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The Improver Programme in Bangladesh

Sitting on the edge of the Sundarbans, Bangladesh’s Satkhira region forms part of the largest mangrove forest in the world—a vast river delta created by the confluence of the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. This area of wetlands is also among the world’s most important shrimp-producing areas. 

The region’s aquaculture industry is typified by family-run farms using simple, low-intensity farming methods. These ‘smallholder’ farms collectively make up a large part of Bangladesh’s shrimp production and make a significant contribution to the region’s economy. 

Mohammad’s family farms Black Tiger Shrimp in Satkhira, and for as long as he can remember, shrimp farming has been a way of life:  

“My father used to farm shrimp for a long time, and I learnt from him, I hope that my son will farm shrimp like me in the future.” 

However, such simple farming methods have their limitations.

Smallholder farms often lack the required systems and controls to demonstrate responsible aquaculture practices to a wider market, and the rigorous demands of ASC certification are typically beyond their financial and technical reach. 

To address farms like these, ASC launched the ‘Improver Programme by ASC’ with a view to providing the framework and technical support needed to implement improvement via an Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP) whilst ensuring accessibility to even the smallest farm.

The Challenge

Mohammad’s small-scale, low-intensity approach produces shrimp of extremely high quality, which have a significant appeal to customers in lucrative export markets.  

Heiko Lenk, founder of Lenk Group, supplies these lucrative export markets and has always had the aim to develop a higher appreciation for Bangladeshi Black Tiger Shrimp by improving its aquaculture practices and shortening the supply chain. 

This area of West Bengal, near the Indian border, is ideal for extensive shrimp farming. In the farms here, you can find only 1-2 shrimp per square metre, so this is very natural, organic, no feeding (processed feed). So, the shrimp grow by themselves.”” 

From experience, Heiko knew about the excellent quality of shrimp produced by farmers like Mohammad. Although Heiko was also very well aware that certain practices along the supply chain, including PL (shrimp larvae) selection, farming, and even post-harvest practices, must be improved in order to be able to market the shrimps. 

The Solution: The Improver Programme by ASC

In 2023, Luna Shrimp Farms, founded by Lenk Group, was onboarded, and an initial group of 125 farms became Bangladesh’s first AIP under ASC’s Improver Programme. By collaborating in an AIP, know-how is shared, farming practices are improved, and the increasing demand for responsible product in the international market is met. For Mohammad, the support has been transformational:  

“Before joining the AIP, I did not pay attention to the paperwork for the land and never practiced record-keeping. But now I do all the paperwork and record-keeping. After (starting the) AIP, we got a lot of training. We learned how to use advanced technology and equipment to examine the soil and water…. We have benefited a lot from this.”  

The typical structure of an AIP is an improvement plan of up to three years, tailored to the specific requirements of each farm. ASC trained implementers and verifiers provide independent technical expertise, and verify progress at each improvement milestone, providing complete transparency to stakeholders. 

Pla Duangchai, the ASC’s AIP manager for Asia, has seen its impact in Bangladesh first-hand: 

“Shrimp farming is really important for Bangladesh’s economy, but there are a lot of areas which need to be improved. The Improver Programme by ASC is a way to help the farmers to improve their practice and meet the requirement of the international market.”

Social impact

The Improver Programme implements the same principles of the ASC Farm Standard, including focus on the direct and indirect social impacts of aquaculture. Access to education for local children is one of Luna Shrimp Farms’ key support initiatives:  

“We have renovated a school, so we have put electricity there, we have refurbished the entire building, we put fans in, books, pencils, bags, everything. We pay the teachers – the teachers haven’t been paid for months, so this school has a chance to survive.” 

Environmental Sustainability

Each AIP presents different environmental challenges. One focus area in Bangladesh has been the widespread practice of harvesting wild shrimp larvae or ‘PL’.
Although this is a traditional practice, local researchers have found that for every shrimp PL collected, many other organisms are affected. This training was a key improvement area for Mohammad:  

“We didn’t understand the quality of larvae either, so we used to release local larvae into the ponds. Our pond quality would deteriorate, and production was low.” 

The use of ‘Specific-Pathogen Free larvae’ (SPF), relieves pressure on wild stocks, and non-target species, and helps reduce disease in the farm ponds—a good example of where an improvement benefits the farmer as well as the ecosystem.  

“Our production increased by 20-30% since we started using SPF (Specific Pathogen Free) larvae in 2023.”

The Start of Something Bigger

Mohammad’s ambition now goes beyond the Improver Programme. He can see the potential benefits to the local economy, and the country’s aquaculture industry, and his heart is now set on ASC certification, on completion of the programme: 

‘‘If the farming we do for the country is modernised then our yields will also increase. Our state benefits a lot from this, and our state earns a lot of money from shrimp exports. We are working according to the training and I hope we will get the ASC certificate in the future.” 

The Lenk/Luna AIP is ongoing. For more detailed updates on this AIP and others or further information on the Improver Programme by ASC please visit this page.


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