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Reconnecting with farmers post-lockdown: caring and sharing through the ASC Improver Programme

September 30, 2022

By Pla Duangchai

As the world slowly opens up again after more than two years of countries closing their borders, opportunities like a farm visit can mean a lot not only for the farmers but also for us who work in the ASC Improver Programme (IP). For me, this meant a chance to reconnect and talk with farmers after being on lockdown in my home country of Thailand since January 2020. I was curious as to how the pandemic had impacted farm operations and looked forward to speaking with and listening to farmers in person.

In July, together with our project partners ThinkAqua and YAYASAN SINERGI AKUAKULTUR INDONESIA, our team travelled to Situbondo and Probolinggo on the coastline of East Java, Indonesia, to visit shrimp farmers involved in the Improver Programme pilot project. This was funded by the ISEAL Innovations Fund, which is granted by the Swiss State Secretariats for Economic Affairs (SECO). The project aims to develop a credible framework for the Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIP) to engage and support producers in their supply chains with tools and networks to improve performance.

Supporting farmers towards improvement

Farm visits such as these give us the opportunity to hear feedback from farmers first-hand about the value, opportunities, and challenges they experience as they join the Improver Programme. This was also a chance for us to demonstrate examples of best practice, as well as give advice on what needs to be improved.

The Improver Programme helps farmers to continue improving and addressing key challenges in their farms. A key role in the IP is played by Implementers (such as YSAI). They are a third-party trained and qualified by ASC to provide support and training to the producers on the ground to help them implement better practices and prepare for ASC certification.

Whilst some farms can directly move to certification, in reality, many farms are not able to do so just as quickly and easily. For those farms that can’t reach certification (or do not want to), the Improver Programme offers support through training on implementation on better practices (such as water quality management and disease control) to effectively become better farmers, run better businesses, and reduce their environmental impact.

Fifteen farms are now involved in the Improver Programme in Indonesia, consisting of farms that are directly transitioning to certification (4 farms) and those that are undertaking training on better farm practices (11 farms). The main shared challenges across all the farms we visited are complying with coastal barriers and mangrove ecosystems territorial requirements. Farmers also report a lack of technical support and capacity in water quality management, disease control, and farm data collection – a challenge that is most common among small and medium scale producers.

A combination of technical and soft skills

On the field, communication is key, not just in terms of language, but also in understanding the cultural differences at play. Implementers help bridge the gap between the technical language of the standards, and how farmers should practically implement the ASC standards on-site. With the right understanding of both technical and practical applications, farmers become more confident in implementing these improvements on the ground. It is also important to keep this momentum on going by helping farmers understand the long-term benefits of the Improver Programme.

Whilst market access remains the top incentive for farmers to join the Improver Programme, many farmers we talked to want to genuinely improve their production and practices, and simply “become better.” With this attitude, we believe their transformation to responsible farming will be enduring.

In August, the ASC team went back to the area again and visited farms under the Improver Programme in Situbondo and Tulungagung. During this visit, we provided on-site training for the implementer team to understand farm preparation and evidence-based verification of documents and activities for farms transitioning to certification. We believe that working this way with the implementers can help producers feel more confident to transform their business into a responsible production.

Processors also play a key role in encouraging farmers to undergo the Improver Programme to become certified and become better farmers. After all, processors — who source the raw materials from the farms—can give them better prices or provide them with incentives for improved production.

The power of the personal

All in all, the two visits were meaningful and productive. In my role at ASC in supporting both certification and the Improver Programme, being able to speak to farmers on a personal level and understand their needs gave me confidence and inspiration in my role. I was also given the opportunity by Shrimp Club Indonesia to present ASC and the Improver Programme in front of a large audience of Indonesian stakeholders.

After more than two years of missing the opportunity to visit farms in person, I realise that nothing beats building personal connections in the field. After all, improvement within the farm operations comes from the farmers and stakeholders themselves. And there is no better way to engage them but to actively listen to their needs, make them feel supported and to motivate them to do what is good not only for their own farms, but also for the community they belong in.

Confidental Infomation