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Irrigation channels offer opportunity for aquaculture in Myanmar

Staff Writer | August 2, 2016
In Myanmar, 90 percent of aquaculture is in inland freshwater ponds in the Ayeyarwady Delta.
Irrigation channels Myanmar
Aquaculture in Asia   Insecure land tenure dissuades fish farmers
Over the last 10 years, farmed fish output from this region grew by 250 percent, driven by an increase in production yields and the number of ponds (Feed the Future 2015), writes Manjurul Karim, WorldFish.

But growth has been disproportionate, resulting in a highly concentrated aquaculture sector.

Government policy focuses on large commercial operators, with little consideration of the smallholder sector. More than 50 percent (approximately 45,705 ha) of the total pond area in the Delta represents very large farms (>100 ha; including a number of vertically integrated companies) that are linked to markets.

In comparison, around 200,000 subsistence fish farms (average pond size of 250 m2) exist in the delta. Often, these are underutilised and derelict, despite having significant potential to contribute to the incomes, nutrition and markets of rural populations.

Development of the smallholder fish farming sector is limited by two barriers.

First, government regulations prevent the conversion of paddy land to fish ponds. This policy is intended to emphasise rice production, but it consequently stifles the development of aquaculture.

Some farmers choose to circumvent the regulations, while in other areas farmers are unable to do so because the regulations are strictly enforced.

Second, insecure land tenure dissuades fish farmers from renting privately-owned land to build fish ponds, a common practice in many other Asian countries. In response, many households have constructed small backyard ponds to grow fish for home consumption.

In the search for ways to engage smallholders, a new avenue for fish farming has emerged: irrigation channels.

Known as chan myaung, these channels, both freshwater and brackish water, crisscross the Ayeyarwady Delta, providing irrigation water for plants and trees grown on the embankments.

The small channels, running alongside rice fields, are owned by the farmers whose land they flow through.

Many of the channels are already populated to some extent with wild fish such as catfish, snakehead, tilapia, eels and climbing perch, which some farmers catch and eat, proving that fish can live and survive in these water bodies.

To harness this opportunity, the LIFT-funded Promoting the sustainable growth of aquaculture in Myanmar (MYFC) project has started producing fish seed (or fertilised fish eggs) for use in the irrigation channels and training farmers in aquaculture.