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Community based fish culture in the public and private floodplains of Bangladesh

Mahfuzul Haque, A.B.

Resúmen

Seasonal floodplains are water bodies that retain water for 5-6 months during which they are suitable to grow fish and other aquatic animals. Out of 2.8 million ha of medium and deep-flooded areas, about 1.5 million ha are estimated to be suitable for Community-Based Fish Culture (CBFC). WorldFish had undertaken a five-year interdisciplinary action research project from 2005-2010 with the overall aim of enhancing the productivity of seasonally occurring floodwaters for the improved and sustained benefit of the livelihoods of the poor. My involvement in this project was as PhD Scholar from 2007-2009 for understanding the different and complex institutional arrangements and its overall impact of governing Community-Based Fish Culture in seasonal floodplains for the sustainable use and maximization of benefits to the targeted people of Bangladesh.

Six seasonal floodplains in different areas of Bangladesh were selected under the action research project implemented by the Department of Fisheries in collaboration with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council and the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute. For the action research which is the subject of this thesis, three seasonal floodplains were selected in the Brahamaputra, the Padma and the Teesta River Basins located at Mymensingh, Rajshahi and Rangpur districts, respectively. Another three floodplains were selected as control sites in the same river basins located near to the projects sites. The control sites were included in the economic study (Chapters 4 and 5) only. All the six floodplains belong to two types of ownership categories: public floodplains surrounded by private lands.

My thesis is broadly divided into a sociological and an economic part, mainly because of methodological differences. Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 discuss the institutional arrangements and the power and decision-making process of Community-Based Fish Culture management. Chapter 4 addresses the overall economic impact of technical and institutional arrangements of fish culture at both floodplain and household levels. We here employed a random effects model to estimate the impact of participation on fish income. Finally, in Chapter 5 the economic impact of community-based fish culture on expenditure inequality was measured at household level.

In the sociological part, three project floodplains covered the different institutional arrangements for managing the floodplains and maximizing their benefits to different classes of beneficiaries. Power relations between the various key actors or stakeholders were assessed who were directly or indirectly involved in the floodplain, and decision making processes in co-management practices were also studied at different institutional levels. Sociological research methods and techniques including semi-structured interviews, Focus Group Discussions, informal discussions with key informants, and
quantitative surveys were applied to gather data from Floodplain Management Committees, villagers and institutional stakeholders to investigate the use of the floodplain as a common property resource (CPR) and the processes of the formation of local institutions and organizations.

For the economic analysis of Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, three project floodplains and three control floodplains were selected for comparing the impact of the intervention at beneficiary level and also community level. Household survey data includes a baseline survey on socioeconomic information, three months monitoring on seasonal and monthly basis at community and household levels, as well as an assessment of the floodplains’ natural resource systems. The seasonal survey covered the changes in input use for crop production, changes in quality of output from the agricultural land and the effects of the intervention on crop production. A monthly survey on the 1st and 15th day of the month was conducted to capture the household consumption pattern, especially the frequency and quantity of fish and meat consumption.

Chapter 2 improves our understanding of the complex institutional relationships governing Community-Based Fish Culture in seasonal floodplains in Bangladesh. Formal institutional linkages between DoF, WorldFish Center and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) played a key role in ensuring success. DoF is a government institution with establishments at different administrative levels. Institutional embedding of DoF through the Fishers Cooperatives (FMC) as implementing institutions appeared highly instrumental. Large numbers of people, including landless poor seasonal fishers, professional landowning fishers, and non-fishing landowners benefited from the successful implementation of the CBFC activities in the floodplains. The outcomes demonstrate a significant increase in income to all classes of beneficiaries through income sharing derived from their involvement in the fisheries cooperatives and fish culture.

In case 2 and case 3 the floodplains under private ownership privately owned land is inundated during the monsoon season; these floodplains are similar in size, with comparable percentages of beneficiaries and similar numbers of communities surrounding the floodplains. However, the distribution of beneficiaries among the classes differs with more landowners than landless seasonal fishers benefitting. FMCs normally allow these non-members to access the floodplains, but only to harvest un-stocked fish using local gears, considering the importance of fishing to their livelihood. This means that the CPR character of the management by the FMCs shows a certain permissiveness or permeable boundary regarding landless non-members under strict spatial and temporal conditions. Regulation and conservation thus guarantee the availability of un-stocked small fish in the floodplains with a high catch by artisanal gears which results in higher incomes and related benefits to the poorer households. Households who own land or ditches in the floodplains do not depend on un-stocked fish as they can have ponds to trap and harvest fish obtained in the wild. Additionally, during the dry season, they may use land in lowland areas for crop production.

