Practices and people can be considered as two key ingredients to responsible aquaculture. Practices that are in conformity with national and international standards and requirements, ensure sustainability of the sector, ensure environment protection and integrity, enable social equity and respect ethical values and standards, consider human food safety concerns seriously and people who are well informed, willing to change and ready to embrace practices for public good.

Most aquaculture in Asia is undertaken by large numbers of relatively small scale farmers. These farmers face a variety of constraints that increasingly center around questions of how best to develop more sustainable production practices as a longer term outcome. Sustainability (the process) is really about changing behaviors; in this case the behaviors of these large numbers of small scale aquaculture farmers.  Small farmers are too big to ignore. They should be part of the solution to many of today’s problems (e.g. food safety, environmental integrity, social equity, food and nutritional security, societal harmony). This is only achievable through their involvement and empowerment.

BMPs in the aquaculture context outline norms for responsible farming of aquatic animals. These are management interventions developed to address the identified risk factors while its implementation is generally voluntary; they are not a standard for certification. Implementation of the BMPs by small scale farmers will help translate principles of responsible farming into reality and ensure the flow of benefits to the farmers, environment and society. Cluster/group management in simple terms can be defined as collective planning, decision making and implementation of crop activities by a group of farmers in a cluster through participatory approach in order to accomplish their common goal (e.g. reduce risks and maximise returns, achieve economy of scale).  Attempts at empowering groups of small farmers have been more effective compared to individuals. The concept of collective and participatory decision making process while pursuing the primary livelihood (in our case fish farming) appears to have more positive impacts.

Aquaculture BMP and cluster management programs (with the support of MPEDA/NACA/NaCSA) are ongoing in India since the early 2000. Indian experience and lessons learned especially on BMPs and cluster approach were used in Aceh, Indonesia by various donors and partners (ADB, NACA, IFC, FAO, ARC, OISCA, WFC) after the 2004 tsunami to support aquaculture rehabilitation programs. In parallel, there have been several programs in Thailand supporting implementation of GAP and BMP programs in shrimp aquaculture since early 2000, including group certification programs supported under various national (DOF) and international programs (e.g. WWF/Aquastar/NACA, FAO TCP project). NACA has been involved in all these 3 countries directly and indirectly in project implementation and monitoring.

The presentation provided some insight on the risk management approach (adoption of BMPs through cluster/group approach) promoted by NACA over the last ten years in some of its member states. This approach supports building capacity and awareness of farmers and involves them in the (a) process of identification of risk factors to the sustainability of their operations, (b) development of interventions in the form of BMPs, (c) promoting adoption of BMPs through a cluster/group management approach and (d) ensuring market access through participation in group certification programs.

In summary, BMP adoption by such farmers is increasing, aquaculture management practices are improving and overall these cases illustrate that successful changes are possible even for very small scale farmers. Such change has been possible by using clusters, associations and other group based approaches supported by action based research and training/extension. Overall, we conclude that even very small scale farmers can, and will change, when provided with appropriate incentives and support. A fundamental shift in the attitude of producers, traders, consumers, policy makers, governments and international development agencies is necessary. Bringing about such a change is a very slow process. When these attitudinal shifts take place we will see responsibly caught wild fish, sustainably produced farmed fish, healthier aquatic ecosystems and important of all more empowered small farmers.

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JICA / NACA / DOF International Symposium on Small-scale Freshwater Aquaculture Extension

The symposium provided a venue for information sharing on extension of small-scale aquaculture targeted to those individuals and relevant organisations involved in various aquaculture development projects. The symposium also assessed and presented the effectiveness of “farmer-to-farmer extension” approaches in the implementation of relevant aquaculture development projects in the region. The symposium was organised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), NACA and the Thai Department of Fisheries.