only be achieved through a collaborative participation.

Dissemination of knowledge through training is the key strategy of the project. The project recognises the importance of expanding the knowledge of fish farmers on enhanced sustainable fish practices. The approach to this capacity building is through the Community Resource Persons (CRPs). A welcome and refreshing departure here from several such like projects is that these resource persons, aka CRPs, are not some patronising teachers or trainers but the members of the local fish farming community: “One of Us”. Community is the focal point. Dissemination of knowledge requires effective communication. And effective communication, in simple words, is that what the recipient has understood is precisely what you said. This happens rarely, even though the language may not be a barrier. Out here both the giver and receiver belong to the same community, so the message should get delivered loud and clear. The CRP is further trained in the management, practices and technology of aquaculture as per the latest advancements.

Ideally, through the project SAFAL, the beneficiary fish farmers should get the benefit of the best of technology and management of aquaculture as also the time tested traditional knowledge and practices. There are many partners in the project, the dominant ones being the government departments responsible for fisheries as well as for FPOs and SHGs. Each of them would have its own input, which no doubt should be welcome. However, for a self-sustaining system for sustainable aquaculture for small and marginal farmers to establish strong roots, it may be advisable for the secondary stakeholders to occupy the spectators’ stand and allow the field functionaries freedom to execute the project unshackled. Why such open ended flexibility? Because the primary and central stakeholders are essentially the rural small and marginal fish farmers. More than us, it is the CRP who would understand them and their requirements. After all, they have been engaged in fish farming since generations.

SAFAL and its proponents would be well advised to aggressively guard and protect the “bottoms up” approach and shun the “top down” patronage. Native wisdom drawn from years of practice and experience in aquaculture is as strong, if not more, as the modern science of aquaculture.

FAO has stated in no uncertain terms that the future of fish is farming, and only farming. Not surprisingly, aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of the food production economy.

Sustainability may be an oft quoted buzzword, but for the majority of the world, it is a matter of survival; therefore, obviously of particular concern. SAFAL seeks to translate this buzzword into tangible outcomes. How? By creating the invincible combination of the power of knowledge and the strength of community. Let us have a stake in its success.


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