Place-based sustainability refers to sustainability improvement initiatives that account for the unique needs across different communities and environments. “We believe it fosters solutions rather than forces them,” Corey Peet, Interim Managing Director at ASIC, tells Food Tank.
ASIC prioritizes relationship building and storytelling throughout the improvement program to help producers gain direct market access, increase transparency for consumers, and secure a higher market price for producers. “[Through] relationship building, we ensure that the difference between normal [market] price and what is deemed to be a fair price is [passed on] to farmers,” Trini Pratiwi, ASIC Project Manager tells Food Tank. That impact is multiplied by the 1,281 smallholder producers that ASIC works with. ASIC also helps mitigate the risks that producers face by distributing costs related to the climate crisis and disease throughout the supply chain.
ASIC also works with producers to develop and implement sustainability standards under Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIPs). The goal of AIPs is to generate and provide incentives to improve standards in fisheries. According to ASIC, it is becoming common for international buyers to see AIPs as a step in the direction of certification. AIPs differ from certification schemes, allowing stakeholders to be included from the start, rather than having Western-led certifying bodies impose requirements.
“It’s important to realize that the Global Sustainable Seafood Movement is dominated by western NGOs and western buyers who have made sustainability commitments that they are now trying to fulfill,” Peet tells Food Tank. “However, the tools that they have to fulfill these commitments are essentially global certification standards that were designed and implemented by western stakeholders.”
Globally, only 13.1 percent of wild seafood is certified, and 7.3 percent is undergoing a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP), or “making improvements,” according to a 2019 Sustainable Seafood report produced by Certification and Ratings Collaboration. The same study reports that just over 30 percent of farmed seafood is certified, with 66 percent needing improvement or not yet assessed.
“We’ve developed various sets of standards customized to Asian producers depending on the level of scale of farming, as well as the target requirement between processors and buyers,” Pratiwi shares. “It’s a long process where we engage farmers, processors, and buyers from the start.” AISC works with farmers and processors to help them collect data and self-assess their farms. ASIC then uses this data to create an analysis of current practices and outline necessary improvements, such as improving biosecurity and reducing the amount of fertilizer used.
Once producers implement the changes needed to meet these sustainability standards, ASIC provides the final verification and works with a third-party certifying body, such as National Sanitary Foundation (NSF), to certify the product. ASIC also utilizes QR codes and other technological tools to help tell the supply chain story and track the 1,281 producers internally.
But Pratiwi tells Food Tank that it can be challenging to identify international buyers willing to share the risk across the supply-chain and cultivate long term relationships with farmers. Most buyers want a quick solution to the certification process. However, ASIC’s program to support farmers up to the first improvement level/tier often takes a minimum of seven or eight months. “We need buyers that are more progressive, that are more open to [moving] beyond only certification schemes,” Pratiwi says.
Finding ways to cluster farmers into groups to address their questions and concerns is also a challenge because of the large quantity of small-scale farmers ASIC works with. To address issues producers may face such as disease, decreased water quality, decreased salinity, and low productivity, ASIC has established facilitated group training sessions.
Despite the significant contribution of women throughout the industry supply chain, Pratiwi shares that their contributions often go unrecognized. ASIC is working with suppliers to ensure that social and gender standards are being implemented, including equality and non-discrimination, women economic empowerment, fair recruitment and decent working conditions, safe working environments, freedom of association, and respect for local communities.
According to a 2020 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, approximately 60 million people work in the fishing and aquaculture industry. Of these workers, 14 percent are women and 85 percent live in Asia. While men primarily work in open sea harvest and cultivation, women are more likely to be involved in seafood processing. This includes sorting, grading, peeling, and packaging seafood. Across ASIC’s workforce, women comprise up to 80 percent of the processing workforce depending on the plant and region.
Pratiwi emphasizes that it is crucial to establish social and gender standards throughout the seafood supply chain to make it easier for women to contribute– and to ensure that they are properly recognized and compensated for their work.
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Photo courtesy of ASIC