Farmers and fisher folk in India have practiced aquaculture since time immemorial. Traditional fish culture carried out in small ponds in eastern India, indicates that aquaculture was a major vocation for local communities. Even today, it is hard to find a household in rural Bengal that does not have a fishpond.

Aquaculture in India which largely remained at subsistence level till 1980s, dramatically changed into commercial activity with rise in demand from the western markets. With success of green revolution, the focus was now on blue revolution, transforming a environmentally sound and traditional livelihood option into a semi- intensive or highly-intensive industry. Thousands of hectares were earmarked for intensive shrimp aquaculture. Mangroves were cleared, wetlands were encroached upon and drained, and aquaculture tanks were built into fresh-water lakes. Intensifying aquaculture resulted in greater economic benefits in terms of returns and employment while the people found a valuable source of cheap protein in aquaculture products. Nevertheless, there were also serious environmental and socioeconomic impacts. The entry of private actors and large scale exploitation of the natural resources resulted in human and ecological devastation at various levels.

Despite the changes that took over the sector in the last two decades, we find that much of the aquaculture practised in countries like India is still at a small scale, addressing family-level subsistence and livelihood needs. This issue brings out the experiences of small scale farmers in making aquaculture productive and sustainable.

Small scale sustainable aquaculture

Productivity enhancements in such small scale production systems is possible by adopting good husbandry practices, that are environmentally sound too. Improvements in husbandry skills have resulted in higher levels of production.  For instance, understanding feeding behavior of aquaculture species is necessary to establish an optimal feeding regime leading to homogeneity in growth and savings in feed costs. Feeding practices should also be in tune with biological rhythm of the fish species, for example, catfishes generally show better feeding activity in the dark, while carp feeds in the day time. The form of the feed has an impact not only on the acceptance of the feed but also on the aquatic environment. (Pratap Mukhopdhyay, p.6). Also, nourishing the broodstock is critical for successful reproduction, higher fertilization rate and resultant spawn viability. Provision of adequate nourishment supplying essential amino acid and fatty acid sources during pre-spawning phase may ensure quality egg production.

Aquaculture production is often integrated with other forms of agriculture. Integrated farming system is seen as a way to enhance the productivity of water, land and associated resources while contributing to increased food fish production.

Traditionally, integration of rice and fish has been considered as a low-cost sustainable practice providing nutrition and income security to farmer households. Such traditional systems which have proved to be economically viable and ecologically safe have been practiced over centuries by traditional communities, like the Apatani tribes in Arunachal Pradesh (Deepjyoti Baruah, p. 17). It has been found that there were several benefits by growing fish in rice terraces. For example, fishes by feeding on small insects like water beetle and larvae, which are harmful to the paddy, protect the crop. The waste material of fish serves as manure to the rice plant and also fish by is browsing habit helps in release of fixed nutrients from soil for rice plants.

Many models of integrated models are being practiced. Of them, the rice-fish integration is the most widely practised farming system. For example, farmers of Malda, east Midnapore, Hooghly and South 24 parganas in West Bengal adopt rice-fish integration during kharif season every year (Pratap Mukhopdhyay, p.6). They have reported that rice yields increase when integrated with fish than without integration of fish. There are also other benefits like reduction in rodent infestations in the rice field and while rice plant serves as essential food for fish.

Duck-fish farming is yet another integrated system found in rural West Bengal. Presence of ducks helped in eradicating many insect pests, tadpoles and help in creating a conducive ambience for fish to thrive and grow. Nitrogen rich duck droppings enhanced production of natural food organisms (Pratap Mukhopdhyay, p.6). Communities in hilly regions of Uttarakhand found it remunerative to integrate fish rearing with poultry and vegetable cultivation. Besides income, the integrated model helped to improve the nutrition levels of household members.(Deepa Bisht and Sundriyal, p.10)

Aquatic plants are important in maintaining the habitat for growth of fish and for natural food
availability. Promotion of monoculture of fish species has contributed to depletion of biodiversity, thereby reducing productivity, further leading to livelihood challenges for the dependent communities. By extracting Ipomea from the tanks and with better tank management practices, the Dhivar fishing communities in Maharashtra could restore the aquatic biodiversity. (Manish Rajankar, p. 25)

Community-based management approaches are being tried to use common property resources for fishing purposes. For instance, communities in Bhandara and Gondia districts in Maharashtra, have taken up  aquatic habitat development in 11 tanks covering 281 hectares. Habitat development has been carried out involving all the stakeholders like the members of local fishing cooperative society, the expert from local community and team member from organization. (Manish Rajankar, p.25)

Aquaculture has the potential to generate income and create jobs, especially to the local youth. Being small and less risky, small-scale aquaculture can be adopted easily by resource-poor farmers. The government and the community level organisations are adopting various approaches to promote sustainable aquaculture. For example, Odisha Skill Development Authority (OSDA) in collaboration with ICAR-CIFA organized Aquaculture Field Schools to train farmers in Orissa on small scale aquaculture. ICAR-DCFR, Bhimtal in association with the Department of Fisheries, established a fish hatchery unit at Hari village in Arunachal Pradesh during 2018. In Jharkhand, the State Fisheries Department has been actively promoting fish farming by extending trainings, subsidies on fishing nets, supplying free seeds and feed besides offering monthly mobile recharges and life insurance covers to fish farmers. (Manu Moudgil, p.32)

Aquaculture is changing the lives of farmers by offering a good alternative to land-based agriculture. With its potential to provide nutrition, income and employment, small scale aquaculture has the potential to contribute to most of the relevant SDGs. It is also environmentally efficient, especially when integrated into other farming activities. It offers a great scope for women to take an active role and it can make households and communities more resilient to economic or environmental shocks.





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