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Benefits of ASC Certification for Vietnamese Shrimp Farmers Identified in New Study  

January 26, 2024

A recent study, carried out on behalf of Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) by independent research firm MacAlister Elliott and Partners Ltd (MEP), has identified that ASC certification can deliver socio-economic and environmental benefits for Vietnamese shrimp farms and their workforce. 

The study identified that ASC certification offers tangible economic benefits, including increased prices and improved profitability, as well as fostering positive environmental practices and enhancing working conditions. 

The study, completed in November 2023, focused on intensive farming of whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei). Thirty shrimp farmers and community members were interviewed in July and August 2023 at individual farm sites within the communities of Hoa Dong, Hoa Tu 2, and Vinh Phuo. 

We interviewed Jill Swasey, Head of Impacts at ASC, regarding the goals and the results of the study. The full public summary can be found here.

What was the goal of conducting a third-party study on the environmental and socio-economic impacts of ASC certification?

At ASC, we want to understand the real impacts that ASC certification has on those engaged in our programme and provide stakeholders with more complete information on those impacts. We rely on this information to demonstrate our impact, measure progress towards our mission and inform further development of our certification system and other services.  

In this case, we recognised that the benefits of an independent study would provide stakeholders, and us, with an objective assessment of the impacts and effectiveness of our certification system. This is in alignment with ASC’s commitment to transparency and a requirement under ISEAL’s Code of Good Practice. 

Who supported you with this study and what approach has been taken?

ASC commissioned the study and from 13 proposals with varying approaches and scopes, we selected MacAlister, Elliott and Partners (MEP). 

The case study looked at the potential socio-economic and environmental benefits realised by ASC certified shrimp producers in Vietnam. The study categorised three clusters of farming operations to represent ASC certified farms, non-certified farms and farms certified under the VietGap (Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices) programme; this third group represents partial certification. MEP reviewed ASC data, and field staff conducted interviews and focus group discussions with representative shrimp farmers and communities to collect data on farm performance and assess benefits and perceptions of certification. 

The study took about nine months to complete, and given the small scope, we acknowledge this as a case study that has helped us identify strengths, weaknesses, and methodological opportunities to apply to future studies.  

What are the main benefits of the ASC certification?

The case study identified that ASC certification can deliver many advantages for Vietnamese shrimp farms and their workforce. The scheme may offer tangible economic benefits, including increased prices and improved profitability, as well as fostering positive environmental practices and enhancing working conditions.  

Community-level impacts are less clear and difficult to quantify without long-term and repeated data collection activities to assess whether impacts are being realised and/or felt outside of the farm. However, ASC certified farms were found to have demonstrable benefits and positive perceptions of certification in their communities though these farms also tend to have larger operations. 

Return on investment

The study identified that although ASC certified farms faced higher costs in electricity, production, and feed, farmers were able to secure better prices per tonne at the farmgate level (up to 76.4% higher), resulting in a more robust net income. This demonstrates the ASC scheme’s potential to enhance the profitability of farms and offset increased operational costs. 

Interviews also revealed that ASC certified farms had to meet more stringent requirements in relation to antibiotic usage and wastewater treatment, and this could result in a higher quality product that could attain a higher selling price for their shrimp

ASC certified farms, which tend to be larger operations, were also found to have better scalability and greater environmental responsibility due to the strict operational requirements of ASC standards. 

Dedicated markets for ASC certified farmers

In terms of sales, ASC certified farms were found to sell directly to processing companies, enabling them to expand their markets globally (Europe, America, Middle East).  Farmers interviewed believe that the direct relationship between ASC certified farms and the buyer improves profitability. 

Stricter farm management and environmental stewardship

Requirements for monitoring environmental impact and adopting management practices embedded in the ASC Shrimp Standard, such as for water quality, provided for stronger environmental stewardship on ASC certified farms. However, it is not clear whether the surrounding community can also benefit from this. The VietGap programme, in contrast to ASC, is tailored specifically to the Vietnamese shrimp industry and therefore is more widely recognised and likely provides environmental benefits at scale.  

Improved working conditions

Surveys found a perceived improvement in working conditions at ASC certified farms, suggesting a direct benefit to workers because of certification. ASC certification comes with a cost to implement many of the requirements – such as those related to the working environment – and it has been shown that employees benefit from these changes, such as employment opportunities, farmer networks and enhanced worker health and safety.

How will you use the findings from this study?

As a first study of its kind, these findings represent important learnings that will need to be further tested across other aquaculture production systems and geographies. We’ll use these findings in future research and analyses as a stepping stone to further corroborate the impacts and benefits of ASC certification and under what conditions they are realised. 

What are the strengths and shortcomings of this study?

The study understood the challenges of attribution and that without a sufficient baseline, we can’t draw assured conclusions from the limited results. The study delivered results from farms which are certified, have partial certification and are uncertified which allows us to make comparisons between the three groups. Recognising the small scale of this study (three clusters of farms consulted with ten farmers in each category interviewed), we acknowledge the limitations and have taken caution in drawing any conclusions.  

What are the next steps?

The full study has presented a detailed review of Vietnam law, the VietGap programme and ASC certification, offering an assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats among them. This information helps ASC further understand where we measure up to national regulations or fall short, helping us consider opportunities to further inform programme improvements.    

We aim to conduct these types of studies every couple of years, looking to broaden the scope and further test the findings from the current work.  

For further information on this study or to provide feedback for future research, please contact Jill Swasey.

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