High Standards for Basa Farming
Setting High Standards,
Getting Good Results in Vietnam
The following article was published in the Community and Environment section of GAA's February/March 2006 Global Aquaculture Advocate magazine. It was written by Advocate Associate Editor Susan V. Heerin.
The mighty Mekong River's 4,500-km journey from the Tibetan highlands to the China Sea provides huge volumes of water that flow daily through the labyrinth of tributaries, estuaries, and canals that make up Vietnam's fertile Mekong Delta. Hundreds of navigable waterways crisscross the nine provinces, where rice and fish farming and their related industries essentially sustain the 20 million people who live there.
The waterlogged provinces are home to an abundant variety of fresh-water fish, many of which have high market value. The western
Wide and fast-flowing, the
Except for size and volume, the cage structures are similar in design and built primarily of local materials that include water-resistant wood for the frames and sides. Netting encloses the fronts and backs to allow water circulation. Bamboo or PVC rods run the length of the pens to keep them afloat, and large trap doors provide access from the rafts' platform floors to the cages below so the fish can be fed and harvested.
For years, the local farmers have raised basa, employing traditional pond- and some cage-farming practices. Their yields have helped feed their families and sustain the local economy. However, the region's fish farming expanded dramatically over the last decade after the Vietnamese government designated aquaculture a priority for rural economy diversification and development.
The government's commitment has been further advanced in the western Mekong Delta through the efforts of a collaborative partnership between the region's Can Tho University Fisheries Department and the France-based
With the goal of sustainability the cornerstone of partnership projects, technical developments in breeding, nutrition, feed, water quality, and disease control without the use of banned agents have emerged. As a consequence, the basa-farming industry has exploded, and locals have traded artisanal fishing for more profitable businesses in farming, fish reproduction, feed supply, and other related activities.
The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers has also played a significant role in the growth of
Quality Control Incentives
One such company is Agifish, located in Long Xuyan, the busy, industrial capital of An Giang Province. Like other successful processor/exporters, Agifish attaches great importance to clean, safe, and high-quality product, deeming it a decisive factor for the company's success. It acknowledged that as a processor/exporter, it is held accountable for maintaining the strict quality control demanded by the competitive world market.
To address this mandate, Agifish has developed incentive programs to encourage best practices among those who make up their product supply chain. One of its most effective initiatives is the Clean Farming Association, formerly called the 20,000 Ton Club. Open to all interested parties, the club offers technical, educational, and mentoring support to its participants. It also provides technicians who visit farms before each harvest to test for banned substance residues.
In return, association members sign a contract agreeing that they will employ best farming practices that support the HACCP and ISO quality assurance standards under which Agifish operates. Those participants who fulfill the contract with product that measures up in quality are assured priority in the company's purchasing program.
Viet Trieu is a 10-year veteran basa farmer and proud member of the Clean Farming Association. She and her family, who live in a village near Long Xuyan, own two 100-mt cage farms that they and three part-time laborers operate. Trieu explained that there are significant costs associated with basa production, including cage construction, the purchase of fingerlings of healthy origin, and commercial feed.
However, she said: "Since becoming associated with the club, my farm has become more profitable. The quality is higher because the fish are healthier, and so it is easier to sell my product."
Trieu acknowledged that the Clean Farming Association's technical assistance and access to support services have led her to this point. Small but significant examples of this include fee-based access to the "trash boat" to collect the 5% of stocked fish that die and would otherwise cause pollution. She also has access to the Agifish "live hold" harvest boats that collect the members' harvest, thus insuring live product delivery directly to the processing plant. Trieu also learned that salt baths, rather than medicine, relieve the skin disease that commonly afflicts the fish during the change of seasons.
Despite the periodic supply and demand swings of the basa marketplace, with prices which range 10,000-15,000 dong (