We are excited to announce the launch of the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture (ARA) – a first-of-its-kind collective of farmers and stakeholders who incorporate practices to improve the welfare of fish and the well-being of farmers. Alongside our partners in India, farmers are incorporating best management practices tailored for regional conditions. Specifically, the first batch of farmers in Andhra Pradesh are already implementing responsible stocking densities, and will soon implement improved water quality management, as per the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture Commitment. These practices, along with other region-specific improvements, are central to building a sustainable future for aquaculture in India. We are working further to build a momentum that would see these collectives gain support infrastructure and establish more direct market linkages. These linkages are being established with retailers and consumers who would pay a premium for traceability and food safety. The mobilization of aqua farmers through the ARA will help in their certification through Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), in turn enhancing their ability to access premium markets.
The Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture creates a fairer, kinder, and more natural aquaculture sector in India.
By raising more responsibly farmed fish, ARA farmers answer a growing market segment for responsibly produced food. The Indian government is investing heavily in the growth of its aquaculture sector through policy initiatives like the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). With the PMMSY, the government sets a clear signal about the need for aquaculture to develop sustainably and responsibly. Furthermore, society increasingly demands more natural and humane products. Particularly after COVID gripped our reality in India, consumers are seriously concerned about the safety of meat and are looking for reliable and traceable alternatives. The growth in consumption of plant-based organic food shows that the consumers are willing to buy more responsibly. Fish farmed under the ARA will help address such consumer concerns.
Being part of the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture would mean that small and mid-sized farmers will play to their strengths. These farmers minimize their operational risks by proactively managing ponds better, instead of investing heavily in chemical and pharmaceutical inputs. Many innovators in India like Beejom and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) increased small farmer incomes this way by reducing their input costs and promoting natural production systems. These social movement started because many small farmers who feed most of India have become heavily indebted because of high input costs associated with intensive systems.  In CSA’s case, its sustainable production models even helped farmers get out of crippling debt. This was achieved by building a committed community of farmers who stopped borrowing heavily to buy commercial inputs. Instead they invested time in producing their own natural inputs and thus playing to their strengths.
How would this model be applied in the aquaculture sector? Aqua farmers make their operations more profitable by reducing disease and mortality rates. Well-managed, more extensive systems require fewer inputs, such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals and feed, further reducing the cost of production.  A lack of supportive credit systems, rising input costs, and fluctuating markets make intensification difficult for a majority of the farms, which have always been small or mid-sized.  Overall, welfare-oriented practices will reduce the need for many inputs at a moment in time when the prices of these inputs are rising.  It would be wrong to see more extensive farms as simply an opportunity to further intensify. This is because small and mid-sized farmers will need to borrow heavily in a system without easy access to formal credit systems to set up intensive facilities. Instead they should be empowered to flourish in their local community by adopting more natural models.
Farming more responsibly helps to improve the sustainability of aquaculture. Fish farms often use the same water systems as local communities. For instance, aquaculture in Andhra Pradesh has an impact on the waters of the Godavari river and the Kolleru. Polluting or exploiting these water systems can cause damage to surrounding communities and wildlife. 
Two FAO reports  highlight that there are potential risks to public health and ecosystems associated with unfettered growth in aquaculture in many parts of India. This is because intensified aquaculture frequently has very high stocking densities, leading to high chemical load in wastewater and may pollute local reservoirs.
By practicing more responsible aquaculture, fish experience fewer diseases, and farmers need fewer antibiotics. As a result, the chemical load in the wastewater is reduced. Wild fish populations are also conserved by reducing the risk of disease spread to these. By committing to farm more naturally, farmers in the ARA commit to keeping ecosystems intact for local communities to enjoy and use.
The current systems predominantly place fish in crowded condition, leaving a higher chemical footprint. The environment and the communities in the proximity are negatively impacted by not allowing animals to thrive in farming environments.  Considering that fish are sentient beings capable of feeling pain,  we have a duty to protect their welfare under our care. Maintaining responsible stocking densities and maintaining good water quality is the first step towards healing communities and the fishes.
The Future of Aquaculture
The ARA is a significant step towards a responsible future of aquaculture. There is enormous scope to be kinder to the animals we rear in aquatic systems. Improving welfare is crucial to building a sustainable and resilient sector. In India, we value all life, and extending this compassion to farmed animals will improve the well-being of everyone: farmers, fish, society, and the environment. With the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture, we are moving beyond harmful industry practices and towards a future safer for all Indians.
1. Dominic Merriott, "Factors associated with the farmer suicide crisis in India", Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health, Volume 6, Issue 4, December 2016, Pages 217-227.
2. Bosma & Verdegem, "Sustainable aquaculture in ponds: Principles, practices and limits", Livestock Science, 2011, Volume 139, Issues 1–2, July 2011, Pages 58-68.
3. Katiha & Pillai, "Inland aquaculture in India: Past trend, present status and future prospects", 2005, Aquaculture Economics & Management, 9 (1-2):237-264.
4. Krishen J. Rana et al., "Impact of rising feed ingredient prices on aquafeeds and aquaculture production" 2009, Link: http://www.fao.org/3/i1143e/i1143e.pdf
5. Jayanthi M et al., "Assessment of impact of aquaculture on Kolleru Lake (India) using remote sensing and Geographical Information System", December 2006, Aquaculture Research, 37(16):1617 - 1626.
6. Melba G. Bondad-Reantaso et al., "Understanding and applying risk analysis in aquaculture", 2008 Link: http://www.fao.org/3/i0490e/i0490e.pdf, http://www.fao.org/3/i1136e/i1136e.pdf
7. John Kurien, " India is close to aquaculture disaster", 1994, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/interviews/india-is-close-to-aquaculture-disaster-29588
8. Balcombe, "What a fish knows: The inner lives of Our underwater cousins", June, 2017.