Farmer research builds capacity for small-scale integrated aquaculture development
The SCALE Project in Cambodia introduces fish culture to small scale rice farmers. Over recent years access to the fishery resource (with the exception of the rice field fishery) in many areas has been increasingly restricted by fishing lot leaseholders and high fishing taxes. For the rural communities in these areas, and for those where the fish stock is depleted, the potential of undertaking a low cost innovation which provides an on-farm supply of fish is attractive. Another reason for the project s success is the Farmer Research strategy. Farmers are responsible for managing their own trials, innovations and adaptations. Stephen Dowall explains how a sense of ownership motivates farmers to introduce their neighbours to the new system.
ILEIA Newsletter • 12 nº 2 • July 1996
Farmer research builds capacity for small-scale integrated aquaculture development
The SCALE Project in Cambodia introduces fish culture to small scale rice farmers. Over recent years access to the fishery resource (with the exception of the rice field fishery) in many areas has been increasingly restricted by fishing lot leaseholders and high fishing taxes. For the rural communities in these areas, and for those where the fish stock is depleted, the potential of undertaking a low cost innovation which provides an on-farm supply of fish is attractive. Another reason for the project’s success is the Farmer Research strategy. Farmers are responsible for managing their own trials, innovations and adaptations. Stephen Dowall explains how a sense of ownership motivates farmers to introduce their neighbours to the new system.
Photo: Stephen Dowal
Of primary concern to the farming households of the rainfed lowland is the maintenance of food security. In reality this means a play-off between the requirement to minimise risk versus the need to maximise on-farm production.
In 1991 the SCALE Integrated Aquaculture Programme was established in Kandal Province. The province straddles the three major rivers in central and southern Cambodia, the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac. Total land area equals 355,542 km² and the average annual rainfall is about 1100 mm, almost all of which falls between June and November. The primary purpose of SCALE has been to improve rural nutrition by providing a cheap alternative supply of fish for subsistence needs.
Farmers are interested in small-scale aquaculture because they easily recognise it as a simple and low cost means of diversifying on-farm production. Land is a scarce resource for the average farmer in Kandal Province. In the case of rice/fish in particular, very little land is required or lost from other crops or on-farm activities.
Farmer ResearchIn SCALE, farmers have the opportunity to lead the refinement of the culture systems and the integration methodologies appropriate to their local environment. The role of the development practitioner is simply one of facilitating the process, providing technical advice, and monitoring the outcome. Three basic features distinguish the Farmer Research strategy. First, farmers own the research activity.
This differs from the more traditional on-farm trial methodology in that the use of farm-based trials places the complete responsibility for the research onto the farmer. While the farmer carries all the risks, he/she also reaps all the benefits. The farm-based trial gives farmers the freedom to adapt/refine the system according to their own initiative and the characteristics and constraints of their resource base and socioeconomic environment. In contrast, on-farm trials often become a means of attaining a village context for a research scientist to conduct a controlled trial.
The Farmer Research approach is also effective for tapping the resourcefulness of the farm household. Farmers working with SCALE have shown creativity and innovation. Within the first two seasons of the pilot programme the combined number of pond inputs used for fertilisation and/or feeding by participating farmers had grown to 20.
Thirdly, the Farmer Research strategy is proving to be effective at maximising the indigenous capacity for promoting the development process. Farmers who feel a sense of ownership over their achievements become farmers motivated to extending those achievements to others. Many who have completed the three year pilot programme are now proving to be effective leaders capable and willing to lead the introduction of new farmers to the benefits of small-scale aquaculture and its integration on the farm.
Pre-requisites for successFor integrated aquaculture and the Farmer Research strategy to be an attractive option for the subsistence household in Kandal Province there are some pre-requisites. Of primary importance is that the farm household identifies with a need for more fish. Farmers could be lacking fish (i.e. fish stocks in the area are depleted and market supplied fish are too expensive), their access to wild stocks is restricted or they see the potential of diversifying on-farm production.
If households are able to maintain sufficient water through the dry season, the increasing market price of fish later in the dry season provides a substantially increased return for pond fish. It is also essential that the production systems proposed are low cost. The primary cash cost involved is the initial purchase of the fingerlings. The introduction of a simple nursing system can reduce this cost however, by up to 60 to 70%.
Other costs sometimes include the purchase of rice bran for feeding and, to extend the duration of the culture period, pump hire costs. The use of inorganic fertilisers is discouraged in preference for using available organic wastes. The demand for household labour and on-farm waste needs to be complimentary to other on-farm activity. Sometimes the opportunity cost of taking resources away from other production activities is too high, rendering the introduction of fish inviable.
