By Marie Hauge
"I think we have succeeded because we have taken a focused approach to the task at hand. We have concentrated on practical training in the use of equipment and technology, and on building expertise in areas such as regulation, fish health and the environment," explains Rolf Engelsen of the Institute of Marine Research. He works at the Centre for Development Cooperation in Fisheries, and has project managed this Norwegian-Thai NORAD project.
The project was established in the wake of the 2005 tsunami, and has involved running a pilot farm in the Andaman Sea off the south east of Thailand. The overall goal has been to establish a modern farm and train the Thais to operate such a farm themselves. The project has been run in partnership with the Thai Department of Fisheries.
Four years and 165 tonnes of cobia (a fast-growing, tropical fish used in aquaculture) later, the project has undoubtedly been a success. The evaluation report is unambiguous: the project has met, and even exceeded, all expectations. Erik Hempel, who wrote the evaluation report, believes that this model of project should be used for other projects in other regions.
"This is the best development project that I have seen," says Hempel, who has gained more than 30 years' experience of fisheries management and aquaculture working at the UN agency the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). He believes that the success is mainly due to the people involved.
"There have been efficient and knowledgeable people on both sides".
Norwegian technical experts have provided practical assistance throughout the whole project – in areas ranging from the assembly of cages to the slaughtering and filleting of the fish. Rolf Engelsen has visited the facility in the Andaman Sea around 20 times himself, and estimates that he has spent around a year in total in Thailand since 2005.
"The project has been results-oriented, rather than just relying on good intentions," says Engelsen, adding that approx. NOK 3 million worth of fresh and frozen fish from the pilot farm have been sold so far. Japan is the latest addition to the export market, which also includes Singapore and Germany.
Like Norway, Thailand has a large aquaculture industry, but the main product is prawns. Before the destruction wreaked by the tsunami, there were also some basic, small-scale fish farms. The Norwegian cages at the pilot facility are the largest of their kind to be installed in Thailand.
Erik Hempel knows from experience that there is no guarantee that Norwegian technology can be transferred to tropical conditions. In this project, however, they have managed to do precisely that.
"We cannot copy the Norwegian way of doing things, but a great deal of the expertise that Norway has built up in the fields of fish health and sustainable aquaculture is also relevant to Thai waters," says Rolf Engelsen.
Highly sought-after expertise
The evaluation report recommends continuing the project for a further five years. That is also the wish of the Thai fisheries authorities, who have given very positive feedback on the partnership. Engelsen believes that Norway should help to develop the Thai aquaculture industry.
"From a development perspective, it is our duty to share our knowledge and expertise with developing countries. We have a great deal to offer. Norway is at the cutting edge of aquaculture management. Although we still face challenges, we have come a long way in the areas of fish health and environmentally sustainable aquaculture. That expertise is highly sought after throughout the world."