To gain acceptance and remain competitive in international markets, aquaculture producers benefit substantially when their products are accepted by a recognised certification scheme. Statistics suggest that the majority of Asian aquaculture farmers are small-scale producers, but this is the group that finds it most difficult to comply with increasingly stringent production and trading standards. The WorldFish Center is working through an FAO Technical Cooperation Programme project to analyse the current aquaculture certification programs in Thailand’s aquaculture industry and identify recommendations for certification approaches and systems that are inclusive of and benefit small-scale farmers.
Certification - a badge of consumer confidence
As aquaculture has grown, concerns have arisen about the possible negative impacts of some forms of aquaculture on the environment, communities and consumers. A wide range of social, environmental, food safety and quality issues have been raised. Stakeholders, including the public and private sectors, consumers and civil society organisations are increasingly interested in establishing and applying standards for responsible aquaculture.
The aquaculture industry recognizes that credible certification schemes have the potential to reassure buyers, retailers, and consumers regarding their concerns. Certification also provides a tool to promote responsible aquaculture production and has therefore become a topical issue in continued development and improvement of aquaculture.
Aquaculture certification can take various forms. In general, certification schemes can be voluntary or mandatory, or both. Mandatory certification schemes certify compliance to national or international standards that have been set and agreed by governments, often for food safety and animal health. Voluntary certification schemes are usually developed by parties concerned about specific aspects of a product or production practice that may not be adequately addressed by existing agreements. Compliance with voluntary certification is not legally required. However, buyers within the chain of custody and/or consumers may give preference to purchasing products from voluntary certification schemes.
The Asian dilemma
Estimates suggest that up to 80 percent of Asian aquaculture farmers are small-scale producers. The trend towards certification of aquaculture production and products has serious implications for these farmers, especially on their ability to comply with all the standards and hence their ability to access wider markets. It is imperative that strategies are developed to ensure their participation in the certification process, to improve both the quality of the product and the future development of the production process. No certification scheme as yet targets the small-scale sector, although significant social and economic benefits could be achieved if this sector can be effectively assisted to participate in modern certified market chains.
To assist Thailand develop more inclusive certification schemes that take account of the special needs of small-scale farmers, WorldFish is undertaking a project that involves:
Preparation of an analysis of aquaculture certification schemes in Thailand, with special emphasis on the constraints and opportunities faced by small-scale farmers in participating in the various schemes being applied in tilapia and shrimp farming in the country;
Analysing the current aquaculture industry structures in Thailand, and development of recommendations on investments required for small-scale farmers across Thailand to participate in certification schemes; and
Contribution to guidelines on collective approaches to small-scale aquaculture certification, such as through cooperatives or groups.