M Vijay Gupta, former assistant director general, World Fish Center, Penang, Malaysia was the World Food Prize winner in 2005. He talks to Sourav Mishra on inland aquaculture's relevance for the Third World
When fishery scientists were researching on shrimp farming and other innovations in marine aquaculture, you chose inland aquaculture. Why?
Inland aquaculture can improve livelihoods of millions of fisherfolk and farmers in developing countries, and that is what drew me to it. Marine aquaculture, in contrast, is not meant for the poor farmer. It involves high value products and benefits only a few, particularly exporters and importers. Research in marine aquaculture also does not address needs of the marginal fisherfolk.
How does inland aquaculture benefit both fisherfolk and farmers?
In the developing world, especially South and Southeast Asia, there are quite a few untapped water bodies. These can prove useful to both traditional fisherfolk and small agriculturalists. Marginal farmers and landless labourers can earn additional income from a hitherto unused resource by using low-input technology.
What exactly is low-input aquaculture technology?
Low cost aquaculture means fish production with inputs that barely cost, such as compost and weeds. Cultivating fish in seasonal ponds, roadside canals and similar water bodies is remarkably cost-efficient. Besides, the same water can also be used to irrigate crops. This reduces cultivation costs and if proper management practices are followed, a farmer could double his productivity in two years.
Any example of successful use of low input aquaculture technology
The technology has proved a great success in Bangladesh. Here over 600,000 previously untapped ponds now grow more than 250 species of fresh water fish. In Laos, there was no inland aquaculture till 1977, till the Rohu fish was introduced from India. Today, freshwater aquaculture contributes to over 35 per cent of the country's fish production. Many African countries, such as Mozambique, have also shown promise. The development, however, is dependant on the participation of local ngos.
Why do you think the involvement of NGOs is crucial for blue revolution in developing countries?
Inland aquaculture involves poor and ill-educated villagers. Government research only makes technology available to them. That's not enough to attract farmers with no prior experience in aquaculture. ngos, in contrast, train agriculturists, offer them micro-credit and also market their produce.
Which areas in India do you think can benefit from this technology?
Virtually every region in the country, which has untapped ponds. In fact, West Bengal has already made headway in inland aquaculture.
Will scaling up aquaculture cause problems of sustainability?
No, scaling up inland aquaculture won't cause problems, if it's done intelligently. In fact, the method is quite apt considering the water scarcity we face today. For example, we require about 1 cubic metre of water to produce 3 kg of rice, while the same water can produce 6 kg of freshwater fish. Fish cultivation also requires much less fertiliser: it does require urea and potash but in traces.
However, I'm scared of the way people in Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh are scaling up aquaculture. The process is appropriate for small ponds: about half hectare (ha) or so. But farmers in these three states have extended their ponds: these sometimes sprawl over 300 ha. And not just that: they have converted these ponds into salt-water ponds. This can destroy large tracts of already saline agricultural land.
You advocate a consortium of 13 developing countries for making fish trade equitable for both south and north? Why?
The first inequity arises when marine fishery is considered an industrial product in the World Trade Organization's (wto) negotiations. This makes our fisheries vulnerable to the impending zero-tariff conditions of wto ; once these come into force, our fisheries cannot hope to compete in the us $63-billion international market.
Secondly all research funding are for marine fishery, not a poor farmers' vocation. Thirdly, the developed world is using qualitative restrictions to restrict imports from the south. The consortium can help developing countries against such bullying.
What is your vision for inland aquaculture in the future?
I want to see it as a part of agriculture. I wish there would be continuous research for development of low cost technologies in fish farming. Finally, I see this as a source of food for the poor. After all, fish can provide 50-80 per cent of animal proteins to the poor.