The divide between knowledge and experience

Many experts have the theoretical knowledge, but fail to put themselves in the shoes of the rural, small-scale fish farmer.

The divide between knowledge and experience
Practical lessons at Lydenberg hatchery and Tompi Seleka College of Agriculture, near Marble Hall. Equipment and advice given to fish farmers should be based on their skills, the infrastructure available to them, and their market, and not lifted from a developed country environment and foisted on them.
Photo: Nicholas James

Aquaculture development organisations often correctly identify the hurdles that hinder rural small-scale aquaculture in Africa, yet rarely succeed in finding solutions.

Challenges such as poor-quality fingerlings, lack of appropriate technical advice, unavailability of suitable feeds, and lack of infrastructure for marketing are all barriers to success. Is the failure to solve these problems perhaps due to the wrong advice given?

Proven methods?
One way to go forward is to look at others who have succeeded. Clearly, this means that ‘experts’ should never recommend the installation of energy-demanding, technically complex systems in areas where neither energy nor technical skills are present.

Instead, they should base their advice on what other impoverished rural communities elsewhere have proven to work.

While this may seem obvious, time and again, so-called turnkey systems are offered to rural communities who have no chance of making them productive.

Advice or training in rural aquaculture systems must come from a basis of experience to be relevant. It is as ridiculous to offer advice or technology based on hi-tech aquaculture systems in the Netherlands to a rural fish farmer from Central Africa, as it is to do it the other way round. Everything is different: infrastructure, backup, skills required and market character.

Theory vs practice
Theoretical training in the form of university or college courses teaches the basics of biology, disease, nutrition, water chemistry, husbandry and economics. Experience teaches how to put these elements together to make a fish farm work viably.

Thus, any newly qualified ichthyologist should know the fundamental biological needs for fish to grow, reproduce and survive. He or she should also be familiar with the chemical processes involved in water filtration and oxygen uptake.

But theory does not mean application: there are many PhDs in ichthyology who cannot keep a fish alive, and they should not advise others!

For example, does their training enable them to give appropriate advice to those who want to start fish farming, but have no academic training?

Is knowing how a drum separator removes solid waste appropriate to the person who has, or wants, an earth pond?

Are the complexities of green-water fish culture of any use to the catfish farmer?

A little knowledge is dangerous, and very often, the knowledge of experts is limited to theory; they have little experience of viable aquaculture.

This can lead to repeated failures by the innocent starter farmer.