Q&A: Fairtrade prawns coming to market

UK consumers may soon buy the first fairtrade seafood as the Fairtrade Foundation kicks off the process for a new fairtrade category. SeafoodSource spoke with Kenneth Boyce, the foundation’s product and standards development manager, about the launch of the non-profit organisation’s first-ever fairtrade label for prawns. The foundation is the UK member of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO), which gathers together 21 labeling initiatives across the world, as well as networks of producer organizations.

Partos: When can we expect the first fairtrade prawns?  

Boyce: The first fairtrade prawns could be on supermarket shelves as early as 2012. This is the first third party ethical certification that we are aware of. The public consultation process is expected in April, and we hope to have set the standard, with the first certified fish farm, by the end of 2011.

Why did you decide on prawn farms as the first seafood fairtrade label? 

We carried out a lot of scoping work, and all roads led back to shrimp. We’ve been looking at seafood over the years, and then started to study the area about two years ago. Research that we have collated is presented to the stakeholders groups who get involved in the dialogue. It’s very important to us that they are all on board. The feasibility study we initially carry out does look at how many people the potential certificate would touch and why we should allocate money to a new category.

How do you perceive the label? 

It's not an environmental or eco-certificate. The key word for the process is development: we want to help producers move forward, step by step, and aid them to achieve a fair price, that reflects the cost of production. We aim to help them gain a greater sense of the direction they wish to go. It's about helping to empower the producer. Certification would also potentially give them access to new markets.

The majority of our work has been done in Asia, on the small-scale holder. Essentially, small scale is a farmer dependent on the activity for their income and fully employed in this activity. However, the actual definition would be defined in final certification measures. In terms of small-scale seafood farmers in Asia, the figures vary but there could be between 8 and 10 million. It’s hard to tell how many are shrimp.

What are the challenges in calibrating fairtrade into the seafood supply chain? 

Each supply chain has its own specific challenges, unique to the industry: Resource conflicts, for example, could be involved in shrimp activities. A fair price is core to the Fairtrade Foundation — I think when we look at price and costs for the shrimp producers it will be harder to define, given the whole range of production we may well ask is it actually feasible to set a fair price?

Our public consultation process (expected in April) lasts 60 days, and we really want feedback and to judge whether the measures we've outlined will adequately change the situation. Within our process there is the notion of progress criteria that gives producers the leeway to set up their own timeline. We aim to work with producers to implement Best Practice.  

How would the certificate function for potential fairtrade prawn producers? 

Producers would have to fulfill criteria articulated in the specific measures for the fairtrade prawn label. They would need to think carefully about the certificate, with a cost-benefit analysis.

Are you looking to extend the portfolio for fairtrade seafood? 

Yes, this is a vast industry and seafood is a very important commodity in the developing world. We ask ourselves what the producers have to market. We would be very interested in looking at tilapia, which would also involve Africa.

How do you see yourselves in the context of other seafood certification schemes? 

We are a not a rival to other schemes. The emphasis is development for the small producers where they clearly need a fairtrade mechanism. A dynamic standard that takes producers enables producers to actively map their own futures at their own pace.


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