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Scaling up better management practices: Empowering small scale farmers

Posted on 4/5/2011 | 3801 reads | Tags: Shrimp, Better Management Practices
A national workshop on better management practices and cluster management for empowering small scale farmers: Scaling up strategies will be held in Chennai, India from 16-18 May. The workshop is an activity conducted by the ASEM Aquaculture Platform, a networking initiative involving nine European and Asian partners, which is funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. The workshop is a component of a work package promoting wider adoption of better management practices for key aquaculture commodities in selected member countries, aiming to improve farming practices and the livelihoods of farmers.

Asian aquaculture is dominated by small scale farms, a working definition of which we consider to be farmer owned/leased, operated and managed operations. Small scale farmers, irrespective of country and production system, face numerous challenges in a globalised market place, amongst which are:
  • Access to technical knowledge.

  • Lack of enabling government policies and programs.

  • Access to credit and insurance.

  • Compliance to food safety standards.

  • Minimising disease related losses.

  • Meeting stringent market requirements, including certification.

  • Meeting environmental and ethical standards, meeting wildlife and biodiversity requirements.
At the same time, the demand for quality and responsibly produced and certified aquaculture products is predicted to increase substantially in coming years. It is very important that small scale farmers are better prepared to meet these challenges in order to sustain their livelihoods, and indeed to continue to provide seafood to consumers. Past experiences have shown, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, that small scale farmers are more adaptable to change and are resilient. The way to meet the above challenges and the most rational, practical and technically and economically feasible option is to implement better management practices through a cluster management approach, in a given locality.
Development and adoption of better management practices (BMPs) for key aquaculture commodities is gradually gaining momentum and is increasing in the region. However, there appears to be lot of confusion in the minds of farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders about the concept and approaches. Often, BMPs are confused with standards and certification, which are separate issues.

NACA has been involved on BMP development and adoption since 2000, working in several countries in the Asia-Pacific region in conjunction with country partners, donors, and international organisations. The lessons learned and experience gained strongly suggest that BMPs is the gateway to ensuring sustainability of small scale aquaculture and meeting modern day market challenges and opportunities.

What are better management practices?

Better management practices in the aquaculture context outline norms for responsible farming of aquatic animals that address environmental, social and production issues. BMP’s are management practices, implementation of which is voluntary. BMPs are not a standard for certification. However, implementation of better management practices can improve the quantity, safety and quality of products taking into consideration animal health and welfare, food safety, environmental and socio-economical sustainability, as well as the profitability of the farmer. Implementation of BMPs can assist farmers to achieve compliance with quantifiable standards and indicators set by international agencies and third party certification bodies.

Standards are usually set from a consumer view point, taking into consideration issues that may include social equity and well being, environment, food safety and quality, national regulations and other criteria. BMPs, on the other hand, are commodity specific and location specific management practices that have been developed to meet the norms of responsible farming and at the same time reduce risks to culture operations and maximise returns, the adoption of which by and large satisfies by implication the standards set from a consumer view point. Development of BMPs begins with the existing farmer practices, and is not a top-down theoretical approach to a problem but a pragmatic bottom-up one.

BMPs have most of the ingredients that are required to meet independent standards. Most standards use the principles of responsible farming which takes into account both mandatory and voluntary standards. It is important to note that BMPs are not a one-time solution, they are subjected to gradual evolution, improvement and revision– in other words a dynamic protocol. BMPs can be tailor made and contextualised to meet some of the quantifiable standards, where and if necessary. In simple terms, standards tell us what is expected while BMPs tell us how farmers can reduce risks to their culture operations, maximise returns, reduce losses and at the same time achieve compliance to quantifiable standards.

How are BMPs developed and validated?

As emphasised earlier, BMPs are commodity specific and location specific and have to follow the generic principles of responsible aquaculture. It is generally agreed that for all cultured commodities it is necessary to underpin the general principles for responsible farming that would cover environmental, social, ethical, food safety and husbandry issues. The first step in developing BMPs is gaining an in depth understanding of the culture system(s) and cultured species and the practices thereof. This should be done at the population level and not in one or two ponds. Population based approaches to understand the problems and issues confronting a cultured commodity in a specific farming area are gaining importance. Identifying risk factors (e.g. environment, disease, food safety, market access, etc) for the long term sustainability of the farming system, at the population level using epidemiological principles (e.g. risk analysis) is fundamental to developing BMPs[1].

Once risk factors are identified, new management interventions are either developed or existing management methods revised/modified to address the identified risk factors, but always done in consultation with the practitioners and other stakeholders. Once a set of science based interventions are developed, through farm surveys, stakeholder consultations and scrutiny of existing scientific knowledge, it is necessary to test the interventions and validate them. This is normally carried out through farm trials, where BMP demonstration farms are set up for scrutiny by the community. Interventions validated through pilot testing, demonstrations and farmer consultations are referred to as better management practices. These have to be rational, practical and technically and economically feasible for small scale farmers to implement. BMPs are constantly evolving and changing and it is necessary to consider approaches to continuously evaluate and improve BMPs.

