Mekong Delta's eco shrimp farming meets global standards

By Chuc Ly   June 17, 2024 | 10:36 pm PT
In Ca Mau, Vietnam's southernmost province, thousands of households practicing ecological shrimp farming under mangrove canopies are now certified to meet international standards.

Ung Van Dien, 46, in Ngoc Hien District is one of the successful ecological shrimp farmers whose market output is being supported by local businesses, which means they signed contracts with Dien to buy the shrimps after harvesting. With six hectares of shrimp farm surrounded by the mangrove forest and covered by its canopy, he earns a profit of over VND400 million (US$15,700) each year.

Ung Van Dien harvests shrimp raised under the canopy of the mangrove forest. Photo by VnExpress/An Minh

Ung Van Dien harvests shrimps raised under the canopies of mangrove forests. Photo by VnExpress/An Minh

"Besides shrimp, I also raise crabs and some fish species," he said, noting such diversifications provide farmers like himself with more stable incomes.

Historically, most shrimp breeds were found naturally in ponds, often located on local residents' land plots. Thus, such farmers – no matter what their main agricultural products were – would often keep them for farming.

Later, as shrimp farming developed into a strong and vast industry and the quality of local water supplies became poisoned by dumping, pollution and chemicals. The amount of natural shrimp breeds decreased, so farmers had to buy cultivated shrimp larvae for farming, even though they still maintained traditional farming methods.

Around the ponds, they preserve various types of mangrove trees like Rhizophora, Avicennia, and Bruguiera. The roots of those trees provide a refuge for shrimp and other aquatic species.

"The canopy reduces water temperature, and the fallen Rhizophora leaves decompose to become the main food source for the shrimp," Dien explained, mentioning that shrimp are harvested gradually from four to six months of age. As they mature, they tend to move towards the sea. At this time, during the two large tidal surges each month, farmers release water and use nets at the sluice gates to harvest the creatures.

About 30 km away, Bui Van Si, 65, has been raising environmentally friendly shrimp for nearly a decade. His seven-hectare shrimp pond under the canopy of mangrove forests is supported by an investor who pays VND500,000 per hectare to cover the cost of breeds, and to ensure that the ecological shrimp farming process employed are in line with export standards. The company then also buys the entirety of the farm's raw shrimp bounty. The company secured a contract to purchase the entire shrimp harvest for export, ensuring guaranteed sales for the farmers.

Thanks to current advanced techniques, Si first breeds his shrimp in containers before releasing them into the pond to farm them properly. Despite the extensive care required, this method increases the survival rate of shrimp, leading to a more stable income.

On average, Si earns a profit of nearly VND500 million per year, about 30% higher than when he used more traditional methods.

These ecological shrimp farming models were first developed in the southernmost province in the last years of the 20th century, before 2000.

The market took very well to the quality of ecological shrimp from the province, and seafood processing firms began cooperating with forest management units to build shrimp farming areas under their mangrove forest canopies, using ecological and organic methods under international certifications.

Currently, Ca Mau has nearly 40,000 hectares of ecological shrimp farming under its mangrove forest canopy. The largest concentration is in Ngoc Hien District, accounting for nearly 23,000 hectares. Of these figures, about 20,000 hectares of the mentioned shrimp zones are certified according to international standards.

A group of experts and buyers from other countries visited the shrimp farming model under the forest canopy in Ngoc Hien district. Photo by VnExrpress/An Minh

A group of experts and buyers from other countries visit a shrimp farming model under the forest canopy in Ngoc Hien District of Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/An Minh

Le Dinh Huynh, General Secretary of the Vietnam Sustainable and Clean Shrimp Alliance, said that ecological shrimp farming closely resembles natural farming and requires meticulous attention to detail, from selecting breeds to maintaining the farming environment and water quality.

Additionally, farmers must follow stringent regulations and quality standards verified by experienced and independent, reputable parties. Consequently, the production volume, quality, and selling price of ecological shrimp are all now higher and more stable than naturally farmed shrimp.

The alliance, along with businesses, is facilitating local farmers' access to international shrimp standards, as well as meeting the market demand for sustainable shrimp products domestically.

Through the alliance, various parties participate in the ecological shrimp value chain, from breed production, farming, purchasing to processing and consumption.

Phan Hoang Vu, Director of Ca Mau’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that aquaculture under the mangrove forest canopy is a form of cultivation linked with forest protection, and it includes many species of shrimp, fish, crabs, blood clams, and mudskippers.

Today, this model is also seen as a carbon absorption method, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, suitable for green development, and providing a stable income for farmers with forest contracts.

Ca Mau, Vietnam's southernmost province, is the only in the country with three sides bordering the sea. It is the locality with the second longest coastline, of 253 km, after Khanh Hoa's.

It is also home to favorable weather conditions for the development of aquaculture.

The province has the largest shrimp farming area in the country at nearly 280,000 hectares. It aims to maintain brackish water shrimp farming area by 2025, with a total production of 280,000 tons, and an export value of US$1.4 billion.

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