How to include smallholders in sustainable shrimp farming in Vietnam?

Published on
September 23, 2019

Vietnam is a major player in the production and export of shrimps, also for the EU market. In Vietnam, as in other places, there is rising attention for social sustainability issues in aquaculture. Still, many Vietnamese shrimp farmers are structurally excluded from certification schemes and improvement protocols that aim to bring about social an environmental sustainability in shrimp production.

Why is this so? And what can be done about it? With these questions, ENPer Annet Pauwelussen went to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta for a fieldwork study in July and August. As part the EURASTiP project workpackage 3 she discussed with different stakeholders in the shrimp value chain the development of inclusive business models in the shrimp sector.

What makes Vietnam’s shrimp production unique is its small-scale character. About 80% of the shrimp supply in Vietnam comes from family-run farms with often only 1,5 to 2 ha. “This small-scale character is a primary challenge for inclusivity for Vietnamese shrimp production in standards and certification programs”, says Ms Phuong of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) in an interview. She explains how the land in the Mekong Delta is divided into many different small plots of land. Across generations, ownership and use rights to land has been divided amongst offspring, sustaining this fragmentation. It is this geographical fragmentation that makes shrimp production in Vietnam’s south difficult to control and manage, which also complicates farmers’ incorporation into certification programs.

During a farm visit, Mr Lon, shrimp farmer in My Xuyen district elaborates: “For small farms like mine, it is hardly feasible to become certified. We receive a slightly higher price for the shrimp, but we also have to bear the costs for the yearly audits, and certification requires more administration work. The added value for me is that certification expands the scope of where I can sell my shrimp”.

For social sustainability standards to be effective, smallholders need to be included in certification and improvement programs in a meaningful way, explains Mr Duy of WWF in Can Tho city. Recognizing financial and organizational challenges for small-scale farmers, different models for inclusiveness are being developed and put into practice in Vietnam.

One of these is the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s initiative to develop group-based certification for smallholders. Likewise, seafood company Minh Phu has initiated the social enterprise model for organic shrimp farming, bringing small farms together into groups. “The auditing is carried out on a sample of the total farms, based on prior risk analysis” explains Mr Thoai of Minh Phu during a site visit. “This way, we can reduce audit costs while also supporting collaborating and knowledge sharing among smallholders.” 

Bringing together insights and observations from fieldwork, EURASTiP partner Wageningen University (Environmental Policy Group) works on an assessment and comparison of these models, to draw lessons for de development of shrimp production that is socially and environmentally sustainable.