Promotion of BMP adoption among small scale farmers

Promoting the adoption of BMPs by small scale farmers is not simple. Dedicated teams of field workers need to work with farmers day in and day out to bring about changes in behaviour and attitude and wean them from preconceived ideas and conventional practices that may not be conducive to the environment, sustainability and food safety. This is a slow process and takes lot of time and resources, but is vital for successful adoption of BMPs. A critical aspect of the introduction of BMPs has been the role of farmer groups or “clusters???. Provision of science based information to farmer groups through effective networking and communication is one important key to success. The best example of this model is the modus operandi of the National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA), India[2].

What is cluster/group management?

In aquaculture there is a high degree of interaction between farms, e.g. use of a common water supply and common discharge channel among adjacent farms. Therefore, if a group of farms sharing these common resources are implementing BMPs their efforts may be negated if some farmers do not. An “all or none principle??? is often applicable to local aquaculture practices with respect to BMP adoption. Adoption of BMPs is best done using a cluster or group approach, with all farms in a given locality acting collectively and in unison, rather than individually.

Cluster management in simple terms can be defined as collective planning, decision making and implementation of crop activities by a group of farmers sharing common resources, through a participatory approach in order to address the common risk factors, to accomplish a common goal (e.g. maximise returns, reduce disease risks, increase market access, procure quality seed). The benefits of promoting BMP adoption by clusters of small-scale farmers include:
  • More farmers become involved, generating synergies in the community.

  • Economies of scale allowing forward and backward integration of culture operations with processors and hatcheries, respectively.

  • Collective bargaining power is greater and assists farmers to source quality inputs at better prices.

  • Certification, which is generally prohibitive for individual farmers, can be accomplished through certification of clusters.

  • Easier access to credit and insurance compared to an individual farmer.

  • The principle of sharing costs in a cluster approach ensures that common facilities (e.g. feeder canal, roads, power) and infrastructure can be developed and maintained properly. Peer pressure prevents fellow farmers from resorting to irresponsible culture practices (e.g. use of banned antibiotics, release of water from disease affected ponds).
Above all, cluster farming brings social harmony in a community, fundamental to the progress of society.

BMP work in Asia-Pacific

NACA’s experience with BMP promotion in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam clearly suggests that BMPs improve yields, safety and improve quality of products taking into consideration animal health and welfare, food safety, environmental and socio-economical sustainability. Key BMP and cluster management work carried out in the region includes:
  • Improvement of management practices in shrimp farming in India, in collaboration with MPEDA/NaCSA and CIBA (ICAR) since t 2000 and ongoing.

  • Shrimp farming in Aceh, Indonesia under the ADB-ETESP project (2005-2009) in collaboration with FAO and IFC.

  • Catfish farming in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam under the CARD program supported by AusAid (2008-2010) in collaboration with DPI, Victoria and RIA2 and CTU, Vietnam.

  • WWF supported work on shrimp farming in Thailand and India.

  • ACIAR supported work of strengthening networking and information sharing amongst BMP project implementers in the region.

India shrimp BMP work

Since the early 1990s, the Indian shrimp aquaculture sector has been hard hit by viral diseases. To address rising concerns about the effect of diseases on the sustainability of the sector, the Government of India’s Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) with the technical assistance of NACA and the support of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) initiated a programme in 2000 on “Shrimp disease control and coastal management???. The programme started in 2001 with a large epidemiological study aimed at identifying the risk factors for key shrimp diseases. It also undertook to develop and disseminate better management practices to minimise farm-level risk factors for disease outbreaks and to address shrimp farming sustainability more broadly. The programme, which is now in its 10th year, was implemented in a phased manner. Some of the key stages of the programme included:
  • A baseline study of the major diseases affecting the shrimp aquaculture operations (2000).

  • A longitudinal epidemiological study in 365 ponds in Andhra Pradesh, east coast of India, to identify major risk factors associated with WSD (white spot disease) and low productivity in Penaeus monodon culture ponds (2000-2001).

  • Development of farm level contextualised BMPs to address the identified risk factors (2002).

  • Pilot testing of BMPs in selected farms (2002).

  • Production of a simple and practical shrimp health management manual based on the outcomes of the risk factor study and piloting of BMPs, to support farm and village level extension programmes (2002).

  • Development and testing of the concept of cluster farming for effective BMP adoption amongst farmers in a cluster, and expansion of BMP promotion to a large number of clusters (2003-2004).

  • Extension of some of the BMPs to downstream activities like hatcheries.

