WorldFish Center (formerly ICLARM) aquaculture experts, IITA economists, IRAD researchers and MINEPIA technicians formed a Research-Extension Team (RET) to undertake action research on the importance of markets in driving aquaculture intensification. The primary objective was to understand the processes that create increased opportunities for small-scale farmers to improve their livelihoods while decreasing pressure on natural resources in the forest margins of Central Cameroon. In addition, the costs and benefits of participatory research and increased availability of cultured fish for urban markets were documented.
Over five years, seven cycles of participatory research were conducted between the RET and a group of 100 farmers from four typical central Cameroonian villages, selected over a range of market access and population density domains. To increase the range of collaborative interactions and expand project impacts beyond the target villages, a network of NGOs was created to disseminate information and a Research Committee was established to manage 32 ancillary research projects through a competitive grants facility.
The project sought to intervene as a development actor at a number of levels. In terms of policy, the project worked with local and international agencies to define, describe and institutionalise a Strategic Framework for Aquaculture Development. The model was first applied in Cameroon, but through collaboration with FAO is now being adapted to a number of other countries within the region.
At ground level, the RET worked directly with farmers and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to disseminate information and improve human resource capacity in terms of aquaculture technology and delivery mechanisms. A number of training courses were undertaken to reinforce basic aquaculture technology as well as develop new research and analytical tools for use by the national agricultural research system (NARS). An email information dissemination network was established among local aquaculture development agents and regional aquatic resource scientists and managers.
Over 40 reports, 11 technical bulletins and a number of radio, television and newspaper items were produced and disseminated locally, regionally and internationally through the primary scientific literature, popular media, trade journals, information networks and participation by project staff in 33 seminars/conferences.
The findings of the project were directed at several key corollaries of the Sustainable Livelihoods development paradigm and the utility of participatory research in engendering farming systems intensification:
Changes in Fish Production & Number of Fish Farmers: Productivity of small-scale aquaculture in the target areas increased over the project period from 498 kg/ha to 2525 kg/ha. The number of active fish farmers in the target areas increased from 40 to 137, among whom cash returns from aquaculture increased by 16 times. Farmers not directly participating in project activities also benefited such that 262 small-scale farmers with 870 ponds are currently producing 14.4 tons per annum (£30,000 wholesale ) for the Yaoundé market. In addition, an average of 50 kg/family/9 months and 8 kg/family/9 months in periurban and rural areas, respectively, are consumed by the farm family.
Changes on Farm / Periurban Vs Rural: Farming systems diversification through the integration of aquaculture significantly increased the productivity, intensity of production and profitability of small-scale farms in periurban areas, but not in rural areas. Among farmers with good market access, net profits rose from cfa180,000 to cfa770,000 with increases in fish pond income from cfa49,000 up to cfa870,000 over the project period. The amount of fish retained for consumption by the farming family was higher in periurban areas (26% Vs 17% in rural areas) where freezers were available to store fish for later use.
Cost of FSRP: Provision of participatory research services to the original 50 rural farmers cost an average of £26,900 per year in salaries, equipment, vehicle operation/depreciation. In periurban areas where transportation was less expensive, costs averaged £7,140 per 50 farmers per year. Calculated on a per active farmer basis (within the target villages at the end of the study) the costs come to £317 and £130 per farmer per year, respectively for rural and periurban farmers. In terms of fish supplied to the market, FSRP support cost slightly more than the retail value of the fish produced, £170,000 Vs £140,000. Nearly 80% of these costs were incurred in providing services to rural farmers. If only existing periurban farms are targeted, £10,000 worth of technical support could produce revenues of at least £51,000 on sales of 26 tons of fish per annum.
In conclusion, this research has shown that the provision of high-quality technical advice to farmers with market access can have a strong positive impact on farm productivity and profitability among small and medium-scale farmers. In areas with good market access, these impacts are quickly translated into improved cash flow and household nutrition. In areas with little or no access to markets, the number of fishponds and fish farmers can be increased and pond productivity can be improved, increasing local food supplies. However, economic impacts are not clearly visible in the short -term. Comparison between response to RET intervention on periurban and rural farms shows that, if market access by rural producers can be improved, realistic cash incentives and thus improved cash flow and sectoral growth are likely. Following pilot trials under the project, an NGO-led effort to facilitate market access and the development of a sustainable rural fish marketing business plan is continuing with RET support.
WorldFish Center, 34 pp.