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PD/A CRSP Aquanews-Summer 2001
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Fish Culture and Food Security in the Peruvian Amazon

by Fernando Alcántara Bocanegra (IIAP), Chris Kohler, Sue Kohler, William Camargo (SIUC), and Marco Colace (Terra Nuova)

The PD/A CRSP Peru Project began in 1996 with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP), the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana, and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC). Research activities have dealt mostly with establishing sustainable pond aquaculture practices for fish species indigenous to the region. In addition, an investigation conducted by Auburn University CRSP researcher Joseph Molnar examined producers’ perceptions, practices, and attitudes toward technical assistance. The story of these CRSP participants’ partnership with the nongovernmental organization Terra Nuova exemplifies the way collaborative relationships can tap each partner’s strengths to increase the benefits of aquaculture research.

F ish culture has been practiced for over three decades in the Peruvian Amazon and, in the region along the Iquitos Nauta Road, for the past ten years. However, aquaculture development in the region has focused on pond construction, with limited and sometimes no attention to production processes. Pond construction was achieved through organized cooperative work, locally known as minga, whereby the population voluntarily participated in the construction of one another’s ponds without monetary remuneration although they did receive food daily while the pond construction took place. Many of these ponds were not constructed with adequate attention to elements such as levees. In addition to poor pond construction, fish culture operations often failed due to improper stocking densities, limited and sometimes no food supplied to the chosen species, lack of predator control, and essentially no water quality management. Not surprisingly, much of the population in the region lost faith in aquaculture and the institutions that pro-moted this form of farming.

Fortunately, the situation has been turned around as a result of a partnership with the PD/A CRSP institutions, primarily the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP) and Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), joining forces with the Italian NGO Terra Nuova, beginning in April 1999. The Food Security Program for Productive Family Units (known by its acronym in Spanish, PROSEAL), was initiated along the Iquitos Nauta Road and in the Santa Helena and Huayococha indigenous communities in Tigre River (Maynas Province, Loreto Department, Peru). The Food Security Program is largely based on research and extension outcomes of PD/A CRSP–sponsored activities since 1996.

People sitting by fish pond in Peru
Fish pond constructed along the Iquitos Nauta Road.

PROSEAL received financial assistance from the European Union (around US$600,000) for two consecutive years, with an extension until December 2001. To secure the successful development of the proposed objectives, additional alliances with the Dirección Regional de Pesquería de Iquitos, the NGO Fe y Alegría, and other educational institutions were formed.

The selection of the beneficiaries of this program is based on the following criteria:
• Possession of identification documents;
• Possession of a land title or a certificate of possession;
• Residence on the land;
• Interest in fish culture; and
• Need to receive assistance.

Each PROSEAL beneficiary receives assistance with pond construction using heavy machinery, PVC pipes, wheelbarrows, and shovels. If required, each beneficiary receives assistance with food for the mingas and/or prepared fish feed provided they are willing to return 50% of the feed cost. Additionally, each beneficiary receives 1,500 fish (500 Colossoma macropomum, 500 Piaractus brachypomus, and 500 Prochilodus nigricans). From these 1,500 fish, it is assumed that 150 fish might die (10% mortality), and it is expected that the fish grower will consume 1,000 fish (67%) and the remaining 350 fish (23%) will be sold in the market to generate an income. From the fish sales, the beneficiary is required to invest 20
Wooden fish cage floating in Tigre River
Floating cage for fish culture by the Indian communities
from the Tigre River, Peru.
% as a contribution for the creation of a social fund to maintain the program in the future.

After two years of the CRSP/PROSEAL project, frustrations previously experienced by fish culture practitioners have largely dissipated and, in fact, most are enthusiastically embracing this alternative, sustainable form of agriculture. Most fish farmers prefer selling all their fish rather than eating them.

Members of indigenous Quechua communities were initially receptive to fish culture in cages, especially C. macropomum and P. brachypomus, which had vanished from their wild catch several years before. Those who expressed an interest in cage culture during preliminary visits were asked to gather wood for cage supports. When project staff returned to the area we found that many had not extracted the wood needed to build the cages, apparently because they doubted that the project would actually come to fruition. This wariness disappeared once project staff visits became more frequent and when we began to provide them with the synthetic mesh and other cage construction materials needed to culture fish in lagoons or ponds.

