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Increasing productivity and improving livelihoods in aquatic agricultural systems: a review of interventions

An Erratum to this article was published on 18 February 2017

This article has been updated


The doubling of global food demand by 2050 is driving resurgence in interventions for agricultural intensification. Globally, 700 million people are dependent on floodplain or coastal systems. Increased productivity in these aquatic agricultural systems is important for meeting current and future food demand. Agricultural intensification in aquatic agricultural systems has contributed to increased agricultural production, yet these increases have not necessarily resulted in broader development outcomes for those most in need. Here we review studies of interventions that have sought to improve productivity in aquatic agricultural systems in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Zambia. We review evidence of development outcomes from these interventions and the particular role of participatory approaches in intervention design and deployment. There was evidence of increases in productivity in 20 of the 31 studies reviewed. Yet, productivity was only measured beyond the life of the intervention in one case, income and food security improvements were rarely quantified, and the social distribution of benefits rarely described. Participatory approaches were employed in 15 studies, and there was some evidence that development outcomes were more substantial than in cases that were less participatory. To explore the impact of participatory approaches further, we examined five empirical cases. Review and empirical cases provide preliminary evidence suggesting participatory approaches contribute to ensuring agriculture and aquaculture interventions into aquatic agricultural systems may better fit local contexts, are sustained longer, and are more able to deliver development benefits to those most in need. A worthy focus of future research would be comparison between outcomes achieved from interventions with differing levels of participation, and the social differentiation of outcomes.

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Fig. 1

Change history

  • 18 February 2017

    An erratum to this article has been published.


  1. 1.

    UN MDG1fast facts (Sept 2013): While the proportion of undernourished people globally decreased from 23.2% in 1990–1992 to 14.9% in 2010–2012, this still leaves 870 million people—one in eight worldwide—going hungry.

  2. 2.

    Current UN projections indicate that world population could increase by 2.25 billion people from today’s levels, reaching 9.15 billion by 2050 (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012).

  3. 3.

    Although the words “yield” and “productivity” are sometimes used interchangeably in the literature, yield refers to the volume of food produced per unit of area and productivity refers to the volume of food produced per unit of input. Depending on the methods used to calculate productivity, these inputs may include all or some of the following: seed, fertilizer, water, land, energy, finance or labor.

  4. 4.

    Here we consider outcomes as “the likely achieved short-term and medium-term effects of one or more interventions outputs’ (OECD 2010) and distinguish which impact can be observed on a longer term after a development intervention and is most likely a result of the combination of outcomes and other factors.


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The authors would like to thank research and field officers from CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) in the Khulna Hub office (Bangladesh) and Bangladesh WorldFish Office, Zambia WorldFish Office and Mekong WorldFish Regional Office. The contributions of Kim Miratori, Alan Brooks, Ahmed Orko Nur, Golam Faruque, Karim Mandjurul, Sarwer Rayhan Hayat, Kevin Kamp, Mohammad Mokarrom Hossain, Murshed-E-Jahan, Khondker, Andrew Ward and Maravanyika Tendayi are particularly appreciated. The authors wish to thank Simon Attwood for his comments and feedback during the early parts of this research. The preparation of this paper was supported by funding from the CGIAR Research Programs on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS).

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The original version of this article was revised: This paper was published with unupdated biography of Dorothy Chandrabalan. Further, Philippa (Pip) Cohen's biography was left out during the processing.

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Joffre, O., Castine, S., Phillips, M. et al. Increasing productivity and improving livelihoods in aquatic agricultural systems: a review of interventions. Food Sec. 9, 39–60 (2017).

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  • Aquatic agricultural systems
  • Productivity
  • Food security
  • Nutrition
  • Income
  • Participatory approaches