By Upasana Sarraju and Abhishek Pandey
In this report, we present an analysis of a large survey of Indian aquaculture farmers that we conducted in March 2023. This investigation has strong potential to help us adapt our Fish Welfare Standard based on shared characteristics across farms, variations across the surveyed regions, and changing needs of farmed fishes in Andhra Pradesh, India.
Learnings from the Survey
We polled 505 farmers across four regions of Andhra Pradesh. Our objective here was to deepen our understanding of farmers, farms, and farming practices in regions that are relevant to our field operations.
This survey encompassed different aspects of higher-welfare aquaculture: farmers and demography, awareness of fish welfare, farm characteristics, and farming practices.
Collecting self-reported information from a large number of farmers helped us identify the following key learnings.
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Most farmers believe that a higher-welfare environment is extremely important for fishes.
When asked "How important do you think it is for fishes to have a higher-welfare environment? " over 62% of farmers responded, "Extremely important." We believe most farmers are aware that the safety, well-being, and health of fishes are closely tied to their living environment in farms. We see a potential path forward in our farmer engagement that sufficiently emphasizes the role of our corrective actions in meeting the welfare needs of fishes.
Most farmers have access to the internet via mobile phones and would like to receive information about market prices on their phones. Currently, farmers rely on traders—middlemen between farmers and fish procurers—for this information.
This suggests to us that farmers are keen to reduce their dependence on traders and would be happier with more autonomy and market information. If we were able to catalyze such autonomy, we would develop stronger relationships with farmers and foster a more collaborative environment with farming communities in our field sites.
Farmers value water quality testing higher than market linkages, farm input support, or access to financial support. In most farms, water quality is tested one or two times a month. Where performed less frequently, a three-month gap between tests is observed.
We provide free water quality testing to all farmers in the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture and will continue doing so. This survey gives us the added knowledge that access to frequent in-field water quality testing can be a strong incentive for farmers to adopt higher-welfare practices while being essential for maintaining a higher-welfare environment for fishes.
A vast majority of farms have access to electricity (for at least 12 hours in a day) and water (for up to nine months in a year). Most farms have no equipment, and those that do, have paddlewheel aerators.
Sufficient aeration is a chief contributor to better fish welfare: aeration introduces oxygen into the water, called dissolved oxygen or DO, which fishes breathe in from the water. When DO levels are too low or erratic for too long, they can have a devastating effect on the well-being of fishes. Our recommendations not only indicate a DO-level range for better welfare but also suggest the use of aerators as a corrective measure for low DO. Similarly, lack of access to water translates to low water levels in a farm, negatively affecting fishes.
Fishes are fed based on how much feed a farmer believes is sufficient (called blind feeding) or until the fishes appear fully satiated. It is common in many farms to pause feeding the fishes for up to two days a month, during which the fishes feed only on the naturally-occurring phytoplankton. An equal number of farms do not pause feeding at all.
The amount of feed provided for farmed fishes can be an important factor in their quality of life. Too little feed can deprive fishes of nutrition, while too much feed can decrease the quality of the water they live in. We dive into the consequences of excessive feeding and our thoughts on an alternative feeding approach in previous blogposts.
Pond preparation, a process that is essential to maintaining a positive environment conducive to higher fish welfare, is performed at least every three years in a typical farm.
We recommended that farmers should perform pond preparation before every aquaculture cycle (a period of about nine months). However, this is not a core requisite in the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture. More frequent pond preparation could lead to better welfare outcomes in farms across Andhra Pradesh; in our experience, farmers are unlikely to practice this time-consuming and resource-intensive process. To encourage pond preparation, we would have to further investigate why farmers do not perform pond preparation, and how to provide relevant training or resources to empower farmers.
There was a noticeable variation across the four districts we studied in how farmers prioritized potential incentives, composition of fish feed, and access to electricity.
According to farmers, the top three causes of diseases and mortality are the climate, low water quality, and pollution, in that order.
From this we foresee how targeting a farmer's greatest concerns can help resolve bottlenecks in implementing higher-welfare practices in his* farm. Our work to improve water quality through regular testing, monitoring, and training is expected to have far-reaching effects as we expand in both size and impact.
*Our survey found that only 3% of farmers were women.
Designing the Large Survey
To ensure objectivity, we crafted survey questions that encourage quantitative responses. The survey took 2.5 weeks to finalize, incorporating expert consultations to yield meaningful data for our ongoing efforts.
All participating farmers willingly gave their consent, ensuring that ethical considerations were upheld throughout the study. In total, we surveyed 505 farmers, including information on 810 individual farms across four districts of Andhra Pradesh, India.
The Survey’s Impact
We intended for this survey to place significant emphasis on capturing detailed farm characteristics, challenges in a typical farm, and the priorities of a typical farmer in Andhra Pradesh. This deliberate focus aimed to gather essential data to improve our welfare interventions.
We believe that the survey findings will enable us to better understand our field sites, and thus tailor interventions and guidelines that are not only effective but also feasible within the context of small, rural farming operations.
The survey has also helped us identify targets for further investigation and experimentation. We will continue to share updates in future posts.