Fish Welfare Initiative (FWI) has been working in India for over two years now. Most of our programming has focused on farmer engagement through the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture (ARA), and we expect this to be our main program area in the future.
The ARA currently has 72 fish farms committed to our welfare standard, and we have helped over 1 million fishes on these farms. The relative success of this farmer-centric work fuels our ambition to reach many more fishes in the future. We believe that we can achieve this by scaling up the ARA. This blog post outlines our tentative plan for doing so.
How We Currently Help Fishes
By joining the ARA, farmers commit to reduced stocking densities and to maintaining water quality in required ranges in their farms. Our field staff visit farms monthly to take water quality measurements and recommend corrective actions if any parameter(s) is/are outside these ranges. As such, our program currently relies on a combination of proactive (stocking density limit) and reactive welfare improvements (water quality corrective actions).
Testing Scale-Up in 2023
A New Welfare Standard
Our main bottleneck for scaling this year is finalizing an improved Welfare Standard and, specifically, identifying more targeted welfare improvements to control dissolved oxygen issues in ARA farms. Our Welfare Standard team is working tirelessly to publish an updated standard and has made significant progress over the past months. We expect to have a new proposed standard by September; in preparation for this, we will start adding more farms to the ARA in August.
Over the past months, we continuously improved our operations. The ARA team now has rigorous program controls, performance indicators, and improved onboarding protocols. These systems will help us onboard new staff efficiently and set and track clear expectations for their work.
Adding Fish Farms
As we develop our new Welfare Standard, we will add 50 more farms in the third quarter to identify potential bottlenecks for a more intense scale-up in the fourth quarter. Our goal for the remainder of 2023 is to add 150 new fish farms that will implement our Welfare Standard. We will do so primarily by inviting further farmers in the villages we work to join the ARA and potentially by partnering with local organizations to expand our reach beyond these existing networks.
Scaling Up in 2024 and Beyond
Adding 150 farms in 2023 will give us sufficient insights and time to identify how best to add staff and farmers to the ARA. In 2024, we will focus on adding more farms (probably 300–400) and increasing this number in subsequent years.
We think that our current model lends itself well to such scale-up because:
Most fish farmers are interested in improving welfare and have been eager to join the ARA because it can help them reduce diseases and mortalities.
We have identified various avenues for adding large clusters of farmers at once.
By visiting ARA fish farms, we can verify that fishes are actually being helped.
Costs for equipment are moderate, with the potential to be lowered further.
We require mostly field staff for regular measurements whose salaries are affordable even in high numbers.
Such scale-up is primarily facilitated by finding sufficient farmers and having them commit to the ARA. The biggest bottleneck will be hiring sufficient staff to run the ARA and securing enough financial resources to support these staff and the equipment we need for regular water quality measurements.
We created a Guestimate model to get a better sense of these costs and expect that we can reach a cost-effectiveness of about 130 fishes per dollar with ca. $1 million programming costs. Reaching this level of cost-effectiveness will likely take us 7–8 years.
The Case for Farmer Engagement Work
Given the theoretical cost-effectiveness of this approach, we think farmer work in lower/middle-income country contexts like India has been historically undervalued by the animal movement, and that it is an avenue for impact that our movement should explore further.
In addition to the numbers, there are other arguments in support of farmer work as well: It gives us significant leverage with local governments and industry stakeholders, in ways that we expect will pay off by later, for instance, enabling policy change. Farmer-centric work also enables us to collaboratively build models for better farming systems in the industry—in our case, ones that are less chemically and suffering-intensive, and where practices are improved and mortality rates lowered.
As we grow our program, we experience various bottlenecks hindering our ability to scale extensively.
Our water quality measurement devices are expensive, yet our welfare standard relies on them to identify poor water quality and suggest corrective actions.
How We Address It
We based our cost-effectiveness estimates on the assumption of needing these devices long-term and their cost didn't significantly tamper our cost-effectiveness. At the same time, we are researching cheaper alternatives to reduce programming costs further. We are currently ~35% certain that one of these cheaper alternatives will work out.
We have experienced continuous difficulty hiring for mid-level management roles within our ARA ground team. These managers will be essential to coordinate the field staff collecting water quality data.
How We Address It
We are currently revamping our hiring and outreach processes and expect to attract more talent in the future. All details of our job openings are available on our website.
Much of our later stage scale-up (2024 onwards) could rely on partnerships with local organizations. As with any collaboration, balancing interests is a challenge to overcome and ensure sufficient farmers commit to our Welfare Standard.
How We Address It
Several people on our team are exploring other avenues of recruiting new farmers. One of these avenues is to hire temporary mobilizers who will reach out to farmers in new regions and catalyze initial ARA sign-up meetings. We will then invite these gatherings of farmers to join the ARA together, thus reducing the time cost of individual outreach.