Tuesday, April 28, 2015

28/04/2015: AWF at 10: Gearing up for fresh challenges

by Roy Palmer, Aquaculture Without Frontiers, Australia

First published in International Aquafeed, March-April 2015

Born and bred from the Aquaculture sector in order to create a voluntary organisation to contribute to the alleviation of poverty through small-scale aquaculture, Aquaculture without Frontiers (AwF), recently celebrated its 10th birthday with an updated vision and strategy.
AwF was formed by Michael New OBE, having been encouraged by colleagues after delivering a keynote paper at the World Aquaculture Society (WAS) conference in Salvador, Brazil in 2003 (New 2003). 

Michael’s idea was stimulated by reading about the activities of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and two articles published in The Economist (Anonymous 2003a, b). He ventured the idea that people who had retired from a career in aquaculture might wish to volunteer their experience to help those less fortunate than themselves. In fact, Michael found that the idea of voluntary service in aquaculture appealed to a wide spectrum of individuals, from students to retirees.

A gem, run on a shoestring
The board was a veritable ‘who’s who’ of aquaculture and it ran then, as it does now, on a shoestring. AwF is not an organisation built around creating a massive bank of donated funds, creating overheads and paying high salaries to staff but on actually working with the great goodwill of aquaculture people and doing things that create positive outcomes for the poor and hungry of the world. It is the real meaning of what a charity is all about – people give what they can, whether that is a few dollars, or more importantly their time, knowledge and experience. It is a real gem in today’s world of professional NGOs and it is a credit to its founder and all that have or are still serving its needs.

Having said that, there was the need to modify some of the organisation and during these changes there can be no question that we lost some momentum. John Forster, Dave Conley and Cormac O’Sullivan have greatly assisted the organisation with constant input and wise council and have been a strength on the board. It felt like we were going backwards, but sometimes in life these changes need to be made in order to take stock and move forward with greater and stronger steps. Hopefully, that is what we are doing!

Establishing sustainable networks
First was the creation of a strategy and a vision and mission, and clearly the people engaged at the time saw Aquaculture Learning Centres (ALCs) as a major key in the future of AwF.

That means we have eased back on chasing smaller projects and are trying to create a more sustainable model for wherever we tread. It means we are building capability and capacity in one area at a time so that when we leave, essential networks of people are well established and can communicate internally and externally. 

Additionally, we also have taken a broader brush to aquaculture. Education on nutrition (both human and animal) is essential – people need to know why seafood is important in their diet and how feeding their fish the right mixes helps deliver not only excellent fish health but also connects to human health. 

Entrepreneurial activities are also essential and encouraged, as we need to encourage people to want to get out of the poverty trap. Clearly, not everyone can run their own fish farm; there will always be people who are prepared to take the extra calculated risks and who are leaders. As long as they are building enterprises which are employing people and paying them a fair wage for a fair day’s work, and are transparent in their activities, then they are helping improve the world, and need to be encouraged and supported.

Our incredible volunteers
Of course, our business model means we are reliant on our incredible volunteers, and we needed to review our processes on how we manage and work with these fantastic individuals. Slowly and surely, we have built a committee and secretariat which now manage the Volunteer Program. What used to be done ‘with a nod and a wink’ in the old days is not possible today, and our Volunteer Committee - consisting of Cormac O’Sullivan, Ignacio Llorente and Stacey Clarke, with Paul Liew running the secretariat - are working hard on ensuring we have an efficient databank of all the volunteers, and that we are in regular contact, keeping them up to date about activities and opportunities. 

We are always seeking new volunteers, so anyone that is interested in assisting us on the journey we are taking, please complete the form you can find HERE.

Learning centres are key

Our strategic plan is based around building Aquaculture Learning Centres (ALCs), and our first ALC is in Tancol, a suburb of Tampico in the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico, in collaboration with Universidad Tecnológica del Mar de Tamaulipas Bicentenario (UTMarT). Whilst the main centre for UTMarT is at Soto La Marina - La Pesca, about 4 hours’ drive north of Tampico, near to Laguna Morales, this new centre in Tancol will be used to educate students and industry on aquaculture and hospitality, and will have connections to both the Mexican Federal Government (SAGARPA) and the State Government.

