Sunday, December 12, 2010

Criteria for Donor-funded Aquaculture Development

I recently researched the feasibility of cage culture for a small-scale development project in Ghana. The objective was for income generation of several local families, skills training, and support of a youth skills training centre.

I found that the operating costs of a small cage farm and the associated risks did not warrant donor investment into the project. From this and concurrent discussion with other aquaculture professionals, I have learned that there are certain criteria to be considered when exploring a donor-funded aquaculture project:

1. Low input / low operating costs--a production system that is not dependent on high-cost inputs will be better able to survive a season of poor productivity or losses due to theft or mortality.

2. Production method accessible to small-scale operators--the methods must be reproducible by farming families who have minimal access to capital, operating funds, and possibly property.

3. Farm product accessible to all--this criteria may be overlooked if the other criteria are met; high-value product secures greater income for the family and community while the product would still be available at low to no cost for this group; if the other criteria are not met and the product is of high value, the poor are not benefiting except through the provision of a few jobs.

I am about poverty alleviation through aquaculture development. This does not typically encompass the application of commercial-scale aquaculture enterprises. Ponds are the most applicable aquaculture system for these reasons. Cages or hapas may be appropriate where inexpensive inputs--i.e. feed--are readily available or for early stages of the production cycle. For later stages of production, ponds which are fertilized by on-farm by-products and supplemented with locally available feed inputs are the system most accessible to the rural farming family.

This is not to say, by the way, that I am not supportive of commercial aquaculture development. On the contrary, it is commercial development that will command government attention and investment in the industry; it is commercial development that will lead to infrastructure improvements; it is commercial development that will provide jobs and skills training for the land-less.

Small-scale development will provide a means of income and food production for rural families out of reach of industry jobs; small-scale development will bring poverty alleviation to a greater number of families per hectare than will a commercial farm. There are many regions where commercial aquaculture investment is not likely to occur, but where small-scale aquaculture can be of great benefit to many families.

Both commercial and small-scale development are necessary for balanced industry development. I happen to be more intent on the latter.

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