Consumers of shrimp farmed in Bangladesh may soon be able to trace the origins of what they are eating back to the producer, thanks to an e-traceability system launched by WorldFish in January.
The system, including a new mobile application, is part of a five-month pilot to try out digital traceability in the shrimp sector under the USAID-funded Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) project.
Dining on information
As part of the pilot project, 300-500 farmers will be connected to a collection center at Borodanga, southern Bangladesh, where the bulk of the country’s shrimp exports are produced.
Field staff will collect and record the management practices of each farm using a mobile application developed by WorldFish and US technology firm SourceTrace on the eServices Everywhere (ESE) platform. Information will include the hatchery that supplied the post larvae and the sources of feed.
These data can then be monitored online by wholesaler buyers explains project leader Erik Keus.
“Wholesale buyers will be able to access information about every stage of production, processing and distribution, from hatchery to harvest,” he says. “So they can confirm the quality and the quantity of the shrimp, and that the traceability regulations for export have been met.”
The purpose of the trial is to test the feasibility and effectiveness of using an app to establish a digital traceability system through the shrimp value chain.
“The seafood industry has one of the most complicated supply chains in the world. There is a number of small and large companies involved from pond to plate and often the small, rural ones keep limited records,” says Erik.
“We’re looking to find a cost-effective solution that can easily and quickly record key information at each stage of the production process.”
Strong demand for traceability
There have been strong calls by governments and consumers, particularly in developed countries, for greater traceability in the seafood industry in recent years. Traceability is the ability to track the source of food, the conditions under which it is farmed, and the intermediaries it passes through.
In 2011, the US introduced the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, making producers more accountable for producing quality and safe food. In 2014, the European Union introduced the EU Traceability Act requiring all food to be traceable back to the producer and adequately labeled.
For producers of farmed shrimp in Bangladesh, complying with these regulations is crucial for selling their products on the global market. The sector exports mostly to Europe and the US, bringing in over USD 500 million each year. In addition, around 250,000 shrimp farmers, based in coastal areas in southwest Bangladesh, depend on it for their livelihoods.
Progress and the future
The system being trialed supports other efforts by the Bangladesh Government to improve traceability in the shrimp and prawn subsectors.
For example, the Department of Fisheries and the Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation recently updated their code of conduct to align with the EU and US laws. The UN Industrial Development Organization-sponsored Better Works and Standards project has also developed a framework to trace shrimp from farmer to collection center to processing plant.
Results of the pilot, ending in May 2016, will be presented to a diverse group of stakeholders in the shrimp sector. If there is involvement from shrimp processors and demand for e-traceability from international buyers, the system will be rolled out to more than 200,000 shrimp farmers in Bangladesh.
“Currently, only wholesale buyers with access to the ESE software can use the pilot app,” Erik says. “But once the system is rolled out and set up, consumers themselves will be able to access information about the shrimp they’re eating.”
Traceability is key to the future of aquaculture notes Erik.
“Consumers want to know that the seafood on their plate is good quality, safe and produced ethically and in an environmentally-friendly way. Proper labeling and traceability systems hold producers accountable and allow consumers to make informed decisions about what they’re eating.”