By Joanna Springer and Alaina Dismukes
Aquaculture is an important source of food and nutrition security in low-income countries and has a low carbon footprint. In addition, aquaculture, which contributes to the livelihoods of 800 million people worldwide, is generally resilient to many of the climate stresses and weather-related events that increasingly threaten our food production. However, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can lead to increased incidences of fish disease in countries that are ill-equipped to contain outbreaks, presenting a risk for the development of the sector. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish is working to address biosecurity threats as well as the related stress of antibiotic resistance in order to improve the resilience of aquaculture production systems and the livelihoods of the communities that rely on them.
The Fish Innovation Lab applies a resilience lens when it comes to the scaling and adoption of technologies and approaches currently under research. The Lab defines resilience as the ability of aquaculture producers and fisher households, communities, and systems to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth. Several research teams are working in key fishery and aquaculture producing regions, which are also vulnerable to shocks, making it critical that researchers plan ahead for the ways fisher and producer livelihoods will need to adapt to shocks.
“Resilience is an important cross-cutting theme that is incorporated into all Fish Innovation Lab activities,” said Mark Lawrence, director of the Fish Innovation Lab. “This ensures that the Lab’s long-term outcomes are not lost due to natural or man-made shocks that impact the households and communities where our teams work.”
Fish Innovation Lab teams met earlier this year to discuss how their activities can strengthen the resilience of the end-users of their innovative technologies and approaches. While all the research funded through the lab is contributing either to food security, improved nutrition, or increased income, achieving well-being outcomes does not necessarily make a community or household resilient. Researchers will need to consider the resilience capacities, e.g. assets and resources producers and communities need to be able to draw on in order to sustain well-being outcomes when hit by shocks or stresses. They can then consider ways to strengthen resilience capacities as part of their recommendations for scaling and adoption of new technologies and approaches.
Often, producer and community resilience capacities depend on a more resilient fishery or aquaculture system as a whole. As an example, the Improving Biosecurity team in Nigeria deals with two related threats to the aquaculture system—the potential shock of disease outbreaks and the stress of increasing antimicrobial resistance. These challenges are often underreported and difficult to manage in low-resource settings. The team takes an integrated or “One Health” approach to tackling these challenges that address the health of animals, people (in this case, the consumers), and the environment.
The Improving Biosecurity project contributes to resilience at the community, system, and national or regional level through three primary strategies. First, the project uses a cluster management approach to reduce exposure to disease. The team supports and incentivizes producers to adopt better health management practices as well as share disease-related information in a transparent and timely way.
“Cluster management or group approach is a proven approach to collectively reduce risk and also spread risk,” said the Lead Principal Investigator, Mohan Chadag. “The role of peer pressure to ensure compliance by all cluster members to agreed standard operating procedures or best management practices is one of the underlying principles that has also been used by agencies that encourage group certification of small farmers.”
Improved production practices and greater willingness to share and use information contribute to resilience on multiple levels by reducing the risk of disease outbreaks as well as improving producer livelihoods and incomes.
Second, the project addresses the systemic threat of antimicrobial resistance by encouraging producers to reduce their use of antibiotics. For producers to adopt new practices that do not benefit them personally in the short run requires trust and accountability between group members. The project team tries to influence the behavior of producers by providing incentives in the form of new and better services. The project supported locally managed electronic platforms that enable producers in remote locations to access timely and accurate diagnosis and treatment advice from extension workers. As producers receive better and more personalized services, they are more willing to cooperate with reduced antibiotic use guidelines.
Finally, the project contributes to an improved regulatory environment, capable of controlling the spread of disease without imposing undue regulatory burdens or costs on smallholder producers. Government agencies are now able to access a database of real-time and accurate diagnostic information housed by universities in order to design and implement better policies. Policies that are better aligned to producer needs and experiences are also likely to foster greater trust and further enhance transparency between actors in the aquaculture system. As a result, producers and decision-makers will be better able to address new and emerging threats in the future.
“Our project aims to deliver simple, affordable, and practical health management solutions, which can be easily taken up by farmers and clusters,” Chadag said. “This is possible only if we keep resilience and sustainability in mind while designing and implementing our research.”