  • Review and refinement of BMPs, and production of BMP extension leaflets for each stage of the culture operation (2005).

  • Expansion of the BMP programme to clusters in five different states in India (2005-2006).

  • Conceptualisation of an institutional framework for maintaining the BMP and shrimp health extension programme (2006).

  • Establishment and inauguration of the National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA) to carry forward the MPEDA/NACA programme activities (2007).

  • 2008-2010 and ongoing: consolidation of the program in the state of Andhra Pradesh and expansion to neighbouring states, supporting clusters to access markets through certification programs on a pilot scale.

  • Development of cluster certification guidelines.
As of September 2010, NaCSA has formed 700 societies (clusters) involving 15,753 farmers and 16,126 ha with sustainable production of around 15,000 tonnes of shrimp.

Scaling up BMPs: A national workshop

Better management practices have proved to be a highly effective tool for the Indian shrimp farming industry. Work to extend adoption of the practices is ongoing, and in this view a national workshop will be held to discuss scaling up strategies, to extend the concept to new areas and involve more farmers, and identify lessons learned that can be applied elsewhere. The aims of the workshop are to:
  • Build awareness and capacity of relevant stakeholders on BMPs, cluster management, standards and certification, cluster/group certification, internal control systems and market access issues.

  • To share lessons from BMP and cluster management projects in India, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

  • To perform a thorough assessment of the impact of shrimp BMP and cluster management programs in India, including technical, social, economic and environmental concerns.

  • To identify factors for success and constraints to adoption.

  • To identify opportunities and challenges for scaling up.

  • To provide projections on the impact of scaling up at the national level.

  • To develop scaling up strategies for use by national institutions, regional organisations and potential donors.


The workshop will bring together key stakeholders from all over India. These include representatives from MPEDA/NaCSA, ICAR (CIBA, CIFA, CMFRI), state fisheries departments, NFDB, CAA, fisheries colleges of state agricultural universities, farmer leaders, hatchery operators and processors, certification and standard setting bodies. In addition, experts from various regional and international organisations (e.g. NACA, FAO, WFC, INFOFISH) with expertise on aquaculture development, small-scale aquaculture, BMPs and cluster management will attend the workshop.


  • The workshop will have three sessions that will be integrated in a logical fashion to ensure continuity, facilitate discussion and enhance uptake.

  • The first session will include expert presentations on opportunities and challenges for small scale aquaculture in Asia, development and implementation of commodity specific BMPs, cluster management, innovative networking and communication channels in support of small scale farmers, group/cluster certification, and linking small scale farmers to markets.

  • The second session will focus on sharing of experiences from India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

  • The third session will focus on impact analysis and strategies for scaling up, including working group discussions, development of action plans and recommendations and presentation back to the workshop.

Expected outputs

Outputs from the workshop will be discussed and expected to be agreed as policy by institutional stakeholders supporting small scale farmers to remain competitive, profitable, responsible and sustainable. Key outputs expected include:
  • Better understanding of opportunities and challenges facing small scale farmers in India.

  • Increased awareness and capacity in development and implementation of BMPs for key aquaculture commodities.

  • Increased awareness and capacity on cluster formation, cluster management.

  • Increased awareness and capacity on certification, cluster certification and market access.

  • Strategies for scaling up BMP and cluster management programs at the national level for key aquaculture commodities.

  • Recommendations in support of small scale farmers to remain competitive and sustainable.

  • Recognition of inter- country benefits and ways to enhance such collaboration.

  • Definition of next steps and an action plan.

  • Preparation of a Workshop report summarising the above.
The outcomes of the meeting will be published on the NACA website in due course. Please visit the project webpage for more information about the ASEM Aquaculture Platform.


1. CV Mohan and Sena DeSilva (2010). Better management practices (BMPs)-gateway to ensuring sustainability of small scale aquaculture and meeting modern day market challenges and opportunities. Aquaculture Asia, 15: 9-14.

2. Umesh, N.R., Mohan, C.V., Phillips, M.J., Bhat, B.V., Ravi Babu, G., Chandra Mohan, A.B. and Padiyar, P.A. 2008. Risk analysis in aquaculture – experiences from small-scale shrimp farmers of India. In M.G., Bondad-Reantaso, J.R. Arthur and R.P. Subasinghe (eds). Understanding and applying risk analysis in aquaculture. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 519. Rome, FAO. pp.237-244.

3. Umesh, N.R., Chandra Mohan, A.B., Ravi Babu, G., Padiyar, P.A., Phillips, M.J., Mohan, C.V. and Bhat, B.V. 2009. Shrimp farmer in India: Empowering small scale farmer through a cluster-based approach. In: Success Stories in Asian Aquaculture (S.S. De Silva, F.B. Davy, eds.), pp.43-68. Springer-IDRC-NACA, Dordrecht.

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