Case 1 of the public floodplain surrounded by private lands differs most from the private floodplain cases. Here, the public area is leased out to fishers during the monsoon, including the private land owned by the affluent and politically influential stakeholders. The floodplain is larger than in the other two cases, but both the percentages of landless fishers and of landowners are lower, making the class of the landowning professional fishers the majority among the beneficiaries.

Generally, the rules and regulations that apply to public and privately owned floodplains are written down in a Memorandum of Understanding between DoF and the individual FMC’s in a non-judicial construction. In their regular meetings the FMCs also document the everyday practices of the rules related to fish culture and management in the minutes that are distributed among its members. It appears that in the three cases, comparable rules and regulations for fish culture are applied to the public and to the private floodplains in operational rules, collective choice rule and constitutional rule.

Benefit sharing of the fish production from the floodplains was agreed at the start of project activities by all stakeholders, but their commitment varied between the classes of beneficiaries and across the cases. A significant increase of income for different stakeholders was derived from their involvement in fish culture. In the public floodplain fishers received around 40% of net income increase and the landowners received almost 38% of net income increase, as they had to pay the lease money for the floodplain. But in private floodplain all classes of stakeholders deposited around 25% of their net income in a revolving fund. The fishers group got their income from the final harvesting of fish as they received 50% of the price of the harvest of un-stocked fish and 10-15% of the stocked fish. The landowners received 45-50% of income according to their land. The landless seasonal fishers had open access to the non-stocked fish during the monsoon. Finally, the users of the public as well as the private floodplains contributed a small portion of their income to social work, like the building of a mosque or a Hindu temple.

Chapter 3 firstly assessed the power relations between the various key actors or stakeholders who were directly or indirectly involved in floodplain fisheries in the three sites. Secondly, their shifting power relations and decision making process in co-management practices were studied in the different institutional contexts of the three research sites during WorldFish project intervention. Instead of merely listing the institutions involved, we studied the actual power practices and decisions making processes between the stakeholders in the three cases to gain insight in the different governance models used in CBFC in Bangladesh. Existing co-management arrangements are characterized by unequal power distribution among the different actors, often resulting in the marginalization of the professional fishers and the landless poor fishers. I differentiated between two types of power in the management of floodplain aquaculture and stakeholder involvement, namely a) the power to create rules and decision making procedures, and b) the power to resolve disputes and ensure compliance. The Floodplain Management Committee (FMC) reviews the rules and regulations formulated by the government to complement the vision and roles of the institution, and if there is a need, modify them. Rules and regulations governing access to the public and privately owned floodplains were developed by the Department of Fisheries (DoF) and the FMC. A similar set of rules and regulations was applied to the public and the privately owned floodplains for fish culture. Most of the rules were derived from the national fisheries law. The rules and regulations that were applied to the floodplain were written down in a Memorandum of Understanding between DoF and FMC. Examples are rules and regulations about membership, leadership, boundary and access, allocation, penalties, input, and conflict resolution that were enforced for the management of community based-fish culture.

Magistrate courts at local level in Bangladesh have the power to decide on penalties for offenders in case of violation of the Government Fisheries Act of 2010 (DoF 2013) in the management of fisheries and aquaculture including the floodplain; a range of penalties is stipulated in the Offences and Penalties paragraph of the Act. In addition, in the case of both public and private floodplains, leaders of customary organizations have the authority and power to confiscate illegal nets and penalize offenders by charging monetary fines.

Governance in the context of Community-Based Fish Culture (CBFC) management addresses the dominancy of the land-owning group, informal sets of norms and traditions, and the social network and power relationships between stakeholders. In the public floodplain governance processes resulting in the formation of a responsive, accountable leadership and representative membership appeared vital for the success of CBFC. But, the establishment of successful CBFCs in public floodplains demands continuous institutional support from agencies such as the Department of Fisheries, because an increase in production and income also increases the risk of elite capture, and the possibility of an exploitative. In the private floodplain, there was no specific governance system in place to manage access and use of the floodplains during the wet season, as opposed to the dry months when the lands of the floodplain could be used by individual households for crop production. Thanks to greater accountability of the leaders, and more equal representation of the different stakeholders including active leadership and a supporting role of DOF, leadership problems were few and easily solved. Downward accountability was well established in addition to many efforts by the project.