All of these ALCs need strong, passionate leaders and, in the case of Tancol, this has definitely been UTMarT’s Director de Vinculación, MC. Héctor Hugo Gójon Báez, who has been supported by the Rector, Dr. Guadalupe Acosta Villarreal, and the Director Académico, MC. Tonatiuh Carrillo Lammens. 

Fresh water is in abundance at the Tancol site and, being an old water plant, there are some excellent - albeit old but well-constructed - inbuilt large tanks. Some of these are being used ‘as is’, but others are being converted, with sailing cloth roof-coverings, to smaller areas, which will be able to be used in research projects for the students.

Government funding

Funding from the Mexican Federal Government has enabled the building of a brand new education centre that will accommodate 200 students, but unfortunately the funds did not stretch to finishing the important hatchery area. Efforts are being made now to find the extra pesos to finish the hatchery area and, importantly, to have it housed in a solidly constructed building. 

Through the great assistance of Kevin Fitzsimmons (ex-AwF President) and the US Aid Farmer to Farmer program, AwF were able to invite Scott Lindell and Rick Karney to visit Tamaulipas and conduct a survey of facilities as well as have discussions at UTMarT with staff and students, meet industry people and offer some training about shellfish and microalgae aquaculture. This visit was followed up quickly by Daniel Herman and Imad Saoud, who were looking at other aspects and challenges for the ALC.

Prospects for expansion
The opportunity became available at the end of 2014 for a meeting at La Pesca to consider what has been achieved and what the next major steps are in the arrangement.  A report is currently being prepared for further actions during 2015. 

The oyster aquaculture prospects to replace the fishing methods currently adopted in Laguna Morales are a key ingredient to the potential success of the plans. The early work done by AwF volunteers has paved the way for some excited fisher folk, as they can see a future for their business with a more sustainable model than was originally the case.

At the same time, during the visit to Mexico AwF had the opportunity to visit another potential site for an ALC in Sonora. Discussions were had with business people of the area and education institutions, and hopefully this will see AwF have operations on both sides of Mexico in the near future. 

AwF are also very excited about the prospects of two other important ALC centres. One is based in the United Kingdom, and will be a major connection for our plans in the African continent. The other, in Sarawak, Malaysia, could be our first ALC in Asia.

In Malaysia, AwF have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of International Seafood Professionals and STEM States Incorporated, both of which are not-for-profit associations and incorporated in Australia. The latter acts as a forum through which industry, associations, academia and government can come together to discuss Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and innovation, and the role it plays in the needs of industry, export, trade and development.

STEM states
The background to the 'Global STEM States' is as a grassroots movement, with a medley of not-for-profit, academic, industry and government organisations entering into dialogue over the role STEM education plays in a state's future human resource needs, and how this should be implemented.  

STEM States hosts conferences and events around the world every year, and each one plays a role in bringing the international community to the host city, and leaving tangible benefits to the host city. Upon launching in September 2013, five states took up full membership:
• Western Australia (Led by Murdoch University and the Asia-Pacific Society for Solar and Hybrid Technologies)
• New York, USA (Led by the Global Industry Development Network; AwF also is a member of this network)
• Sarawak, Malaysia (Led by STEM States Malaysia and the Department for Advanced Education)
• Saskatchewan, Canada (Led by Tourism Saskatoon, Innovation Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan)
• Nova Scotia, Canada (Led by the Department of Education and the Halifax Convention Centre)
The United Arab Emirates, China, India, Russia, Germany, South Africa, Tanzania and Brazil have also applied to become members at different levels, and the potential for AwF through this association could lead to activities in all those countries. 

The Aquaculture Borneo connection sees AwF possibly involved in working collaboratively on the formation of an Aqua Learning Centre within Malaysia, with the purpose of educating and upskilling locals and people from around the region, and the establishment or introduction of aqua training programs within technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (STEM). 

Additionally, a conference that will take place in Malaysia in 2015 that will have specific track dedicated to the development of the Aquaculture industry in Malaysia and AwF will be creating some guidance for that.

In the UK, a project called REFARM (Research and Education in Foods, Aqua-foods and Renewable Materials) has been started between the Global Biotechnology Transfer Foundation (GBTF), Seafox Management Consultants Ltd (SMCL) and AwF. 

