Semi-subsistence and sustainability : aquaculture in Tabasco, Mexico
This thesis explores the physical and the socio-economic conditions for aquaculture in Tabasco, Mexico, seeking to find how aquaculture can best be supported to reduce poverty. On-farm physical, technical and social surveys were carried out in four municipalities, covering different physiographic regions. The surveys establish that the environmental conditions are frequently good for aquaculture. Despite efforts to bring farmers into more intensive commercial systems, aquaculture has developed mainly to improve subsistence, as one component of semi-subsistence farms. In order to evaluate these semi- subsistence systems, the thesis explores current debates on 'sustainability' and on 'subsistence'. As no single approach to sustainability per se seems appropriate to apply to these systems, new indicators and methods need to be developed which are appropriate to evaluate systems poor in cash generation but rich in social assets. Subsistence aquaculture is arguably more sustainable than commercial, monocultural aquaculture in environmental and social terms. It has become part of the economic diversity of the communities, increases food security, reduces the use of fossil fuels, promotes the careful management and recycling of wastes and the careful stewardship of natural resources, can help in the protection and enhancement of biological diversity and yields a feeling of self- empowerment. From the surveys, socio-economic and cultural realities are more important than physical conditions in determining the present state of aquaculture in Tabasco. The existence of some successful farmers' micro-businesses shows that once farmers receive continuous technical assistance, subsidies and access to markets, bringing them into commercial aquaculture is possible. Such help however, is rarely provided at present by the local extension institutions, which face internal problems resulting from inadequate budgets. This thesis argues that, in these circumstances, semi-subsistence aquaculture is a good option for the poor as many semi-subsistence systems are highly valued and have the potential to become more efficient and productive if locally based research is conducted with an understanding of farmers' cultures and motivations.