Alleviating poverty through aquaculture: how can we improve

Aquaculture as a household, community and agribusiness-based activity to supply human food and other products and contribute to the alleviation of poverty is explored in this overview.

Definitions and concepts regarding the nature of poverty and its alleviation are first considered in the context of recent ideas about what poverty is, on whom and where it occurs and impacts, how it can be measured and what strategies have proved most useful in mitigating its effects. The impacts of poverty on food security and broader development outcomes are considered in the context of “well being”. The expectation that aquaculture in LDCs is practiced in rural areas for and by poor people as part of a “small-farm” development model is critically examined, and alternative models for aquaculture development to alleviate poverty are considered. The explicit linkages between “rural” and “small-scale” characteristics of aquaculture and poverty alleviation are interpreted and challenged.

Aquaculture is considered from the perspectives of consumption, market, scale, operational mechanism, role within the farming and/or livelihood system, stage and management of culture. Impact boundaries for aquaculture are considered, as is the concept of indicators that can map positive and negative impacts of aquaculture development on people with stakes in value chains.

The multiple natures of poverty and the concepts of escaping from and slipping into poverty are explored with reference to aquaculture contexts. Aquaculture as a strategy to reduce poverty of a targeted group rather than merely alleviating its impacts is discussed. Temporal and multi-generational aspects of poverty are reviewed with respect to traditional aquaculture/fishery systems. The potential for aquaculture to exacerbate or alleviate poverty at the household and community levels is considered, and the issue of risk and risk mitigation explored with regard to both. The conflicting and complimentary characteristics of aquaculture activities within complex livelihood portfolios are assessed. 

The particular relationships between poverty, food security and aquaculture development are discussed with regard to household farmed and alternative sources of aquatic foods (fisheries, purchased) and integration with horticulture. Food security and self-sufficiency are compared in the light of trends toward urbanisation and industrialisation.

The evidence for aquaculture being a cost-effective approach to poverty reduction is examined for various contexts and the issue of targeting households, communities and agroecological contexts reviewed. Impacts of field-tested approaches to extension focusing on poverty alleviation will be assessed and the roles of farmer field schools, social/participatory learning and network approaches considered. The relative importance of immanent and interventionist approaches are questioned.

Aquaculture as a driver for development is reviewed, based on various case studies, and found to contribute to poverty alleviation in both transformative and incremental modes and at various scales. The heterogeneity of commercial aquaculture that has developed in the last decade to serve rapidly growing urban and international markets has been transformative at household, community and often national levels, impacting on many aspects of poverty. Predisposing factors such as location, water and infrastructure availability and market development are assessed and discussed, as are the roles of promoter organisations and institutional context. The future impact of high-potential clusters on surviving smaller-scale enterprises and opportunities for poorer groups is considered in the light of value addition in processing industries. The implications for poorer people as transformational aquaculture leads to changing access to resource and markets, particularly land, water and labour will be discussed. Given the criticisms of, and longer term constraints to, conventional intensification, alternative and/or parallel scenarios are considered, including those based on culture-based fisheries and in comparison with the livestock sector. Evidence for consolidation in areas of industrial aquaculture adoption and concurrent resilience/vulnerability among smaller-scale producers will be reviewed and implications for poorer people assessed.

The incremental benefits of aquaculture as a part of the complex dynamic livelihoods of the poor are investigated and their sustainability questioned in regard to the aspirations of the poor and trends in agriculture generally. The frequently low relative importance of smaller-scale aquaculture in household income streams, frequently less than 10 percent, is dissected with regard to other motivations for hanging in, stepping up or stepping out. Relationships to other sources of aquatic animals, typically wild or managed fisheries are assessed, as are alternative resource management approaches. 

Aquaculture within integrated water and other resource use has long been advocated, but the long-term resilience of managed aquatic systems that incorporate aquaculture could have important implications for future levels of urban and rural poverty.


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Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010

The conference was organised by FAO, the Thai Department of Fisheries and NACA and held in the Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Phuket, Thailand, 22-25 September. The conference was the third in a series of aquaculture development conferences, following on from the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok 2000, and the FAO Technical Conference on Aquaculture, held in Kyoto 1976.