GBTF is an international, not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to promote awareness of the potential for biotechnology to support sustainable, long-term, socio-economic development. It aims to achieve its mission through three platforms: education, demonstration and implementation.

SMCL is based in Grimsby, working closely with the Grimsby and Humber regional seafood processing sector. The business is at the forefront of the seafood cluster and works closely with local groups such as the Grimsby Fish Merchants association, Seafood Grimsby and the Humber Cluster Group, the Seafish Authority and private-sector seafood businesses. It works internationally too with supply-chain support and also represents the North Atlantic Seafood Conference in the UK. Additionally, the business has a particular skill-set towards accessing funding and grants for major projects.

GBTF has acquired a brown-field site at Brookenby, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire which includes buildings and 4 hectares (10 acres) of open land, which provides for significant expansion as well as access to a 130-hectare farm which will be used for crop trial and field demonstrations.

There are many aspects to this partnership, but in summary we want to link developed-world infrastructure with developing-world needs for education, training and technology transfer to develop grassroots entrepreneurs. At the same time, the aim is to be producing a highly nutritious protein for the local market, and by taking an open and transparent path could open the door for the UK to become food-secure on seafood.
The connection to biotech adds dimensions that are not currently happening on any major scale. Given the interactions between Europe and Africa regarding food production and technology transfer, our approach will hopefully be seen as a catalyst for collaboration on the future. If successful, this approach can be copied in other parts of the world using an eco-cluster model.

Networks: gender, students and indigenous people

We are making an effort to broaden the base for AwF to maximise our reach and engage more people in networks. From an internal perspective, initially we have established a Women/Gender Network and have plans to establish a Schools/Students Network and an Indigenous Network. 

Establishing such networks is no easy feat, and takes time and patience to organise well. With members at all ends of the earth, it is always difficult to find the right time and means of communication. Eventually, there is belief that these networks will be a driving force for AwF, so the time and effort put in by all will definitely be worthwhile. There is always the pressure within the groups to set lofty agendas which might be too difficult to achieve in the early days, so tempering expectations and keeping the aims/outcomes on the low side to start is essential until we find our feet.

It has been an excellent start with the Women/Gender network, and some of the leadership group were able to meet in November 2014 at GAF5 in Lucknow, India.
Our Women/Gender network believes there is insufficient awareness, information and action for gender issues in aquaculture. 

As one of the group, Chloe English said, “This deficit is not due to an absence of concerned people, or an absence of potential strategies and policies. As a woman passionate about aquaculture, I identify one key barrier to ‘change-making’ is our capacity to effectively ‘join the dots’ between people and strategy. Change for women working in aquaculture will gain momentum once we have united an engaged network of people and adapted existing tactics.”   

AwF Women and Gender Network could potentially be the podium needed to bring together the tools and people for meaningful change. AwF Women and Gender network hopes to connect women and men in new and diverse ways to find intelligent solutions for gender issues in aquaculture.  

We will start our Indigenous Network through the arrangements in Australia which are outlined below, and the Schools/Students Network which has in one sense started (events in Marine Science Magnet H.S., Groton, CT, USA and Huon Valley Trade Training Centre, Huonville, Tasmania, Australia) yet not been finalised and that will be an important 2015 activity.  

Externally, we have joined the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA), which is strongly aligned with the US AID organisation. VEGA’s 36 programs are located in 28 countries and we hope to continue working with Kevin and the University of Arizona on the Farmer to Farmer programs that they have funded. 

At VEGA we are a non-voting member at this time, primarily to see how this might work for us. AwF are making a presentation to all the VEGA connections at their next meeting in Washington DC in early March. We are the only identity that is specifically involved in aquaculture and believe we will be able to create linkages with some of their larger members who implement programs on their own, and other times in partnership with other members. VEGA’s overall focus for all programs is to build sustainable enterprises that contribute to prosperous economies, so we are all ‘on the same page’ there.

