FAO Aquaculture activities:
an example from VietNam

Raymon van Anrooy1 et Bede Evans2
1 Fisheries and Aquaculture Economist,
FAO Representation, Hanoi, Viet Nam.
or FAO-VNM@fao.org
2 FAO Fish Health Consultant,
Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 1, Bac Ninh, Viet Nam.



Viet Nam is endowed with an abundant supply of water resources that are ideal for fisheries and aquaculture. It has a 3 260 km long coastline, 112 estuaries, 1 million km2 of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and more than 4 000 islands which form many bays, straits and lagoons. The total annual allowable sustainable marine fisheries catch is estimated at 1.4 million tonnes (mt) per year. There are an additional 1.4 million ha of freshwater, brackishwater and marine water-surface available for aquaculture purposes. However, the productivity of aquaculture is rather low (250-300 kg/ha) compared to other countries in the region.

The total fisheries production for 2000 was estimated at 1 969 000 mt, an increase of 15 percent compared to 1999. This increase occurred despite the serious floods that affected the Mekong River Delta in 2000 and caused considerable losses to the aquaculture sector. This production level was reached with 73 600 motorized fishing vessels and an estimated 640 000 ha of water-surface area for aquaculture of fish and shrimp. However, the Ministry of Fisheries (MOF) believes that the figures are underestimated because in some areas up to 70 percent of ricefarmers cultivate fish in their ricefields that are mainly used for domestic consumption.

The number of motorized fishing vessels has increased to 5 578 since 1995. The capacity of fishing vessels increased over the same period to 1 252 728 CV. The number of fishing ports and landing places currently exceeds 700. There were also more than 250 fishery products processing enterprises in 2000, with a total processing capacity of more than 1 000 mt per day.

The total export earnings from the fisheries and aquaculture sector in 2000 was over US$ 1.3 billion, an increase from US$ 1 billion in 1999 (i.e., 38 percent). The fishery sector export figures for the first quarter of 2001 show a continued increase in volume of products and export earnings (12 percent and 25 percent, respectively) compared to the same period in 2000.

The continued increase in export earnings is due to a number of reasons: high demand from foreign countries for shrimp, catfish and cuttlefish; improved quality in production processes (including major renovations in processing facilities to obtain Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and ISO 9000 series certification); and the introduction of value-adding processing techniques. In July 2001, 61 exporting companies were allowed to export to the European Union. Figures from the first six months of 2001 showed that Japan, the United States and P.R. China are still the major export markets for Vietnamese fisheries products, values of US$225 million, US$210 million and US$107 million, respectively. A significant amount of fisheries export earnings is derived from shrimp (mainly the black tiger shrimp, Penaeus monodon). Although the price of shrimp was under pressure on the world market in the first semester of 2001, exports of this product still valued over US$328 million in this period.

It is estimated that there are 3.4 million labourers working in the fishery sector, of which more than 700 000 are involved in aquaculture. The number of labourers involved in the aquaculture sector has grown sharply in recent years and is expected to continue to grow as many ricefarmers in coastal areas in central Viet Nam change to shrimp culture due to poor soil conditions for cultivating rice.

Counting catfish fingerlings (photo RVA 2001) Taking catfish fingerlings for stocking Fish farming in the northern uplands (photo RVA 2000)

FAO support to the fisheries sector in Viet Nam

FAO has lent its expertise and knowledge to Viet Nam over the last two decades to utilize existing water resources and further development of the fisheries sector (including aquaculture). In the 1980s, the focus was primarily on the promotion of large-scale shrimp culture to increase food production and foreign exchange earnings through exports. The scope has since widened to encompass policy advice, research, extension and training, breeding techniques, production and processing techniques, quality control, management support, and food security and poverty alleviation issues.

FAO and the Vietnamese Government strongly acknowledge that aquaculture is a tool that can be used to attain food security and alleviate poverty. Thus, FAO initiated in 1999 the Sustainable Aquaculture for Poverty Alleviation (SAPA) strategy. After many participatory workshops and working groups with bilateral donors (the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, DFID; the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, NORAD; the Danish International Development Agency, DANIDA; the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research, ACIAR; and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, JICA), multilateral donors (the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP; the Asian Development Bank, ADB, and the World Bank, WB) and specialized agencies (the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific, NACA), a national strategy was developed to integrate aquaculture into the governmentís national Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction (HEPR) programme. The primary target group of SAPA will be poor people in rural areas where opportunities exist to diversify and improve livelihoods through aquaculture. In terms of spatial attention, the first focus will be on the Northern Mountains, Central Highlands, North Central Coastal Provinces and the Mekong Delta. (see L.T. Luu in this issue). An implementation strategy for the SAPA programme has been developed which facilitates the support of various donor agencies to the aquaculture sector via multi-donor coordination.

