People living in north-east Thailand struggle to grow enough food. Low rainfall, poor soils and small landholdings limit production and, with no nearby forests to supplement food shortages, people have a sparse and limited diet. Most land is used to grow rice, with little available for raising livestock. This results in low protein levels in people's diets.
World Vision and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) have shared their knowledge to establish individual and community fish farms to improve food security and provide income through the sales of extra fish and fish feed.
Fish meat is an excellent source of energy and protein, is easily digested and has a low fat content and high nutritional value. Buying fish from markets is usually out of the question for poor families and wild fish can only be caught during the wet season, when rice paddies flood from nearby streams. Farmers sometimes keep fish but their growth is limited because they are only fed occasionally or not at all due to the high cost of commercial fish feed.
Furthermore, outbreaks of avian (bird) flu have meant that families and farmers no longer keep chickens or ducks so that there is a greater reliance on the fishing industry.
In response to these issues, tilapia and catfish, which are good to eat and have a high economic value, have recently been introduced and bred in some parts of north-east Thailand.
Thai farmers, half of whom are women, have been trained in:
- fish raising
- fish-feed production
- product processing.
Training centres in the community are places where villagers learn from the project team and in turn train others. They learn to identify the right pond locations, how to dig and prepare ponds, and how to select and raise fish breeds. They also learn how to produce and store the fish feed. The training centres operate as cooperatives, selling fish feed and fingerlings more cheaply than commercial manufacturers.
Villagers farm fish in small dug-out, plastic-lined ponds or cement pipes using appropriate, low-cost production methods. The young fingerlings are raised inside floating baskets, covered with thin sheets for protection, and fed egg yolk. The growing fish are then transferred to earth ponds and fed using locally produced fish feed.
The project takes care to prevent the fish escaping. As the fish are not native to the area, they could potentially out-compete native species and greatly reduce the natural aquatic vegetation. There is also a risk of introducing disease.
Fish need to be fed the correct amount regularly in order to survive and grow. Too much feed, or feeding after fish stop growing, is wasteful. Commercial fish feed is expensive so the project introduced communities to experimenting with producing their own high-quality, low-cost fish feed using crushed fish, soy, sugar, bran and corn. A solar feed-drying facility was built to dry the fish feed during the rainy season.
Improved nutrition and income
Fish farmers are healthier with more nutrition and earning income from fish sales. Extra income is pooled into a fish-farming fund (a microcredit scheme) so that farmers can borrow small amounts of money to establish fish ponds or value-added fish products such as sausages, sauces and traditional fermented products. Villagers have learned about the importance of ‘learning-action cycles’. From this they have investigated whether other pest species can also be used in fish feed (an interesting development was that the cherry snail, a pest in rice crops, was used in some fish-feed recipes) and experimented to compare sinking and floating pellets (seeing the fish feeding from floating pellets reassures farmers that fish are alive and well).
By being taught to find their own solutions, communities have ownership of the outcomes and so the project has a greater chance of continuing long after World Vision and ACIAR have left the area. This process also helps teach communities how to solve problems so that similar principles can be applied to other situations.