Developing countries with huge marine resources, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, are usually also countries with most threatening problems with their marine environment. The main problems are usually overfishing and irresponsible practices to harvest other good things the ocean offers, including shrimp.
One particular activity that can be linked to both of those things is shrimp farming. The activity first came into Asia in 1980s, and it directly became a boom since that era. But at that time, the sacrifice that the farmers had to make was clearing coastal mangrove forest.
Indeed, it has contributed significantly to the developing countries’ aquaculture exports, which further brings foreign exchange earnings important to them. However, the consequences of environmentally unsustainable farming practice are bigger.
That’s why, this world, especially those developing countries, need a sustainable shrimp farming method that will not only replace the old tradition, but even contributes well to the environment. And believe it or not, it already exists.
Shrimp Versus Mangrove
Mangrove plays one of the most important roles in coastal area, because it prevents abrasion. In addition to that, mangrove forests are considered as ones of the most productive ecosystem. They provide shelter to various living creatures which cannot be found in other areas.
Just like mentioned above, conventional shrimp farming practice usually sacrifices coastline mangrove forest. It is such a disaster to the environment that people at that age have not realized yet, due to lack of information in developing countries at that time.
The first impact we can directly see is cleared mangrove coastline can no longer prevent abrasion. And to trick this, farmers let a little part of mangrove coastline live. Lesser they know, that ‘leftover’ part will not survive for too long.
Since shrimp farms need high levels of chemical inputs, it will pollute local coastal area with both chemical residue and waste produced. Polluted area will affect the growth and survivability of organisms in that coastal area, including some parts of mangrove that the farmers intended to let live.
Losing the mangrove coastline itself is already a huge loss. But almost immediately after the coastal disaster takes place, further environmental impacts such as saltwater intrusion to land will follow afterwards. This kind of thing tend to be ignored in shrimp farming industry since the boom in 1980s.
The Consequences Of Bad Start
We can call such irresponsible practice of shrimp farming opening as a bad start for the industry. And just like the law of nature, a bad start will lead to bad results if no changes are made during the process. It happens in the deltas of Ca Mau, Vietnam.
Ca Mau holds 50% of Vietnam’s shrimp production. Data stated that in 2013 alone, the industry contributed to a total of $3.1 billion. But in the last 15 years, the industry has been declining sharply because of diseases.
As a result, Ca Mau is now home of failed ponds that have been abandoned by the farmers. Restoration costs too much for them to handle because if they want to get it back to the track, they have to fight 3 problems at one go: erosion, pollution, and disease.
However, since the demand for this product is still too high to ignore, many farmers tend to take a shortcut by opening new shrimp farms with the same destructive method. Farmed ones still accounts for 55% of total shrimp production globally.
But will shrimp farming always bring such devastating result to both the farmers and the environment? The answer is no, because in fact there is one single misconception that if corrected will benefit the farmers, the environment, and additionally the consumers.
Misconception About Mangrove
First thing first, do we really need to clear the mangrove coastline to open a shrimp farm? Mangrove is often seen as a block in the space, and that’s the reason why farmers cleared it. Lesser they knew that mangrove itself is a perfect environment for this animal to live by itself!
Mangrove forest can provide anything the animal needs, starting from providing wild feedstock, food from organic waste, shade, and shelter in form of root structure. All of those can be done by mangrove forest without any poisonous chemicals included.
Mangroves and Markets (MAM) projects initiated by SNV Netherlands Development Organization and co-implementer IUCN wanted to correct this misconception. The projects ally stakeholders in shrimp industry, starting from the importers, traders, and over 5,000 farmers and train them to breed and market ecologically-certified shrimp.
“Forest area in my land is less than the required 50 percent. Many of my shrimp died from disease, especially on the land not protected by mangrove forest. I could see then that the forest is useful for raising shrimp,” said Van Cong To, one of surviving farmers in Ca Mau.
Up until nowadays, the project has trained over 1,300 shrimp farmers how to organically farm shrimp but also how to restore mangrove coastline. Farming shrimp is now no longer a destructive action done to the nature.
Certification for organic shrimp grown in ecologically positive environment is important in this project. With the certification, they can raise the value of shrimp to customers. From customer’s point of view, it will also mean that they can get the satisfaction of consuming ecologically-responsible product.
A rise of 10% in price premium is just one benefit that the farmers can get at early phase. But don’t mistake the number as something static. Apparently, its ecological benefit can rise that number significantly.
Improvement in shrimp health, in addition to eliminating the needs for using chemicals to grow shrimp, apparently cut the cost of growing shrimp greatly. “Previously, farmers could make 60 to 70 million Vietnamese dong per year. Having joined this project, we are able to make 150 to 200 million Vietnamese dong,” Van stated.
Tran Quoc Van, leader of one of 35 shrimp farmer groups working together with MAM, believes that the future for global shrimp farming is to become environmentally-friendly. “All of the farmers have put what they learned into practice on their farms, so this project has been really successful for us,” he said.