The project’s experience in developing aquaculture along the Iquitos Nauta Road has demonstrated that to develop sustainable fish culture community projects in the Peruvian Amazon, it is necessary to promote integral projects involving different state institutions and/or private NGOs. Effort needs to be oriented towards participatory production process so that the producer is the agent of his or her own development. In this sense, the producer must participate from the outset, from design to construction of the ponds, from the choice of species to be cultured to feeding strategies, and, of course, to the marketing of the products. These criteria were applied successfully along the Iquitos Nauta Road, beginning with informational meetings and motivational workshops recommended by the CRSP/PROSEAL project but organized by community authorities such as the mayor or governor. In these meetings, interested parties were provided information about the objectives of the project and summaries on the status of fish culture along the Iquitos Nauta Road (Alcántara, 1994, 1996; Molnar et al., 1999). Additionally, project staff described the requirements of and benefits to the participants, as well as the obligations they would take on if they chose to become involved.
Newly constructed hatchery in Peru
IIAP hatchery, Quistococha, Peru.

The project is based on a model of horizontal participation and includes training for the beneficiary populations. The latter involved five day-long workshops in which interdisciplinary courses were held. Sessions covered pond construction and general technological culture processes, particularly the need to provide additional food sources for the fish and the use of products and by-products generated by participants’ own traditional agricultural activities. Accordingly, the producers are learning that it is possible to improve their productivity and increase their income with resources that are within their reach and easily procured.

The development of sustainable aquaculture of native species benefits many sectors of the Peruvian Amazon. Rural farmers benefit by the addition of an alternative form of agriculture. Aquaculture production requires considerably less land than that needed for cattle ranching. Moreover, ponds can be used year after year whereas rainforest lands converted to traditional agricultural practices are rarely productive for more than a couple of seasons due to the poor soils. Converted rainforest, once abandoned, usually can no longer support normal jungle growth. Both rural and urban poor benefit by the addition of a steady supply of high-quality protein in the marketplace. Aquaculture of Colossoma and/or Piaractus should also relieve some of the fishing pressure on these overharvested, native species.

Alcántara B., Fernando, 1994. Diagnostico de la Piscicultura en la Carretera Iquitos Nauta. Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional–AECI, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana–IIAP, 19 pp.
Alcántara B., Fernando, 1996. Estado de la Piscicultura en la Carretera Iquitos Nauta y perspectivas de desarrollo. Gobierno Regional de Loreto. Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional–AECI, 18 pp.
Molnar, J., Fernando Alcántara B., and Salvador Tello, 2001. Identifying goals and priorities of fish farmers in the Peruvian Amazon. In: A. Gupta, K. McElwee, D. Burke, J. Burright, X. Cummings, and H. Egna (Editors), Eighteenth Annual Technical Report. Pond Dynamics/Aquaculture CRSP, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, pp. 131–

In two years of operation the CRSP/PROSEAL project has yielded some dramatic results:
• 250 producers were trained in fish culture
• 140 culture ponds along the Iquitos Nauta Road were constructed
• 121 ponds were each stocked with 1,500 fish (500 C. macropomum, 500 P. brachypomus, and 500 P. nigricans)
• 15 tons of fish were produced under culture conditions in the first rotation
• 20 additional ponds were stocked in a second rotation
• Fish have become the primary source of income for the producers
• 1,546 students from schools along the road received fish culture training
• A fish culture association was organized
• 48 individuals from the indigenous community were trained in fish culture (60 families with five members per family are beneficiaries of the program)
• A functional hatchery was constructed

About the Region

The Iquitos Nauta Road is mostly paved and has an approximate length of 95 kilometers, joining the cities of Iquitos and Nauta, both located along the Amazon and Marañón Rivers of Peru. The population along the road is primarily composed of suburban migrant forest exploiters from Iquitos and other Peruvian regions, ranging from the Amazon plains to the high jungle. These migrants arrived in search of work due to the lack of employment opportunities in their places of origin. Many of these inhabitants were food gatherers, lacking a vocation for agricultural activities, whereas migrants form the high jungle and mountains display a strong vocation to cultivate the land. The inhabitants of the Santa Helena and Huayococha communities are mainly Quechua Indians. They are characterized by being gatherers of natural resources such as fish, game, fruits, and roots.

The majority of the inhabitants along the Iquitos Nauta Road are land owners, possess a "certificate of proprietorship," and have a low income mainly based on fruit production, wood extraction, yucca farming, small animal husbandry (e.g., pigs, chickens, ducks), and, to a lesser extent, cattle ranching. In contrast, the Indians, who are also land owners, obtain most of their income from extraction of the surrounding natural resources. Both groups are characterized by their rudimentary living quarters consisting of walls constructed out of round logs or pona, a straw or palm roof, and no water or sewage. Both groups own few possessions other than their land.

Map of Iquitos-Nauta road area

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