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Small-scale Farmers and Sustainable Development
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has forecasted seafood (fish and shellfish) production to grow from 166,889, 000 metric tons (2013-2015 avg.) to 195,911,000 metric tons in 2025. 98% of that growth (28,463,000 metric tons) is projected to come from aquaculture and 90% of that growth is forecast to take place in Asia where small-scale farmers dominate production.
Experts agree sustainable development is critical to the expansion of the aquaculture sector, but how is sustainable development defined? The FAO defines sustainable development as that which “…conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technologically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable"¹. The World Wide Fund for Nature defines sustainability as “based upon three components: economic growth, social progress and environmental protection”². These two definitions highlight the relationship between sustainability and economic livelihood (e.g. one that provides “durable employment, sufficient income and decent living and working conditions”)³. What opportunities and challenges exist in the sustainable development of the small-scale aquaculture sector? Let’s explore three different examples: rice paddy shrimp farming, shrimp societies and organic certified shrimp farms.
Rice shrimp farming:
A growing trend in Vietnam is the conversion of rice paddies into shrimp ponds. In the first 6 months of 2016, drought along with saltwater intrusion accelerated this trend. Farmers simply could not survive on failing rice crops and farmers converted paddies to accommodate shrimp farming to alleviate their poverty. One commune, Bien Bach in Ca Mau province has converted 3500 hectares out of 4200 hectares to grow both rice and shrimp (one crop each). Bac Lieu province now has 30,000 hectares devoted to combined rice and shrimp farming. As more small-scale producers of shrimp are introduced into the sector, the demand for the financing of seed and feed increases. Many rice-shrimp farmers do not have savings and will need to rely on external sources to finance their crops. Training will be necessary for implementing responsible practices to prevent disease. While this adaptation to climate change has proved beneficial to rice farmers in the short term, sustainable development (assisting farmers to implement responsible practices and to gain market access through certification) will require funding and additional resources.
Small-scale farms constitute 90% of the shrimp farming sector in India. In this case, small scale is described as less than two hectares per farm. In 2007, the National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA) was established by the government to improve conditions in the shrimp farming sector. They found that by forming group or clusters of farms called shrimp societies, they were able to more efficiently promote responsible practices to combat rampant disease. Imagine, at the time 83 out of 100 families lost their shrimp to disease. During its first year (2007) NaCSA established 153 societies with 3326 farmers and a production of 2180 metric tons. The program blossomed and as of 2015, 834 shrimp societies involving 18,399 shrimp farmers had been formed in 6 states (e.g. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala). It appeared sustainable development had been systematized. While there has been much progress, improved market access through group certification of small-scale farmers and shrimp societies has proven problematic and is still in its early stages. In the meanwhile, NaCSA appears to be losing ground as banned antibiotics use is an issue in India (71% of the US Food and Drug Administration line item refusals for shrimp came from India in 2016). In this case, can governments and ‘Certified Aquaculture’ collaborate to provide a market incentive through group certification for small-scale shrimp farmers to implement responsible practices?
Organic certified shrimp:
Since 1993, 700 meters of coastline have been eroded by the ocean waves and tides at the rate of 30 meters per year. Mangroves forests are not only an important first line of defense against erosion, but also provide habitats that promote biodiversity. Today, many small-scale shrimp farmers in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam are taking an active role in the protection and re-forestation of mangroves. By cultivating mangrove trees on their farms and incorporating other responsible practices these farmers are qualifying for organic certification. These farmers raise giant tiger prawns extensively (approximately 8-14 tiger prawns per square meter). Farms qualifying for organic certification receive a premium for their product. In an interview one farmer stated, normally they earn 200 million VND per year, however with organic certification they earned 100 million VND in only 2 months. He hopes to funnel the additional revenue into a new house and better schooling for his grandchildren. In the future, premiums for shrimp will be paid not only for organic certification, but will be more directly tied to mangrove cover at the farm level. The success of the program in preserving mangroves is impressive. Satellite imagery shows an increase in mangrove coverage by 39 to 44% in the project area (2013 – 2015) and 80 hectares of mangroves have been planted. Additionally, these prawns are antibiotic free, which makes them more attractive to consumers. The primary challenge is to develop the organic market for this product.
These three examples show the complexity and various stages of sustainable development. The conversion of rice paddies to combined rice shrimp farms alleviates poverty, but creates a need for training and financial resources. While shrimp societies provide a template for group certification, much work still needs to be done to implement responsible practices on a widespread basis.
Finally, organic certified farms are making great stride in preserving mangroves and improving livelihoods, but markets for organic certified products need to be expanded. Today, the good news is as consumers take a greater interest in the food they purchase, the potential for ‘Certified Aquaculture’ to provide an incentive by connecting the markets directly to farms is greater than ever.