The primary requirement for labour is for pond construction and feed collection. This is often overcome by families working together in partnerships or syndicates. Finally, it is necessary to identify a suitable paddy or location for the pond. Numerous questions are posed here, including security if the location is distant from the house, elevation of the site (e.g. a play-off between susceptibility to flooding and adequate runoff for pond filling by the rains), and the water retention capacity of the soil. Partnerships and syndicate operations are also increasing in popularity as a means of overcoming the problem of finding a suitable location.
Foundation of Farmer ClubsThe appropriateness of the system for a context of scarce resources (land, labour and capital), together with the Farmer Research approach, produce an innovative response by the farmer. This innovation and the sense of ownership of the farm-based trial produces a drive on the part of the farmer to be creative in the refinement of their integrated aquaculture system. This additional benefit of the approach is foundational to the underlying farmer-led philosophy of SCALE. The stimulus provided for motivating farmers to share their achievements and experience becomes strategic to the implementation of a farmer-led approach to extension.
Therefore, farmer clubs are located in each area where a cluster of households are working with the programme. From the beginning these clubs are under local leadership elected by the participants. While they are forums for problem resolution, the pooling of farmer innovations, farmer training, and local credit administration, they are also a forum which facilitates the farmer-led extension strategy.
New or enquiring farmers find in the farmer clubs an interactive forum which encourages learning from each other. As the local capacity builds therefore, the initiative of the development process will reach the point where its primary motivation is found within the local community rather than from an outside extension service.
Mr Ben Cheik has been working with SCALE for two years. He has achieved a total yield of 60.4 kg of fish from his rice paddy with minimal effort. His paddy is well suited to concurrent rice fish production due to it being relatively low lying and enclosed with a bund of sufficient height to avoid the uncontrolled entry of flood waters. The total size of the paddy is 2,108 m². Mr Ben Cheik has achieved a profitable return for various reasons, some of which are:
• The combination of the Oreochromis niloticus (Nile tilapia) and Cyprinus
carpio (Common carp) species maximised the use of the paddy's natural fertility.
• Extra inputs were provided throughout the 102 day culture period to boost water fertility (rice bran 47.5 kg, cow manure 455 kg, macrophytes 15 kg and termites 3.5 kg). This helped maintain the tilapia growth rate (0.62 g/day).
• Common carp performed the best with an average growth rate of 2.38 g/day.
• A good food conversion ratio of 9.9 was achieved.
The area given to a fish refuge was insignificant at only 8m² (0.5 metres deep), or 0.3% of the paddy area. This might suggest that where paddies are low lying the requirement to dedicate a larger area (often up to 10%) to refuge is less. Where the paddy water depth is less the refuge is more important. The impact on rice production however, may be minimal as the shallower water will allow the use of higher yielding shorter straw varieties of rice.
Mr Ben Cheik has thus produced a bonus of crop fish of 60.4 kg (including 5.8 kg of wild fish) with loosing little of his scarce land resource from his precious rice crop. He has diversified his on-farm production and added a crop of high nutritional value to his household.
Farmers invite farmersThe potential of this strategy is now beginning to emerge in Kandal. After the first year of implementation all new households joining the programme were identified by the programme farmers. These farmers have invited them to Farmer Club meetings and willingly share and advise the new households, not only on the potential and benefits of their integrated aquaculture system, but also on technical issues such as site selection for ponds and the integration options available in their context.
The role of women in the farmer club is important. Commonly cited figures suggest that 64% of the adult population in Cambodia is female and that up to 35% of households are headed by women. In Kandal between 3.6 and 30% of the households are headed by women (16% average). In addition, women participate in most on-farm activities, carry responsibility for the household, administer the household budget and frequently are the real decision maker behind the front of the customary male head of household (if there is one).
Effectively this means that if institutional arrangements are not accommodating of participation by women then one of the most strategic players in the development process is omitted. The time of the meeting is an important dynamic facilitating this. All farmer club meetings in the SCALE project area are held in the middle of the day when people (in particular the women) return from the fields.
ConclusionIn summary the primary tenet of the Farmer Research strategy is that it is farmer led. The role of the project and/or development practitioner is no more than that of catalyst and facilitator. In addition, the strategy has a catalytic impact in initiating the mentor process, and as more farmer clubs become established, for releasing the development potential of integrated aquaculture. However, attaining the organisational sustainability of the farmer clubs remains integral to attaining the sustainability of the development process and the wider distribution of the benefits of on-farm diversification with fish.
Stephen HF Dowall, Project Director SCALE Integrated Aquaculture Programme, Southeast Asian Outreach, PO Box 85, Pnomh Penh, Cambodia.