Shrimp : Collaborative project "Group/cluster certification of aqua societies" completed

December 14, 2010 15:07

This two-year project by MPEDA, NaCSA and NACA developed guidelines and methodologies for group certification and pilot tested it in three selected aqua societies in Andhra Pradesh, India, from January 2009 to December 2010, reports with reference to NACA.

Implementation of the project contributed to significant capacity and awareness building of small scale farmers on concepts of aquaculture certification, group/cluster certification, functioning of Internal Control Systems, compliance to mandatory and voluntary standards, traceability, and market access. Pilot testing of the group certification methodology enabled the project partners to understand the issues and limitations of small scale farmer aqua societies to comply with standards and functioning of Internal Control system. The project produced the following key documents:
Guidelines cum methodology for group/cluster certification of aqua societies.
Reference standards and road map for pilot testing of group certification methodology.
Pond data register to facilitate record keeping and traceability.
Cluster certification brochure.
Group/cluster certification training manual.
Pilot test findings on functioning of internal control system (ICS) and compliance to reference standards.
The project outputs will serve as useful resource material to extend the concept of group certification in the aqua societies established under NaCSA and help prepare aqua societies in India to participate in future certification programs. The project has helped to open avenues for linking small scale farmers to modern markets using the concept and principle of group certification and compliance with mandatory and voluntary standards. The project outputs will also have regional relevance for promoting the concept of better management practices (BMP) adoption through a group/cluster management approach and group/cluster certification in order to link small scale farmers to modern markets and support responsible aquaculture in the region.

Aquaculture contributes significantly for food production leading to food security and poverty alleviation, supports livelihood for millions, creates employment opportunities and generates national income; thus it forms an important economic activity. With 70% of the Aquaculture production coming from the small scale farmers, of which 90% have < 2ha of land, aquaculture in India is basically an enterprise of small scale farmers. Therefore, the well being of the small scale farmers is an index of well being of the aquaculture industry. Aquaculture is highly diverse activity consisting of many species, systems, practices, people, and environments. With the limited financial resources and inadequate technical knowledge the small scale farmers are subjected to variety of challenges (animal health and welfare, risk on investment, impact on environment and society, inconsistent demand and fluctuations in market price and so on) both in production and in marketing their produce.

Better Management Practices for improving the aquaculture production
MPEDA - NACA collaboration since 2002 has demonstrated that bringing the individual small farmers of a locality into a compatible and cohesive entity (group/cluster) towards sharing the common resources coupled with adoption of Better Management Practices (BMPs) is the key towards sustainable aquaculture. Motivated by the concept and encouraged by the results, many small scale farmers have come forward and a good number of aqua societies have been formed in maritime states. Complimenting the interest shown by the small scale farmers, MPEDA in 2007 has established a new institution, the National Centre for Sustainable aquaculture (NaCSA) to service the needs of the aqua societies. There are presently 712 aqua societies in operation comprising of 15,753 farmers, covering an area of 16,126 ha with an annual production of about 16,000 tonnes.

Aquaculture certification to enhance opportunities in Marketing of Aquaculture produce
Production and marketing are the two sides of an enterprise which needs synchronisation in meeting consumer demand. Aquaculture products are perishable with a short shelf life; therefore distribution skills and production planning have to be honed to meet market demands. Sharing the food production guidelines with growers, food producers and retailers - specifying how food is grown and what has been used to produce it - is an important contribution to the harmonisation of trade enabling clear and transparent processes. Thus certification is seen as a tool of communication between the primary producer and the end consumer enabling primary producer economic freedom with social responsibility. "Certification is a procedure by which a certification body gives written or equivalent assurance that a product, process or service conforms to specified requirements and is carried out by competent and accredited body" (Adopted from IFOAM). Keeping in view of the fact that nearly 90% of the aqua farmers are small scale operators and the certification for individual farmers is not only prohibitively expensive but also impractical, grouping small farmers with common natural resources becomes imperative to extend coverage to all the small scale farmers cost effectively.

Group Certification
The certification of groups of small scale farmers at a given locality, who share common resources and employing common technology is a practical approach for promoting sustainable aquaculture. It can be achived by using an entity (Aqua Society) that manages and documents a clear and transparent Internal Quality Assurance System. The society provides a legal mechanism for granting recognition to a group of farmers and to manage certification, with certificates issued in the name of the society. Compliance to the set standards both by i) every individual member and ii) collectively (the society) is mandatory for group certification. Responsibility (both individual and collective), unity and compatibility of members are the essence of group certification which calls for an efficient co-ordination among the farmers.

MPEDA /NaCSA - NACA collaborative project on "Certification of Aqua societies"
With the objective to assist the small scale farmers to improve the marketing of their produce (in terms of wider accessibility and better remunerative price) through group certification, MPEDA and NaCSA have signed a memorandum with NACA towards development of group certification methodologies for the aqua societies that would enable them to prepare for and seek group certification from independent third party certifiers or for proposing voluntary certification by the societies themselves.

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