Chapter 4 examined the overall impact on households involved through the WorldFish project in community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains, particularly with respect to fish production, consumption, and income generation. Qualitative as well as quantitative methods were deployed to examine the impact of Community-Based Fish Culture starting with a conceptual framework as to how positive impacts take effect. The overall fish production in the floodplains of the project appeared to have increased 274%. Due to project intervention introducing fish culture, 43% of the farmers used floodplain water to meet up irrigation needs instead of ground water and rice production increased by 18.9% for dry-season (Boro) rice and 28.9% for wet-season (Aman) rice in the project floodplain areas.

Increased income is an important economic incentive for the expansion of community-based fish culture in Bangladesh. Over that period, average income from fish production increased to USD 240 for all beneficiaries involved in the project, which is 237% higher than the income of beneficiaries in the control group. Results of the random effects model show that project-involved households significantly increased their fish income compared to the households of the control sites. Furthermore, total household income increased to about USD 175 per household for those who participated in the WorldFish project.

Fish availability increased in the project area from July to December. During these months approximately 68%-75% of the total fish consumption needs of the project beneficiaries could be fulfilled by the newly introduced fish culture in the floodplains. The consumption of nutritional food shows that per capita fish consumption of households in the project sites increased from 1.26 kg per capita per month in the baseline year to 2.31 kg per capita per month in 2009.

Apart from the direct effect on household income and food consumption, CBFC intervention also created the opportunity for employment, backward linkage, and access to market to sell harvested fish. Indirect benefits of the community based fish culture include reduced conflict; improved social capital and greater cooperation in the community.

Expenditure is a better measurement of welfare than income where most of the people are poor and struggle for food. In this study I therefore used data on expenditure instead of income. The results in Chapter 5 show that the CBFC project had a positive and significant impact on food expenditure, as well as on non-food (other basic needs) and overall total expenditure. The impact of CBFC on household expenditure and expenditure inequality was measured by using Propensity Score Matching (PSM) method and Gini decomposition. Results revealed that the overall average food expenditure per year per household (for panel estimation) increased due to participation in the CBFC project from USD 93 to USD 141. Project participants were able to spend significantly more on food compared to non-participants. In addition, expenditure on food was increasing year by year. Moreover, participant households were capable to spend more compared to non-participants on non-food items like cloth, health, education, housing, transport etc. (from USD 45 to USD 74 per year). This non-food expenditure also gradually increased per year. Finally, total household expenditure of CBFC project participants was between USD 134 and USD 215 per year higher than the total expenditure of control households, which implies a better livelihood of the households involved in the project.

Gini index of total expenditure was found to be 0.34 and 0.40 for the CBFC project and control households respectively, which indicate that expenditure was equally distributed among households, but that it is more equally distributed among the CBFC households as compared to the control households. The expenditure inequality difference between the CBFC project and the control sites was 0.06, which implies that the CBFC management system helped to distribute total expenditure more equally among the surrounding communities.

Policy advice

For better management of the floodplain beels, the government may apply a similar policy for better utilization of the resources and for the economic benefits of the beneficiaries. Accountability, sustainable management of the floodplains, proper marketing of fish and equity in the distribution of benefits of the floodplains have proven to increase the productivity and ensure the accessibility of the poor and landless farmers, as long as elite capture is controlled.

Taking all CBFC project lessons into consideration, the Bangladesh government could indeed make some changes to their floodplain /wetland policy in order to accommodate the poor fishers and the landless poor. Policy (re)formulation may be needed for the dissemination of the CBO-based fish culture approach to scale-up its impact. In order to establish the rights of the CBOs (under the leadership of fishers) there is a need for modification of the policy of leasing of public floodplains. The major issues to be included are to bring private and public floodplains under CBO management; to secure government support for the registration of the CBOs and the strengthening of the institution; to guarantee that CBOs obtain long term (10-15 years or more) lease of the public areas of the floodplains as priority; to support small infrastructure constructions in the outlet and inlets of the floodplains; and to develop a functional model for the scaling-up (influencing policy) and scaling-out of the CBO fish culture approach in Bangladesh.

Future research

To assess the effectiveness of the scaling-up of the innovation in Community-Based Fish Culture in public and private floodplains, using a CBO to CBO approach will have to be developed with the support and facilitation from formal institutions. This will be considered as the subject of future research.