Not seeing the mangrove forest for the trees?
There are a number of experiments going on around the world that provide incentives to people to protect forests, from the global REDD+ program to numerous national programs. At the same time, there are growing doubts about the effectiveness of some of these approaches, including their long-term sustainability.
A new project in Viet Nam, however, holds promise for protecting mangrove forests without directly focusing on the trees. The goal of the project is to help local shrimp farming systems become more profitable by combining them with mangrove forest protection—boosting both profitability and sustainability, while also increasing coastal resilience to climate change.
The project, implemented by IUCN and SNV, the Netherlands Development Organization, is taking place in Ngoc Hien District in Ca Mau Province which is home to half of Viet Nam’s mangroves and half of its shrimp farming area. Shrimp farming is one of Viet Nam’s leading exports. It is also the leading cause of mangrove loss in a country with a long, densely populated coastline that is vulnerable to tropical storms and sea level rise. As a result, the sustainability of the shrimp sector and the conservation of mangroves are both national priorities.
Funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the focus of the project is on a group of 2,600 shrimp farmers who are using an integrated model of farming shrimp among mangrove forests, in which each household must reserve 60% of their land for mangroves. They get significantly lower yields per hectare than intensive shrimp farms, but also much more diverse production, lower input costs and much lower risk of crop failure.
Not only is this model resilient to disease but it is also stable and profitable, with net income significantly higher than for traditional shrimp culture. Even better, because the farming system is essentially natural, the shrimp can be certified as organic, which allows them to meet growing international demand for organic products and receive a premium price for their product.
Organic certification for shrimp farms in Viet Nam has had its issues in the past, among them low prices, late payments and a lack of transparency that had farmers questioning the economic value of certification. The new project has addressed many of these issues. An agreement has been negotiated with Ca Mau-based Minh Phu, the world’s second-largest seafood processor in terms of shrimp export value, which commits it to buying all the certified organic shrimp that farmers can produce at a 10% price premium. Minh Phu will also pay for the annual audit and the internal control systems that ensure chain of custody from the farm to the processor.
The project has worked hard to include as many farmers as possible in the process, both through training and through helping them to qualify for the 50% mangrove cover on their farms required for organic shrimp certification. In some cases the project will support mangrove replanting efforts for farms that don’t have 50% cover, and has organized farmers into groups that will work toward meeting the mangrove cover requirement jointly rather than on an individual basis.
The Ca Mau provincial government now wants to scale up organic certification to 20,000 hectares of integrated mangrove-shrimp farms by 2020. The vision is to establish an “organic coast” that both produces high-value certified shrimp and protects against rising sea level and potentially stronger storms. In this scenario, integrated mangrove-shrimp farming and organic certification offer a strong example of an ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. And because a direct financial incentive is being provided to farmers to plant and conserve mangroves, it can also be seen as an effective form of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES).
Whether or not certified organic shrimp farming results in permanent improvements to livelihoods and the environment remains to be seen. Nevertheless, with strong business and provincial government support, there are grounds to believe that the project will deliver economic and environmental benefits that, because the project aims to change the underlying business model, will persist after the project ends.
Related article on SNV website: http://www.snvworld.org/en/redd/news/snv-redd-blog/organic-shrimp-certification-a-new-approach-to-pes