Thai shrimp farming: going green?

27 February 2014 | Article

In January, as part of a BMU-funded project to support mangrove conservation though improved shrimp farming practices in Viet Nam and Thailand, I attended a conference in Chanthaburi Province, the largest area of shrimp culture in Thailand.

The event, which is held every year, was organized by the Chanthaburi Shrimp Farmer Club, Thai Eastern Shrimp Association, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and the provincial Department of Fisheries. At the conference, Chanthaburi declared its intention to make its shrimp farming more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

In 2013, shrimp production in Chanthaburi declined from 70,000 tons in 2011 and 2012 to only 30,000 tons due to Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS). EMS affected the entire shrimp industry in Thailand with total production in 2013 falling by 54% from 2012. Exports, primarily to USA, Japan, and EU, fell accordingly and Thailand is no longer the world’s leading shrimp exporter despite global demand remaining high.

The Department of Fisheries is now encouraging shrimp farmers to improve their practices to avoid EMS and have fewer environmental impacts, particularly waste water discharge, over use of pesticides, and accumulation of residual feed and post harvest waste on the pond bottom. The department will train 1,500 of the 1,700 registered farmers in Chanthaburi on “green shrimp” practices. These include getting certified using the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standard, reduced energy and chemical use and zero waste water discharge through the use of a closed hydrology and natural cleaners such as algae and oysters. At the same time, the Coastal Fisheries Research and Development Bureau is introducing a “smart farmers” project that involves knowledge dissemination, capacity building, and improved farming practices. The target is 12,000 farmers nation-wide.

As in Viet Nam, shrimp farmers in Thailand are suffering from high input costs and crop losses. One way to improve the sustainability of the sector is to farm shrimp within mangrove ecosystems that are connected to tidal inflows and outflows. In Viet Nam, this has been shown to be more profitable than more intensive forms of farming, less risky, and certainly much more environmentally friendly.

By Supranee Kampongsun and Jake Brunner