We are also members of the ‘Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition’, which is based at the FAO Headquarters in Rome, and they have a global group of partners with whom we have communication. We are having a meeting with the ‘US Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition’ whilst in Washington DC, to see if there are any mutual opportunities for collaboration. With the recent news that the number of children in the United States relying on food stamps for a meal spiked to 16 million (20 percent of all children in the US) last year, perhaps there are ways for AwF to assist.

Naturally, we are a strong affiliate of WAS, and we highly regard that connection. We are starting to plan more for the WAS meetings, organising sessions on Development, Welfare and Poverty Alleviation, and encouraging our volunteers to engage and put their names forward to put a program together for the regular meetings.  

The connection to all of these will enable us to continue to expand our horizons, to engage with more people and to ensure we have a sustainable long-term organisation.

AwF Australia
Also to that end, we have established Aquaculture without Frontiers (Australia) Limited and are open to establish other such AwFs in other countries. The strong aim is to build around the central model that is established in the USA, but to enable the organisation/brand to be built in other countries. With all such activities there are pluses and minuses, but it is thought that, if there is the opportunity to expand with everyone being aware of the strategy, it will be interesting to see how it all grows and what the outcomes are.

AwF Australia is registered as a business, and it is waiting for its approval from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, which registers organisations as charities. Whilst registration as a charity is voluntary, each organisation must be registered with the ACNC to access any charity tax concessions from the Australian Taxation Office.
The board of AwF Australia is (in alphabetical order): Norman Grant, Katherine Hawes (Chair), Mark Oliver, David (DOS) O’Sullivan, Roy Palmer (Executive Director), Emma Thomson and Meryl Williams; they met for the inaugural meeting in Sydney on 15 December 2014. The aim is to connect Australia’s aquaculture skills and latent resources, along with enthusiastic volunteers, to opportunities to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people both here and abroad. 

One of its first tasks will be to create awareness of the organisation and to engage with like-minded enterprises and individuals to create projects and programs that will assist in improving the nutrition and health of disadvantaged people and to foster social and economic development. At the same time, it will promote and support responsible and sustainable aquaculture to alleviate poverty and malnutrition and to enhance global food security.

Partnership with Deakin University

The Board acknowledged that there is much to be done in the areas of indigenous and Pacific Islands aquaculture, boosting the status of women in aquaculture and engaging with schools and students in the region, and will be working to roll out plans on these issues in the future; to that end, in January 2015 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Deakin University.

Deakin University will partner with AwF Australia to improve outcomes in disadvantaged communities using sustainable aquaculture farming. Plans are also being put in place to look at incoming training or short course workshops at Warrnambool, utilising Deakin and AwF networks. 

Deakin Associate Head of School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Associate Professor Giovanni Turchini said, “We are excited to partner with AwF, which supports responsible and sustainable aquaculture to alleviate poverty and malnutrition and to enhance food security for disadvantaged people. The partnership will also provide a platform for aquaculture professionals to come together and volunteer their services to achieve these objectives. We are keenly anticipating the opportunities this will provide for Deakin students to undertake student placements and research projects with the support of AwF around the world.”

Deakin’s main aquaculture activities are in Warrnambool, Victoria, and are very close to the birthplace of aquaculture, by indigenous Australians many thousands of years ago. We aim to kick off the partnership with an Indigenous Symposium in the first semester of 2015 as it is important to know how we can assist Australian indigenous people in today’s environment with aquaculture activities.
Worthy work

Fundraising is never easy. The competition is immense, and there are very many worthy causes, so the competition is tough. We strongly hope that the seafood industry and particularly the aquaculture sector will continue to be a strong supporter, and we welcome all and any ideas to assist our great cause. Our work is worthy, not only because of the great outcomes we can give regarding nutrition, food security, alleviating poverty and hunger, but also because it promotes aquaculture as being a force for the future. 

Where we are today is far from the original ideas that our founder had all those years ago, but hopefully it is taking AwF into an exciting and sustainable era. Of course, this will not be possible unless we continue to get support from as many people and organisations in the aquaculture industry, so we continue to seek your support, your ideas and your contributions - whether that be through donating funds or donating valuable time, experience and know-how.

Read the magazine HERE.

The Aquaculturists
This blog is maintained by The Aquaculturists staff and is supported by the
magazine International Aquafeed which is published by
Perendale Publishers Ltd

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