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Big prospects for organic aquaculture

March 14, 2010

Big prospects for organic aquaculture

By MELPHA M. ABELLO

March 10, 2010, 2:01pm

Why are organic products getting the consumers’ nod in Asia and in other parts of the world?

As consumers today are becoming increasingly aware of the issues concerning food safety, there emerges a positive perception of organic and eco-labeled food products which has given rise to an emerging niche market for such products in recent years. Such development is evident in the increasing demand for organically or naturally produced products, for which consumers are willing to pay a premium price.

In the case of aquaculture, the prospects are bright both in the domestic and foreign markets as there has been an increasing trend in production and demand in the past years, says Tarlochan Singh, chief of Malaysia-based INFOFISH Technical Advisory Services at the recent CFC/FAO INFOFISH workshop series on organic aquaculture production and marketing held in Makati.

Singh said that global organic aquaculture production has posted a 950 percent growth in the last 20 to 25 years, with an expected 500,000 metric tons (MT) annual production in 2015 which is 1 percent of the global aquaculture production. The area for organic aquaculture has also expanded, covering around 35-million hectares as of 2008.

In terms of species cultured, the three most important are salmon, shrimp and carp which comprise 31%, 17% and 14%, respectively, of the global organic aquaculture production. Recently, however, there has been an emerging demand for organically grown Pangasius with Germany and Switzerland as the main importers.

The global food market value for organic aquaculture is growing, especially in the west, according to Fatima Ferdouse, chief of INFOFISH Trade Promotion Division. Global organic food and beverage market is estimated at US$30 billion. Europe’s organic market, for instance, is worth US$20 billion while that of US is worth US$12 to $20 billion.

Why go for organic aquaculture?

Sustainability is becoming a standard in the international market, and one of the main objectives of organic aquaculture is to contribute to the sustainable development of aquaculture sector as it involves practices that ensure farming in harmony with nature.

Organic aquaculture doesn’t use pesticides and antibiotics that are usually employed in conventional aquaculture, thus protecting the consumers’ health.

Organic aquaculture also does not allow the use of genetically engineered inputs in production and processing, giving consumers who wish to avoid genetically modified products a wider choice.

Among the standards followed by CFC/FAO INFOFISH, in general, are the decreased protein and fishmeal diet content, absence of inorganic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, the lowering of inputs in terms of use of energy, preference for natural medicines, and processing according to organic principles.

In Thailand, for instance, specific practices are designed based on the farming system adopted by  the farms. Dr. Lilia Ruangpan, advisor in the Department of Fisheries (DoF) in Thailand, said that traditional, semi-intensive and intensive farming systems all require conservation of diversity. “The use of synthetic vitamins and minerals is not permitted as well as those prohibited substances,” she said.

Singh said organic aquaculture also adopts the intensive monitoring of environmental impact, protection of surrounding ecosystems and integration of natural plant communities in farm management.

Challenges

While organic certification gives the farmers the advantage to command a higher price (about 25 to 30 percent higher than non-organic products) for their products and gain access to the international market, the standards and certification requirements are still among the major constraints in the marketing and production of organic products in developing countries, Singh explained. One of the reasons for this is that certifying bodies have standards that vary considerably depending on the country, certifier and species. Normally, organic aquaculture operations undergo a four-step procedure, and these procedures also entail cost.

Other concerns include narrow range of species, disadvantage for small-scale operators, value adding limited in some countries, and other marketing constraints.

There still are the main issues on organic feed used, traceability of feed ingredients, stocking densities or standing biomass, and organic processing.

Niracha Wongchida, DoF senior expert, stressed that organic integrity must be maintained throughout all steps in the production and processing chain. “This is achieved by the use of appropriate techniques. As much as possible, limit the use of food additives and apply only mechanical, physical, and biological methods in processing,” she said.

Wongchida also noted the importance of traceability in organic products as this aims to support food safety and/or quality of the products based on customers’ specifications. This is also important in case there is a need to facilitate withdrawal or recall of the products under certain circumstances.

The promotion of organic aquaculture in Asia is spearheaded by INFOFISH in partnership with the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

In March 2007, these three organizations launched the $1.4-million three-year project called CFC/FAO/INFOFISH Organic Aquaculture Project which aimed to boost the production and marketing of organic, sustainable, eco-labelled aquaculture products in Asia. This project focuses on three countries (Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand) where the 12 project farms are located. The project also conducts dissemination activities in other Asian countries.

http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/247043/big-prospects-organic-aquaculture

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