Reimagining aquaculture risk management beyond the farm

Bottema, Mariska J.M.


As the aquaculture sector grows, so do the risks associated with production and these risks transcend farm boundaries. Traditionally applied risk management approaches, focused on farm-level strategies, are unable to address these area-level risks. Reflecting a trend observed in other agro-food industries, risk management and assurance approaches that address aquaculture risks beyond the unit of production are surfacing. While these are emerging as key approaches, we lack a fundamental understanding of how they address the sharing of production risks through the collaboration of actors across landscapes. Zooming in on Asia, a region that hosts the vast majority of global aquaculture production, the purpose of this thesis is to explore what aquaculture risk management beyond the farm entails and in what ways this is institutionalized in the Asian aquaculture sector.

Building on relational and dynamic perspectives on space, risk and institutionalization, I introduce a novel, socio-spatial and relational perspective to study the challenge of addressing production risks at a scale beyond the farm. Using this social scientific approach, I study a sample of Asian management initiatives and global assurance models that represent variation in the manner in which risk management beyond the farm is institutionalized. Four types of institutional arrangements were selected to function as the scientific sample upon which I draw higher level observations about risk management beyond the farm. I study individual farmers and their local networks, market-led improvement projects that sit within global value chains, a government-led extension program and assurance models.

The primary theoretical innovation in this research is the reimagination of aquaculture production in terms of space, risk and institutionalization. This thesis opens up a novel way for understanding risk management beyond the farm, which can be used to comprehend this phenomenon in Asia and beyond. I conceptualize shared production risk management as the intersection between a social understanding of space, risks and institutionalization. As these elements align in diverse and specific ways, various configurations of area management emerge. As such, there is not one single, fixed and all-encompassing understanding of the institutionalization of risk management beyond the farm. Instead risk management beyond the farm is dynamic, and socially mediated through space and risk.

Studying the relationship between space, risk and institutionalization in various approaches to risk management beyond the farm demonstrates that these are not all equal in their ability to address area-level production risks. I position these approaches to governing area management along a spectrum ranging from individual approaches, starting from the farm-level, to more specifically defined area or landscape approaches, which start from the area-level. Both approaches seek to scale up the sustainable management of aquaculture practices, but face several key limitations that deter the collaborative management of shared production risks beyond the farm, and therefore limit their ability to scale up sustainability in general.

This thesis reveals an area of innovation that suggests an alternative approach to understanding and ultimately governing risk management beyond the farm, in which space, risk and institutionalization are configured in a very specific manner. In this configuration, the space of risk management is that in which the interpretation of risk is homogenous, risks are shared and self-determined and the institutions of risk management are emergent through informal and local social networks. Though this does not address area-level production risks at a larger, ecosystem or landscape, scale, the intersection of space and risk in this configuration appears to be more promising in terms of institutionalizing shared risk management behavior than it is other approaches.

Exploring how social relations shape space and risk, and how these in turn shape the institutionalization of risk management beyond the farm has demonstrated the need to start thinking differently about how risks across landscapes should be governed. This thesis reveals the inherently social nature of aquaculture risk management beyond the farm. To fully comprehend risk management behavior across landscapes and in markets, it essential to understand how people understand risks and relate to other people in space.