Q&A: Educating Asia’s fish farmers

By

Neil Ray, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Bangkok

Published on
July 6, 2010

Bangkok-based Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific (NACA) works with rural communities to develop of aquaculture projects, offering advice and training to existing and potential fish farmers. NACA is hosting the Aquaculture 2010 conference in Phuket, Thailand, from 22 to 25 September.

SeafoodSource recently spoke to Professor C.V. Mohan, NACA’s research and development manager, about the center’s work.

Ray: What work and research is NACA involved in?
Mohan: NACA is an intergovernmental organization mandated to promote rural development through sustainable aquaculture. NACA seeks to improve rural incomes, increase food production and ensure livelihoods through sustainable aquaculture. NACA promotes regional cooperation in aquaculture and small-scale fisheries development and provides technical assistance throughout Asia in partnership with governments, donor foundations, development agencies, universities and a range of non-government organizations and private sector organizations.

The ultimate beneficiaries of NACA activities are farmers and rural communities. NACA programs and projects address the regional priority issues and needs articulated by its 18 member governments. The technical advisory committee of NACA translates the needs and priorities into a regional work program, which is adopted by the NACA governing council. The R&D mandate of NACA is addressed through six interlinked thematic and two cross-cutting work programs:

• aquatic animal health
• coastal aquaculture
• emerging global issues
• food safety and quality
• genetics and biodiversity
• inland aquaculture
• education and training
• communications

There are many organizations working with NACA, including the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations. Do these organizations actively provide input to NACA programs.
Yes. NACA works in close cooperation with regional and international organizations in developing and implementing projects, workshops and capacity-building activities, which are largely regional in nature.

There has been much debate recently between The Catfish Institute in the United States and the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors regarding pangasius farming in the Mekong Delta. What’s NACA’s take on allegations that these waters are polluted?
NACA is currently implementing a better management practices project in the Mekong Delta. There is no evidence to indicate that the catfish-farming sector has overly polluted the Mekong River. All studies conducted and published in the scientific literature indicate that catfish is not contaminated and meets the food-safety and quality requirements. One study demonstrates that producing 1 kilogram of catfish is no more polluting and or environmentally perturbing than producing 1 kilogram of salmon. This study will be published in the journal Ambio in a forthcoming issue.

Thailand has a strong seafood industry. Would you say it is the strongest in Southeast Asia, and do you see the country as one of the leaders of sustainable aquaculture and better fisheries management practices?
Thailand has certainly made very good progress in development of sustainable aquaculture. The COC (code of conduct) and new GAP (good aquaculture practices) program implemented by Thailand’s Department of Fisheries has been recognized globally as a good initiative to promote responsible aquaculture.

Do you see a bright future for Thai fish farmers and the Southeast Asia’s aquaculture industry?
Asian aquaculture is predominated by small-scale farmers. These farmers face numerous challenges in a globalized marketplace, [including] access to technical knowledge, lack of enabling government policies and programs, access to credit and insurance, compliance to food-safety standards (e.g. antibiotics), minimizing disease related losses and meeting stringent market requirements (including certification), environmental and ethical standards and wildlife and biodiversity requirements. At the same time, the demand for quality and responsibly produced and certified aquaculture products is predicted to increase substantially in the coming years. It is very important that small-scale farmers are better prepared to meet these challenges in order to sustain their livelihoods and indeed continue to provide seafood to the consumers. The way to meet the above challenges and the most rational, practical and technically and economically feasible option is to implement better management practices (BMPs).

NACA’s experience with BMP promotion work in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Laos … suggests that BMPs improve yields, safety and quality of products, taking into consideration animal health and welfare, food safety and environmental and socio-economical sustainability.

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