Promoting rural income from sustainable aquaculture through social learning in Sri Lanka

“In Sri Lanka, aquaculture provides much-needed income and food security for poor rural communities. In coastal areas, smallholder farmers grow shrimp in ¼ acre ponds and sell harvests for cash. In inland areas, people grow freshwater fish in community managed reservoirs that also provide water for rice irrigation.”

Our work in Sri Lanka began when Dr. Craig Stephen was approached to consult with local experts to investigate causes of ongoing shrimp disease outbreaks that were having profound negative impacts on coastal communities. Through initial communication with Sri Lankan partners and farm visits, it was determined that a Multi-stakeholder Systems-based Collaborative approach would be required to improve disease management.  This Ecohealth approach would integrate improved management of shared water resources, improved quality of input supplies including the health of juvenile shrimp, creation and support of knowledge to action plans for shrimp farmers, and improved collaboration between various stakeholder groups.  It became quite apparent that freshwater aquaculture and ornamental fish culture, if managed appropriately, had the potential to improve income and food security in impoverished inland areas.

In 2010, the Centre for Coastal Health alongside our Sri Lankan partners received funding from IDRC Canada EcoHealth program for the project “Promoting rural income from sustainable aquaculture through social learning in Sri Lanka”. CCH staff and collaborating researchers worked with stakeholders in Sri Lanka to improve aquaculture policy and farmer practices by explicitly considering trade-offs between social needs, environmental impacts and economic diversification within the context of community preferences. We used methodologies that included quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews, multi-criteria decision analysis, and network analysis. We worked on-the-ground in the Northwestern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka to facilitate participatory community-member and expert meetings to help stakeholders set and reach goals. Our work resulted in a scale-up of an intervention we previously piloted to use SMS messaging along with participatory education and a written best management practice manual to increase smallholder shrimp farmers’ access to knowledge about shrimp health and management.

Our experience in Sri Lanka indicates that SMS messaging combined with participatory education has promise as a means to increase knowledge sharing between technical experts and smallholder shrimp farmers faced with ongoing disease outbreaks. Participant farmers and technical experts perceived that the trial improved knowledge availability and farmer success. The participatory process served to strengthen communication networks between expert stakeholders from different institutions. Based on these results, funding was obtained by our research partners to implement a scale-up to include more shrimp farmers, as well as to develop a similar system for two other aquaculture sectors: culture-based fisheries and oyster farming.

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