01 May 2017
African Partnership with AWF to Benefit Aquaculture
The African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE) will partner with volunteer aid organization Aquaculture without Frontiers (AwF) to improve outcomes in disadvantaged communities by focusing efforts on sustainable aquaculture.
AAAE is an association of agricultural economists and other professionals with special interest in agricultural economic issues and affairs, working in agriculture and broadly related fields of applied economics, and issues related to policy and improving the productivity of African agriculture.
The new agreement links both organizations to closer collaboration and will see AwF working towards including economic profiling in its projects designed to measure the outcomes of its work.
Dr. Edward Mabaya, President of AAAE, on signing the agreement said, “AAAE has a vast network of agricultural economists working across Africa. Through this agreement, we will tap into this network to provide applied research support in areas such as impact assessment, value chain analysis, monitoring and evaluation of aquaculture projects.”
He added, “By shining a spotlight on this under-researched topic we hope to produce key research outputs that will shape public policies as well as investment priorities for aquaculture development.”
“It makes sense to have pre- and post-project economic assessment factored into our projects and programs. Whilst we are confident that our work is improving the nutrition and health within communities and fostering social development, it will be important to have the economic data to support this,” said AwF’s long standing director, Dave Conley when meeting Dr. Mabaya at Cornell University.
“We believe that by collaborating with like-minded organizations such as AAAE, we will be able to make major contributions to our mission’s main objectives. We have always aimed to be a catalyst for change through supporting responsible and sustainable aquaculture. In the decades to come, aquaculture is one of the main keys which will underpin the future health of all humans by providing the essential nutrients and vitamins currently missing from many diets, and at an affordable price,” added Conley.
So what does an Economics Society have in common with an Aquaculture volunteer charity? On the surface you would not think very much but in reality much can be gained by collaboration with such groups.
With any charity project you are always looking to prove that your work was valuable - that you left the place in far better condition than when you arrived - but seldom are we able to produce such compelling reports.
So when a chance meeting a number of years ago between AwF and AAAE discussions took place to see how this collaboration could be of benefit to both organisations. Both sides are presented here....
Dr Mabaya, how and when did this organization, AAAE, come about?
So our organization is about 15 years old. Every region of the world has agricultural economics professional bodies, some of which are more than 50 years old. We are fairly new, established only 15 years ago. I am the fifth president; each president gets a 3-year term. It has members in just about every African country.
Can you tell us how you came to collaborate with AWF?
Yes, when I was elected president in August of last year, apparently, a conversation had already taken place between Roy (Palmer) and some of the executive members of the previous administration. So this was presented to me and looked very much like in a logical connection. Here is an organization that was interested in doing more work in Africa, and we as an association pride ourselves in preserving a very strong network of people already working on the ground. So we saw this as an obvious connection to link some of the work with people that we already have working within the local context and understanding the local context. And we saw this as a very good and natural feed for collaborative work.
What does the aquaculture landscape look like currently in Africa?
Generally it is one of those areas recognized as an under tapped resource so there is not much happening within that space. But at the same time, in terms of excitement in potential about it has been explored and realizing the importance of fish and nutrition, I feel it is likely to grow.
Do you have a sense of what countries are looking to expand aquaculture?
This is my read of general aquaculture in Africa. There are countries that have fish culture such as the Lake Victoria region, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, all the countries along the coast. You are more likely to have a culture and tradition in fish, if you have a populated coastline, not so with inland communities. So those places are the natural potential, and, I think where they are needed the most. For those countries that are land locked, and that don’t have large access to bodies of water it will take longer.
From a research perspective, what are some of the specific ways you see this collaboration taking effect in Africa?
We pride ourselves with trying to do very serious, vigorous research work. One area that economics can play is in the monetary evaluation of these projects. We provide a neutral and independent source key valuate most projects that are being done for development.
Dave Conley, can you tell us, how did this collaboration come about?
From my understanding, Roy had been in touch with AAAE’s Secretary General, Jeffers Miruka for quite a while, having met him through various conferences and events. Through that arrangement, we discussed and finalized this MOU. And my part in it is I was going down to Cornell to give a talk to faculty and students in the animal science department. While I was down there I had visits with a few other people lined up so when I was talking to Roy, he mentioned about maybe getting a chance to talk with Ed on this. In fact, that was the first time I met Ed or had anything really to do with the association.
When considering the ramifications of it, this is really such an exciting partnership.
Oh for sure, yeah! I mean when you think of the network that they have over there and, being able to do what we thought was basically having some way of measuring our impact. So if we're doing a project in Africa and you can look at the situation before we start, and then are able to look at it again after we’ve been working there and measure the economic or social or whatever impact the indicators are that we want to track. Then at least we can show that we are in fact making a difference.
Do you know any of the details of what they will be measuring?
That is something we will probably discuss when it gets initiated, as each project will have different outcomes. Ideally though if you can get a basic economic view of the area before a project and then a review after, based on the same key profiles, then it will be a compelling document to highlight how things have changed because of the project.
What does this collaboration mean to you personally?
For me there are a couple of strategic things; one is that Ed is based at Cornell. And Cornell also has a professor Timmons who is a leading expert on recirculating aquaculture systems. So these are systems that recycle water. And in a place like Africa, there may be an opportunity to transfer some very simple technology that would enable aquaculture in places that maybe getting access to water is a problem. So by reducing the amount of water you need, that we may still be able to do some aquaculture. Not only is it his relationship to the organization in Africa, but it’s also his networks within Cornell, which I see as a strategic advantage to AWF.
Tech transfer is key, isn’t it?
Yeah there are programs at Cornell that Ed is aware of and we even discussed an idea. There's a terrific fellow, Bill Mebane, who used to work at the lab at Woods Hole. He worked in Haiti for over a decade and had to troubleshoot an awful lot of problems. One of the things he came up with was what he called a family fish farm. He was able to design something that would fit into a 45-gallon steel drum. When I asked him about that he said; well, transportation is scarce, a steel drum you can actually roll it anywhere you want to go. So in fact the shape of the drum is what is key in transportation. He figured that if a family had a 10 by 10 area in the back yard they could put up one of these family fish farms and produce some tilapia. Basically it’s a self-contained unit. So when I was talking to Ed about this he said well there may be some opportunity to get some students to do some work on sourcing the various components, and constructing a prototype and looking at how we could ship them to Africa or Latin America. Being able then, in a sense to bootstrap an enterprise just using students as the initial workers. The students are able to apply what they have learned from entrepreneurship and various courses that they’ve taken and use it in an applied way that so that it helps AWF and people in Africa. So I thought it was an interesting way of integrating various things that AWF is involved in and people that we are associated with. So in the case of Ed because of his place at Cornell, he has access to resources, which in fact could be very good at enabling AWF to do more!
AAAE website: http://www.aaae-africa.org/
AwF website: http://www.