Surveying Farmers to Evaluate Costs and Benefits of ARA Membership
By Abhishek Pandey
Karthik, our Managing Director, speaks with an ARA farmer in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh.
A flagship program of our direct farmer work is the Alliance For Responsible Aquaculture (ARA) based in Andhra Pradesh, India. Through the ARA, we incentivize higher-welfare farming practices such that farmers equally benefit when they improve the lives of fishes in their farms.
Despite our growing confidence in the effectiveness of our welfare interventions, we continually evaluate our approach to better engage with farmers and resolve on-ground constraints. This post details the findings from one such evaluation: a survey of 20 farmers to assess the costs and benefits of being enrolled in the ARA.
We designed a survey to quantitatively assess the comparative costs and benefits of typical aquaculture activities to farmers who are part of the ARA versus those farmers who are not in the ARA.
In Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, India, 10 member-farmers of the ARA (referred to as ARA farmers) and 10 farmers not from the ARA (referred to as non-ARA farmers) were randomly selected and surveyed to understand temporal, monetary, and other investments involved in one 7–9-month growout farming cycle. In particular, we assessed the costs of successfully running and maintaining a farm, with a focus on farmers’ time and efforts.
The survey results indicate that,
Water quality analyses are performed more frequently and for a lesser cost on ARA farms than on non-ARA farms. The ease of water quality testing and access to expert recommendations helps farmers detect poor water quality early and reliably, thus empowering them to improve water quality and farm conditions for fishes.
Farmers consider our corrective actions more effective than those prescribed by the only alternatives found in the region: the government and feed-selling companies.
We randomly selected 10 farmers who were part of the ARA and had implemented our corrective actions for at least 6 months. We also selected 10 additional farmers from the area who had never been affiliated with the ARA and had not committed to our Welfare Standard.
Designing and Administering the Survey
The survey comprised 21 questions to quantify 12 types of costs involved in one 7–9-month farming cycle in a growout farm—this is a period of time from when farmers populate their farms with juvenile fishes to when fully-grown fishes are “harvested” from the farms. We designed the questions to also account for time and efforts required on part of the farmers, based on their membership in the ARA.
The two cost types important to our analysis were—
Feed: the cost of purchasing, storing, and using plant or animal material intended for consumption by fishes.
Water quality analysis: the cost of testing levels of DO, pH, ammonia, nitrites, and other parameters that can help farmers maintain optimal water quality in farms and provide early warning of potential issues.
Other costs captured in the survey but not highlighted in the analysis covered the steps and features in one farming cycle. These included expenses for leasing farming land, establishing biosecurity, purchasing seed, using probiotics and antibiotics, etc.
Of special note is that the survey questions also delineated the time and efforts involved in performing water quality testing based on the infrastructure and resources used by farmers: government laboratory facilities, facilities provided by the corporate entities providing feed, and the FWI team. These three entities also provide corrective actions to farmers in case of sub-optimal water quality.
We administered the survey in Telugu to the 20 included farmers across 4 days in March 2023.
Analyzing the Survey Results
The survey responses and a preliminary analysis can be found here.
The following factors were used to assess the advantages and disadvantages of being an ARA member.
Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR): FCR is the amount of feed it takes to rear a kilogram of fishes. Farmers self-reported their estimations of the FCR in their farms.
Frequency of water quality analyses: The higher the frequency of water quality analysis, the higher the likelihood of farmers seeking and implementing corrective actions, and, therefore, the welfare of fishes in the farm is likely better. Farmers self-reported the frequency of water quality analyses in their farms.
Most cost-effective entity for water quality analyses: Farmers can rely on government laboratories, facilities provided by feed vendors, or the FWI team to perform their water quality analyses; each of these sources were analyzed for cost-effectiveness and impact. Farmers self-reported the costs they incurred for water quality analyses.
Efficacy of corrective action: Following water quality testing, farmers receive corrective actions as needed from the organizations measuring water quality: FWI, the government, and feed companies. We recorded farmers’ estimations of the efficacy of corrective actions prescribed by these three entities.
The detailed analysis of the survey responses is available here.
The table below provides a comparative summary of benefits and costs to ARA farmers and to non-ARA farmers. We also included two implications of our main findings; these were not directly investigated by the survey but were found relevant to a comparison between ARA farmers/farms and non-ARA farmers/farms.
Note that the numbers we used for drawing the above implications were self-reported and thus should be interpreted accordingly.
These were the main survey findings.
Water quality analyses were performed 75% more frequently in ARA farms than in non-ARA farms.
These water quality analyses were free for ARA farmers compared to non-ARA farmers.
ARA-prescribed corrective actions were perceived as more effective; farmers found these corrective actions to be 85% effective, compared to corrective actions provided by the feed companies (found 71% effective) and the government (found 46% effective).
ARA farmers and non-ARA farmers reported how much feed they needed per kilogram of fishes in their farms: the feed amounts reported by ARA farmers were lower than those of non-ARA farmers.
The main findings of our survey based on self-reported numbers by 20 aquaculture farmers in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
Limitations of the Survey
Owing to a limited time and budget, only 20 farmers were included in this preliminary study. A larger sample size could provide more conclusive findings. Additionally, because the survey was conducted only in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, India, the survey findings may not be generalizable across other regions in Andhra Pradesh.
It is likely that we do not yet fully understand the relationship between feed-use and the environmental impact of a farm. Our secondary implications that ARA farms are less polluting may not entirely be grounded in reality.
However, we believe that the survey points to important insights that could further our exploratory understanding of the experience of farmers who participate in the ARA.
We plan to disseminate these farmer-reported benefits of working with the ARA among a variety of stakeholders, including farmers we are working with. We also hope to apply the survey findings to strengthen our larger farmer recruitment and engagement efforts.
As always, we welcome any feedback you may have on our strategy—feel free to comment below or contact us.