The Mekong Delta is one of seven ecological regions in Vietnam where aquaculture and shrimp products are internationally traded and the shrimp farmers are firmly embedded in a global system of production and trade. The growth of shrimp aquaculture, in addition to population growth and higher levels of investment, has left coastal resources in the Mekong Delta increasingly vulnerable to rapid changes in land and resource use. The shrimp industry, made up of multiple stakeholders and fragmented market chains, is also now subject to a range of attempts to govern sustainable and/or responsible shrimp aquaculture. While striving for improved environmental performance to reduce bio-physical variability in production these governance systems have also brought stringent requirements for producers that determine their ability to access international markets. The general objective of the research is to investigate the interactions between existing state and non-state actors and institutions to develop a more informed understanding of how state, market and community-based governance arrangements at different levels influence decision-making in shrimp aquaculture in coastal areas of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. The general research question explores how different material conditions and social relations affect the effectiveness and responsiveness of governance arrangements aimed at achieving multiple goals of maintaining rural livelihoods, environmental sustainability and improved food quality.
The first empirical chapter highlights two key transformations of Vietnamese shrimp aquaculture policy in Ca Mau province. The first transformation is an internal policy shift from quantitative to qualitative state-led production goals. The secondtransformation is in response to market demands, but is directed to the emergent ‘quality’ concerns about the environmental and social impacts of tropical shrimp farming. Together these two transformations present a complex balancing act between externally-led global market demands and consumer concerns for the improved environmental and social performance of tropical shrimp production, and the government’s interests in maintaining sovereign control over the shrimp industry. The results also show that the Vietnamese government should continue to position itself as a facilitator of global private governance arrangements, especially as farmers and global market actors are engaged in transnational regulatory networks operationalised at local scales. Moreover, the state needs to give far more attention to market incentives for fostering the participation and compliance of farmers in these transnational regulatory networks.
The second chapter analyses the case of Naturland organic certification and its implementation in meeting the government’s plan to create an organic coast scaling up the organic farming along southern part of Ca Mau by 2015. Our results support the claim that organic certification can provide a means of linking farm-level management to the sustainability of landscapes dominated by the shrimp-forest integrated farming system in Ca Mau. But this is only achievable if certain challenges are overcome. The first challenge is the tension between farmer practices and externally defined and regulated quality standards.The secondchallenge is to ensure that economic benefit are shared between actors in the organic certified value chain. Finally, the level of legitimacy given to private sector led auditing systems needs to be addressed.
The thesis then explores the development of shrimp farmer cooperatives and clusters by the government based on a policy to explicitly to increase the competitiveness of the sector in the international market and to improve economic condition for small producers. The results shows that vertical contractualisation under the form of contract farming between farmer cluster with up and downstream chain actors demonstrate economic benefits to small-holder producers engaged in intensive production.The improved extensive system, however, gives further impetus to determining how cooperative forms of production might assist small holders to complying with production-oriented quality standards, which in turn may also improving market performance. The cases therefore supports the claim that the development of shrimp farmer clusters should not solely focus on increasing production efficiency but also successful integration into the value chain; producing high-quality and safe products, and engaging in sustainable on-farm management practices.
The final case study looks at shrimp farming in the broader context of promoting ecological function in forested shrimp-mangrove farming systems. Attention is given to how incentives are generated for shrimp farmers to plant and protect mangroves by analysing farmer’s decision-making and their perspective on mangroves in relation with state-based governance arrangements, the forest allocation and benefit sharing policies. The results show that farmer’s perception on the role and value of mangroves are positive and they are willing to plant and to protect mangroves both for economic and environmental reasons. Moreover, they want to have control over mangroves although forests are still under the state regulation. However, farmer’s decision-making is very much influenced by the way in which the forest benefit sharing policy is implemented by the state-led forest management boards and forestry companies. The results show that the perception of shrimp farming as the main cause of deforestation and degradation should be reevaluated in the context of integrated shrimp mangrove model because farmers income is improved if mangroves are a part of the production system. Instead the evidence shows that shrimp farmers are potentially the best stakeholders to plant, protect and manage mangroves if they have full rights and responsibilities over forests. Seen as such, shrimp farming is a mangrove-friendly source of revenue which also promotes the planting and protection of mangroves.