For the past three years, IUCN and SNV Netherlands Development Organization have been implementing Mangroves & Markets, a project financed by BMUB, the German Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Building, and Nuclear Safety, to support mangrove conservation in Ca Mau through the expansion of certified organic shrimp farming that links a premium payment to maintaining 50% mangrove cover.
This integrated mangrove-shrimp farming, or mangrove polyculture, produces a range of aquatic products, including shrimp, fish, crabs, and mollusks, is resistant to disease because of the regular tidal flows, is economically attractive, and has the potential to play a key role in coastal climate change adaptation.
On February 22, IUCN and SNV organized an end of project workshop in HCMC for 60 participants from Ca Mau, Ben Tre, Tra Vinh, MARD, universities and research centers, shrimp farmers, and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources in Thailand.
Did the project succeed in its central objective of improving the quantity and quality of mangrove forest in the Nhung Mien Forest Management Unit where the project intervenes? An analysis of land cover change by the Space Technology Institute using SPOT satellite image shows that mangrove cover in Nhung Mien increased from 39% to 44% between 2013 and 2015. The largest part of this increase came from sparse mangroves that matured into dense mangroves, the result of improved protection.
Some of the increase also came from mangrove replanting. For 400 farmers with mangrove cover close to but below the 40% threshold, the project co-financed the replanting of 80 hectares of mangroves to bring them to 40% cover. They were then allowed to sign contracts with the Nhung Mien Forest Management Board to reach 50% cover within five years.
As a sign of how attitudes have changed, one farmer explained that mangroves used to be seen as "the enemy" but their value as part of a sustainable farming system is now well understood. Changing attitudes is complicated by the low levels of educational attainment in the Mekong Delta: only 20% of the farmers we work with have a high school education and many of the elder generation are illiterate. This has required a heavy investment in training and retraining.
Business participation in certified organic shrimp farming is essential if the approach is to be sustainable and IUCN and SNV have worked closely with Minh Phu, Vietnam's largest shrimp exporter. Minh Phu has signed contracts with 1,150 farmers managing 4,700 hectares. These contracts offer a price premium for compliance with the Naturland organic standard.
But the details of the price premium have been contested and following a mid-term review workshop in February 2015, the contracts were re-negotiated. Under the new contracts, which were endorsed by six shrimp processing companies, farmers, and the provincial government, farmers receive VND3,000 ($0.13)/kg of certified organic shrimp and VND500,000 ($22)/hectare/year for the mangrove area so there's a direct link between mangrove cover and payment. Together, these payments represent a price premium of about 2.5% compared to the 10% that was originally negotiated.
Ca Mau has almost 100,000 hectares of mangroves, about two-thirds of Vietnam's mangroves. To support the scaling up this approach, SNV negotiated with the provincial government and shrimp processors a decision, QD111, which sets minimum standards for certified organic shrimp across the province.
This decision, which was issued by the people's committee, recognizes organic shrimp farmers as "sellers" of ecosystem goods and services that flow from well managed mangroves. The consumers of organic shrimp, mostly in Europe, US, Japan, and South Korea, are the "buyers". Together, these sellers and buyers form an international PES system. This approach to PES, whereby payments do not pass through a government controlled fund, has been recognized by MARD as part of a national decision on PES that will be issued later in 2016.
Minh Phu CEO Le Van Quang made two key points. First, there is a need to raise productivity, which averages about 150 kg/hectare/year of black tiger shrimp. Quang said that 500 kg might be possible. But the farmers replied that 250 kg was the maximum possible yield. To support increased productivity, SNV published a manual covering all aspects of shrimp culture including pond maintenance and post larvae (PL) selection and nursing. Typically, farmers stock 20 or more PL/m2 while the optimal density is 8-14/m2. But translating this into high yields requires buying high quality PL, which farmers are reluctant to do.
There is currently no organic hatchery in the Mekong Delta. Minh Phu has supported the project by trucking in PL from its hatchery in Ninh Thuan, which it sells to farmers at a loss. At VND70/PL, these cost more than locally produced PL but have much higher survival rates. Increasing yield through the use of healthier PL and improved nursing practices is critical because a small increase in productivity would increase farmer incomes by much more than the premium payment.
The second point related to the costs and benefits of using the Naturland organic standard. Minh Phu is struggling to pass on the extra cost of certification to buyers in its major export markets and in 2015 the company saw revenues fall sharply in the face of stiff international competition. In response, Minh Phu has developed its own brand called "Mangrove Shrimp", which it uses to promote sales, particularly in Japan. The brand reinforces Minh Phu's image as a prestigious company that its overseas clients can trust. Although it has not been accredited internationally, this brand borrows from the Naturland standard but is less strict when it comes to rules that ban eye ablation of the brood stock and require organic PL.
We may move to a system of multiple organic shrimp labels, both international and own-brand, depending on market demand. When it comes to mangrove conservation, the key is to ensure that there is some form of independent monitoring of compliance with the 50% mangrove cover. A 2013 CIFOR review of PES systems in Vietnam identified lack of compliance with environmental goals as a key weakness.
SNV is working with BMUB and partners on the next phase of the project, which aims to scale up this integrated mangrove-shrimp model across the Mekong Delta.
Minh Phu's Quang expressed his commitment to expanding into Ben Tre and Tre Vinh as part of a broader multi-provincial initiative to build an organic coast that's biologically diverse, profitable, and resilient to sea level rise.