Coastal communities are learning about the benefits of climate-smart aquaculture and integrated coastal farming systems. More quantitative evidence of these practices is now being documented.
Many coastal communities in Vietnam’s North and North Central Coast (NNCC), one of the poorest regions in the country, rely on coastal aquaculture, particularly integrated aquaculture farming systems for their livelihoods and sustenance. However, climate change and its impacts have negatively affected coastal aquaculture recently by increasing the risks of disease outbreaks and crop failures.
For example, tiger shrimp, the major culture species of many farms in the NNCC, are sensitive to changes in the climate and the environment, such as the salinity level of the water. The shrimp crops are at high risk for failure when the salinity level of cultured pond drops below five parts per thousand (ppt). For farmers, depending solely on one type of crop could therefore be disastrous, especially in the context of increased extreme weather events. Integrated aquaculture systems ensure farmers have more diverse crops on which to depend and earn stable income to enhance their adaptive and resilient capacity to cope with climate change impacts.
In 2015, a project in Hoang Phong commune in Thanh Hoa province began to support aquaculture farmers in improving their farming practices, especially in the light of coping with climate change. The project is called 'Enhancing community resilience to climate change by promoting smart aquaculture management practices along the coastal areas of North Central Vietnam (ECO-SAMP),' and it is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). It is implemented by WorldFish, the Vietnam Institute for Fisheries Economics and Planning (VIFEP) and Thanh Hoa Agriculture Extension Centre.
On-farm research on climate-smart aquaculture practices, specifically raising mono-sex tilapia with tiger shrimp, mud crabs and seaweed, has been conducted over the two-year project duration. The team has been documenting quantitative evidence of the performance and the scaling out of the tested practices in the region.
Reaping what they sow
During the first year of the project, five households participated as a trial model for the integrated farming system. Farmers grew mono-sex tilapia as these could withstand salinity levels of up to 15 ppt. Aside from high salinity tolerance, these fish could also help farmers save money on cleaning their ponds, as well as being more economically viable due to their larger size. These five households increased to 40 in 2016 in Hoang Phong commune (Hoang Hoa coastal district).
Owing to the positive results of the trials, 122 local farmers from Hoang Hoa, Nga Son, Hau Loc, and Quang Xuong coastal districts have also adopted this farming system on their own accord.
This is encouraging, as the researchers found that this particular farming system could increase household incomes above 12%. Due to reduced pond cleaning, farmers saved VND 7 million, which is equivalent to 46 labor days.
Research also showed that farmers in NNCC of Vietnam can integrate other cultured species like fiddler crabs or sea worm (Tylorrhynchus heterocheatus) with rice in estuary fields. Brackish water fishes in coastal lagoons such as orange spotted spinefoot fish (Siganus guttatus)(Cá dìa) and Siganus canaloculatu fish (Cá Kình) can also be integrated in similar systems.
The adoption of such climate-smart aquaculture practices has diversified farmers’ aquaculture production and improved their capacities in purchasing and accumulating family assets. This has also increased women’s incomes and enhanced gender equity.
Prospects for scaling out
Based on the assessment on potential for scaling out, six out of 11 NNCC provinces, with a total potential acreage of about 13,780 hectares, are now targeted. Several social, institutional, technological, and financial barriers, however, still need to be addressed to push through with the upscaling plan.
With more farmers adopting these aquaculture production systems, the team has been shifting the project focus in 2017 to institutional barriers, especially aquaculture value chain structure and its coordination mechanisms for successful scaling out of the proven CSA practices.
Widespread adoption of climate-smart aquaculture techniques also entails building infrastructures to enhance farm-to-market access; improving credit and insurance systems so that farmers can afford their transition to climate-smart aquaculture; and providing an enabling environment for knowledge sharing and capacity development.
The farmers who were first involved would be qualified to train farmers in other provinces in the NNCC on CSAq techniques of integrated farming systems. To harness this potential, both climate-smart aquaculture farmer groups and researchers should establish close partnerships with the private sector for input supplies and product marketing.
As of now, Thanh Hoa Investment and Agriculture Development NT Joint-Stock Company, a local private company, also joined the project to supply necessary quality inputs (seeds, feeds, and other bio-chemical products) and for marketing their products.
The project’s assessment of the CSA interventions would help the farmers and other stakeholders understand the impacts and performance of these practices. Areas, such as coastal communities on the Mekong River Delta, southern Vietnam, could also benefit and learn from the results of the assessment.