Women in aquaculture in northern uplands Fish trading in Ha Tinh Province

Aquaculture development in Viet Nam has been restricted by a number of factors. In many areas, there is limited access to extension services, financial services and markets. FAO and UNDP have sought to address some of these constraints and empower remote rural communities to sustainably exploit the available aquaculture potential and thus improve their livelihoods. The UNDP/FAO project VIE/98/009 in the Northern Uplands has shown that aquaculture in mountainous and remote areas can support poor peopleís livelihoods. Ethnic minorities living in isolated upland areas have particularly benefited, in terms of food security and income generation. The extension approach used by the project was based on a combination of demonstration farms and Commune Action Groups of fish farmers. It proved very successful, with increased numbers of farmers adopting or re-adopting traditional and new aquaculture techniques.

FAO has strongly supported the fisheries sector in Viet Nam in the fields of policy development and capacity building. The FAO-funded fishery sector policy review completed in 1993 was important in identifying new opportunities for the sector during the period of economic transition. In 2000, FAO initiated a Cooperation and Partnership Group (CPG) comprised of the MOF and the main donors in the sector. It provides a platform to support policy development, increase cooperation and avoid duplication of efforts. In addition, FAO is currently providing assistance to the development of a new Vietnamese Fisheries Law and has supported the Vietnamese Government in the formulating a "National Strategy for Aquatic Animal Quarantine and Health Certification," together with UNDP and NACA (see related article in FAN 26).

Technical assistance has been provided to upgrade the research and training capacity of the Research Institutes for Aquaculture (RIAs) in Ha Bac and Khanh Hoa provinces and the Research Institute for Marine Products in Hai Phong Province. This technical assistance has substantially contributed to an increase in the institutional capacity and efficiency of these institutes. This is now reflected in the rapid development of inland and coastal aquaculture and marine fisheries in Viet Nam.

The Vietnamese Government has several requests for FAO assistance under its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP). However, reaction to these important requests has been delayed. This is because FAO assistance was urgently needed in the Mekong River Delta following the severe floods in 2000. These floods affected the livelihoods of more than five million people and claimed more than 370 lives.

Poor fish-farming households were particularly affected, with most households losing their fish stock just prior to harvest. This meant that their investment in fingerlings, labor and feeds was completely lost in many cases. In addition, many bought nets to encircle their ponds, but the flood waters rose higher than the nets and thus, most of the fish escaped, leaving the poor fish-farming households without income and with decreased food security.

 In response to the UN Inter-Agency Appeal for Emergency Relief and Initial Rehabilitation, FAO (in collaboration with the governments of Norway and Switzerland) provided fingerlings and nets free of charge to more than 2 500 of the poorest and most flood-affected fish-farming households in the provinces of An Giang, Dong Thap and Can Tho. High quality fingerlings of sutchi catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus), common carp (Cyprinus carpio), kissing gourami (Helostoma temminickii), climbing perch (Annabas testudineus) and snakeskin gourami (Trichogaster pectoralis) were distributed to farmers with support from the Aquaculture and Fisheries Sciences Institute of Can Tho University. This made it possible for farmers to restart their aquaculture activities at a time when many of the ricefields were still submerged and rice cultivation was not possible. The fingerlings could be sold at any time during the production season to provide direct cash, or could be used for domestic consumption to support food security. The assistance will also provide information to farmers and extension officers on water quality and fish health monitoring and will assist disease-affected farmers by providing appropriate chemicals and drugs.

Small-scale initiatives in the fisheries sector have been supported in previous years under the FAO Telefood campaign. These include the construction of an ice machine for a group of artisanal coastal fishermen, improvement of fish ponds for groups of women fishfarmers, construction of a shrimp hatchery for farmers affected by the severe storms and floods in Central Viet Nam in 1999, and the construction of fish ponds for a group of leprosy-affected persons to support their livelihood and improve their food security situation.

 Green mussel culture near Cat Ba island (photo RVA 2000)

Future directions of support

The activities of FAO in the Vietnamese fisheries sector will continue under its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) and Telefood project modality. The continued collaboration with the Vietnamese Government, national institutes and other donor agencies is expected to strengthen the sector even further. Areas of focus for the near future include:

  • The development of technical standards for shrimp hatcheries for producing quality nauplii and postlarvae to provide a basis for decreasing the distribution and severity of disease outbreaks, which are considered as being associated with the movement of life shrimp and the rapid transition from extensive to semi-intensive production systems.
  • A coastal fisheries study to contribute to the Vietnamese Governmentís efforts with respect to policies related to the transition to sustainable coastal fisheries.
  • A fisheries marketing and credit study to improve the livelihoods of the people working in the Vietnamese fisheries sector by the collection and analyses of fishery products marketing information and the dissemination of the information obtained to all stakeholders in the sector.
  • Continued FAO support to the SAPA programme, the CPG and the MOF.