These improved farming practices are the culmination of a three-year project investigating catfish farming practices in the Mekong Delta, funded by AusAID under the auspices of the program Collaboration for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), and conducted in partnership between NACA, the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2, Can Tho University, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and catfish farmers in the Mekong Delta.
Speaking at the workshop, NACA’s Director General, Prof. Sena De Silva, said that Vietnamese catfish aquaculture is Speaking at the workshop, NACA’s Director General, Prof. Sena De Silva, said that Vietnamese catfish aquaculture is the most productive farming sector in the world and has put Vietnamese aquaculture firmly on the global map. ‘More than one million tonnes of fish are produced from an area of less than 10,000 hectares in the Mekong Delta. The industry provides around 180,000 jobs and generates more than US$ 1 billion in foreign exchange for the country’, he said. Catfish farming is highly intensive. The industry average yield in the delta exceeds 400 tonnes per hectare per crop, with farmers producing two crops per year. However, the profit margin is slim and farmers need to produce high volumes to survive. In this business, a few cents per kilo can make the difference between making a huge profi t or a huge loss. ‘But we have to understand that we cannot continue to intensify indefinitely’, Prof. De Silva said.
Other aquaculture industries, notably shrimp farming, have undergone a classic boom-bust cycle at early stages of their development. An initial period of industry experimentation and intensification is often followed by a collapse and a period of readjustment when the production system is pushed too far. By 2008 the average yield in the catfish industry had already reached spectacular levels and downwards price pressure was becoming evident. NACA and its partners therefore began work on developing science-based better management practices for catfish farming. This was a forward-looking initiative to improve the efficiency of the sector and also to identify and forestall any potential problems before they emerged. ‘Some of the problems facing the sector are real’, said Prof. De Silva, displaying some negative articles from international newspapers, ‘but some such as these are fiction circulated in the media by international competitors. This research will help the market distinguish fact from fiction’.
The project began by conducting a survey of industry management practices in May 2008 targeting hatcheries, nurseries and grow-out farms. Project staff visited a total of 97 producers conducting detailed interviews. The survey data were analysed for indications of how variations in management practices may influence production outcomes. A risk assessment was conducted to identify areas of particular concern and opportunities for improvement. Based on this data, the project team developed draft better management practices which were evaluated by farmers at two consultative workshops in Dong Thap and Can Tho provinces in October 2009. After incorporating the feedback of producers, farm trials were conducted by volunteers on eleven farms in four provinces in the delta to assess their effectiveness. ‘These improved practices have been developed through a science-based approach with direct involvement of farmers at every stage’, said Prof. De Silva.
The project culminated in a final national workshop in Long Xyuen City 23-24 November to discuss the project findings with key stakeholders including farmers, policy makers and extension specialists related to the catfish sector. The workshop finalised the better management practices after considering an analysis of the on-farm trials and discussing the performance improvements. Key findings of the farm trials, presented by Can Tho University’s Dr Bui Minh Tam, included a reduction in FCR, improved water quality, reduced incidence of disease and an increased profit margin.
The Long Xyuen workshop was asked to evaluate the impact of the project and the better management practices for catfish farming. Participants were asked to vote on a series of questions presented on screen at the meeting by Ian Dreher, DPI Victoria. 46 participants cast their votes using small wireless voting machines about the size of a credit card, which allowed them to select from a number of options displayed on the screen. Votes were automatically tallied live by software and the results displayed graphically on screen.
The results included:
- 66 per cent of participants believed that implementation of BMPs had improved financial returns for farmers. Production volume had not necessarily increased but 91 per cent believed that BMPs had reduced production costs.
- 91 per cent of participants thought that BMP implementation had improved environmental management, including sludgement management (84 per cent) wastewater disposal (81 per cent) and chemical useage (81 per cent).
- 77 per cent believed that BMP implementation was increasing support from buyers and processors.
- 85 per cent felt that farmers using BMPs were likely to progress to certification of their product in future, suggesting a complementary rather than competitive relationship between BMPs and certification.
‘I want to make it clear that these BMPs are not the final story’, Prof. De Silva said. ‘They are simply the first step in improving catfish aquaculture practices and will evolve over time as the industry develops and the state of knowledge improves’. He stressed that the BMPs are ‘not certification standards, although the approach is fully compatible with standards-based certification systems’.
Better management practices have proven to be very successful in the Indian shrimp farming industry, where NACA has been assisting the industry to develop improved science- based farming practices for around ten years. Mr N.R. Umesh, Director of India’s National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture gave a presentation on the key role that farmer groups have played in the implementation of BMPs.
‘The formation of farmer societies has enabled small-scale farmers to coordinate water abstraction and discharge, stocking and harvesting, health management and other issues relevant to better management practices. Common infrastructure development has been made possible through these societies such as the provision of electricity to their farms. Farmers have been able to eliminate middlemen such as seed, loan and purchase agents because the society has enough market power to arrange contracts directly with hatcheries, banks and processors on behalf of the members’, he said. ‘They are able to set requirements in terms of how seed is produced and screened in order to assure its health status. They also now have access to policy makers’.
Mr Umesh noted that farmer societies are helping producers to meet market requirements. ‘The society provides a mechanism for registering farms, improving food safety and traceability, social and environmental sustainability. It also facilitates certification, because the society can apply for certification and auditing as a group rather than each farmer having to apply individually. We are seeing increasing interest in BMP product from sustainability-conscious buyers’. The formation of farmer societies/clusters had also improved market access for small-scale producers. ‘Brand building for the produce is very important’, he said. ‘The societies have established a quality label and pool sales to jointly promote their produce. Linkages with buyers have been established. The societies also help members to identify market trends and adapt quickly’.
There was general consensus at the Long Xuyen workshop that formation of catfi sh farmer societies based around local farm clusters would be a key strategy to promote industry adoption and implementation of the better management practices. Speaking at the meeting, Madam Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, Vice Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development said ‘Small farmers need to band together and work together to achieve better products through implementation of BMPs. The Government of Vietnam will provide support to promote the widespread adoption of BMPs in the future’. A proposal to establish an institution geared towards helping the industry adopt better management practices was favourably received by participants, and is slated for consideration by the Ministry. The workshop strongly requested a second phase of the project be developed focusing on industry adoption and implementation of better management practices. NACA and its partners have undertaken to develop a proposal in consultation with industry and government and to seek further funding in this regard.