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Organic Aquaculture: Restoring the balance

PHILIPPINES - In todays world dominated by fast food, fast money, and fast habits, people have obviously taken for granted the quality and safety of the food they eat. What seemingly matters most is not the acceptable safety standards of the food we eat, but just to be able to go through the meal and live another day.

To avert the trend, and promote the best practices in organic farming systems and food safety standards, the German Technical Cooperation-ENRD in cooperation with German DED, Philippine government, and a number of non-government organizations and people’s organizations in Asia and Philippines, have recently gathered in the 1st Philippine Organic Aquaculture Symposium held in Bacolod City, to share the best experiences and insights in the subject fields particularly in the promotion and development of organic aquaculture production.

Dr. Kai Kuhlmann, aquaculture consultant of the DED, who was requested by the OPA of the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental to survey and promote Organic Aquaculture in the province and region, said that in contrast to conventional aquaculture, organic aquaculture is an overall system of farm management and food production that focuses on best environmental practices, a high level of biodiversity, preservation of natural resources and application of high animal welfare. It guarantees stable prices of all goods exported to the eg European markets and job security for local farmers upon certification of quality standards and being labeled as organically produced products.

“While conventional aquaculture is forced to compete its products by quantity to local markets and hence, may often use fertilizers and pesticides containing toxins and non-biodegradable matters as well as supplemental feeds containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms in order to maximize the growth of their products over time in limited areas, organic aquaculture goes for healthy quality standards in order to tackle European markets, where increasing numbers of consumers pay for organic agricultural and aquaculture products,” she said.

Farmer leaders and advocates of organic practices have all affirmed the need to promote organic production systems, and to raise people’s awareness in food safety standards. They plan to start with aquaculture as one of the fastest growing sectors of animal meat production in the world, and where a sizable number of people in the agricultural sector are dependent on for their living.

The symposium noted that from 1992 to 2002, there has been a dramatic increase in the per capita consumption of sea foods by 21 percent or from 13.1 kg to 16.2 kg, and the rate has been increasing since then.

Aquaculture also tops animal meat production at 8.5 percent. This is followed by chicken production at 5.1 percent, hog production at 3.1 percent, terrestrial farmed animals at 2.8 percent, capture fisheries at 1.4 percent, beef and veal at 1.3 percent, and mutton and lamb at 1.1 percent. Today, over US30 billion of aquaculture products are traded globally with developing countries accounting to some 65 percent of exports.

The participants to the symposium believed that “the rapid growth of aquaculture can be attributed to the growing realization of the higher health value of sea foods especially shrimps and catfish compared with other animal meat, particularly beef, pork and chicken.”.

Organic aquaculture has been steadily developing in a number of Asian countries especially in Vietnam and Thailand because of the “industry niche” it offers to small scale farmers and businesses. It boasts of low production costs and higher quality yields.

It is economically feasible for small farmers; and has a relatively low level and easy to learn technology. It favors the development of rural areas; requires significant labor inputs; has a specialised market; and higher and relatively stable market price.

Many lament that the Philippines still lag behind other developing countries in Asia in terms of aquaculture, specifically organic aquaculture. Studies and statistics provided by the symposium show that the Philippines is in the bottom of five Asian countries in terms of fishery exports, and somewhere in the middle in terms of the top 12 countries in aquaculture production. The symposium however believes that there are big opportunities for the Philippines to become competitive because it has long coastlines at 36, 289 kilometers and rich aquaculture resources and high production to date accounting for 46 percent of the total fish production of the country in 2006.

There are also a number of potential species already available in the country to spur the development of organic aquaculture, among them, tilapia, bangus (milkfish), shrimps, prawn, crabs, native hito (catfish), and giant clams.

Some stressed that “all we need is to become believers of organic practices, educate more people, draw more interest to learn the technology, strict compliance of internationally accepted standards for certified organic aquaculture production, and increase investments in the field.”

Dr Kuhlmann said that producing tilapia, shrimps or milkfish and other common aquaculture products in Negros under environmental-friendly conditions with no pesticides and toxins to reach maximum growth of the product farmed could soon become a reality for fish farm producers, who go organic.

“In order to produce one ton of salmon, about three tons of wild fish stocks caught and processed into pellets are necessary; catching pelagic fish in high quantities are needed to produce fishmeal and fish oil, the basic ingredients for supplemental feeds (pellets), contributes to depleting wild fish stocks. Those pelagic fish may further contain contaminants and pollutants accumulated in their bodies and, fed to the species in conventional aquaculture, may also contaminate or pollute our environment. Instead, organic aquaculture addresses to replace fishmeal with terrestrial animal and plant-based ingredients organically derived, Dr. Kuhlmann added.

Source: Bulatlat