International farmer to farmer interactions for the exchange of technical information don't happen often due to the substantial cultural, language and geographic impediments that are usually involved. However, there can be considerable value in bringing farmers together to share their experience and solutions to common problems.
NACA recently facilitated a visit to India by a group of Vietnamese catfish farmers, so that they might observe the operation of collaborative shrimp farmer societies. The small-scale shrimp farmers of Andhra Pradesh have set a world example in their adoption of better farm management practices and coordination of cropping activities, based on clusters of nearby farms. Through mutual support and leveraging the market power of the group, small-scale farmers have been able to significantly improve crop outcomes, profitability and their livelihoods in an increasingly competitive international environment. The visit took place from 27 May to 3 June.
The Vietnamese farmers were drawn from the four main provinces of catfish farming in the Mekong Delta, also joined by four provincial extension officers, and researchers from Can Tho University and the Research Institute of Aquaculture No. 2, Ho Chi Minh University, and two representatives from NACA, totalling 16 people. The exchange was undertaken under the auspices of the project Development of Better Management Practices for Catfish Aquaculture in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
, funded by the AusAID CARD Programme.
The shrimp farmer associations in Andhra Pradesh began as part of an initiative to reduce the impact of shrimp disease through the implementation of better management practices in small-scale farming clusters. The initiative was established under a cooperative program between the Marine Products Export Development Authority of India and NACA. As participating farmers began to realise greatly improved crop outcomes, market power and profitability the word spread, with farmers from adjacent clusters and villages forming their own associations and adopting better management practices. Over the last few years this has brought about a revival of small scale tiger shrimp farming in Andhra Pradesh and other coastal states of India. It has also lead to policy and institutional change within India, culminating in the formation of the National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA).
The Vietnamese farmers visited the Chinavasala Aqua Famers Welfare Society (consisting of five Aqua Farmer Welfare Societies with a total of 84 farmers), the Venketawara Aqua Farmers Welfare Society (a well knit unit with 25 farmers), a contract hatchery (certified by NaCSA from which the BMP farmers purchase certified seed stocks) and participated at the field day of the Lakshmi Narasima Aquafarmers Welfare Society, which was attended by over 500 small scale shrimp farmers who are adopting BMPs, and the Nellore Shrimp Farmers Association. The Vietnamese farmers discussed the operation, management and benefits of the associations, including:
- The uniform manner in which farm records are kept.
- How the information is gathered on a collective basis.
- The advantages of forming associations in gaining higher productivity, reducing cost of operations, improving accessibility to lucrative niche markets, accessibility to government, banks and other interested agencies that wish to contribute to rural development, and in helping to generate synergies within the community, and most of all attain sustainability.
The Vietnamese farmers continued to compare and contrast their own situation with the way farmers were collaborating in Andhra Pradesh. By the end of the visit they had concluded that working in collective units offered great advantages to small scale farmers compared to working alone, and were convinced of the need to establish similar cluster-based management approaches for farmers in Vietnam. They were also convinced of the importance of developing better management practices for the Vietnamese catfish industry, which will improve the dialogue to finalise draft practices being developed under the project, in early October.
It was also very evident that cultural differences do not have to be a barrier to communication between small scale farmers; it was done very effectively in this instance with three way translation (Vietnamese into English into Telugu and vice versa), and the effectiveness was always evident from the hundreds of questions that the Vietnamese farmers had.
All in all this was a major step forward which NACA will try to emulate under similar circumstances. Logistically it was not an easy matter to handle but NACA was fortunate to enjoy excellent cooperation from the Indian farmers and authorities, who took care of every detail. NACA would like to express thanks to the NaCSA CEO and his staff for their excellent arrangements.Further reading
Umesh, N.R. (2007). Development and adoption of BMPs by self-help farmer groups. Aquaculture Asia XII, 8-10
Umesh, R.N., Chandra Mohan, A.B., Ravibabu, G., Padiyar, P.A., Phillips, M.J., Mohan, C.V., Vishnu Bhat, B. (in press). Implementation of better management practices by empowering small-scale farmers through a cluster-based approach: the case of shrimp farmers in India. In: De Silva, S.S., Davy, F.B. (Eds.), Success Stories in Asian Aquaculture
. Springer and IDRC, Canada, pp. 43-65.The Success Stories in Asian Aquaculture book will be available for free download from the NACA website in the near future.