Belize City, Belize, December 17, 2015 – A strong will to increase its export market base and achieve the coveted international Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification led to the formation of the Belize Shrimp cluster and it is now reaping the benefits of accomplishing both goals.
Challenged by an unforeseen viral disease which severely impacted the Belize shrimp industry, the cluster still managed to successfully supply UK based multinational retailer Marks and Spencer as well as the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, Sainbury’s, with 1.1 million pounds of shrimp in 2015.
Under the Sainsbury agreement, the shrimp is repackaged under its premium brand and sold exclusively by the chain as it has agreed not to source shrimp from any other supplier under its brand. This has resulted in a higher than projected price premium for exports to these markets.
As a direct result of Compete Caribbean’s intervention, Belize Aquaculture Ltd. – the lead firm responsible for the UK arrangements – was able to guarantee quality, consistency and volume by engaging in purchase agreements for the type and quality of shrimp needed from the other ASC certified farms in the cluster. As a result, even the smallest firms in the cluster plug directly into the export value chain for Belize shrimp.
Alvin Henderson from Royal Mayan Shrimp Farms and The Belize Shrimp Growers’ Association (BSGA) revealed: “Prior to this project, these specialized niche markets in Europe, the US and Canada would have been inaccessible. The fact that queries come from as far as Belgium is also not a surprise to us. We expected that the European market, particularly the UK multiples, would have been the first to seek after our product. Our assumption was correct.” He further added that ASC certification is a pre-condition for international sales.
Back in 2012, a highly competitive process saw the cluster receiving a grant of USD500,000 to prepare for and acquire the ASC certification as well as to strengthen the capability of the cluster. ASC standards require farm performance to be measured against both environmental and social requirements, and certification guarantees buyers that the shrimp they purchase has been farmed with minimal impacts on the environment and the surrounding communities.
In addition, only 20% of shrimp producers in the world meet the rigorous certification standards and the Belize farms success story makes it the first time in the world where almost the entire industry acquired certification. This would improve the competitiveness of the industry and provide for an advantage into key European and North American markets.
Initially eight farms operating as an economic cluster under the facilitation of the World Wildlife Fund, and accounting for 90% of production in Belize, cooperated and committed to the certification process. In April of 2015 all eight received certification! One farm was certified later in the process bringing the total certified farms to nine. The Compete Caribbean grant also paid for studies and assessments to prepare the farmers for the audit, the audit and certification, training and capacity building of managers, supervisors and technical staff in specialized areas such as Pond Management and Feeding, Effluent and Waste Management Control, and Water Quality Collection and Monitoring.
As a direct result, at the farm level, production has increased and the farmers are assured of the value of their production methods to consumers and local stakeholders. The cluster will benefit from the opportunity to group and brand production to satisfy high volume orders, and as an industry initiative, the country brand as a credible supplier of quality, responsibly produced shrimp is objectively qualified and established.
These notable accomplishments bring to close a Compete Caribbean project that has been heralded a great success resulting in direct benefits to the cluster of shrimp farmers, Belize and its people. Describing the BSGA project as a flagship initiative, Celene Cleland-Gomez, Enterprise Innovation Challenge Fund (EICF) Coordinator said: “It was my absolute pleasure to work with the farmers and the WWF in the delivery of this project. They were committed and consistent in their objectives and although competitors they found and maintained common ground for the benefit of all concerned, elevating not just the individual farms but the entire industry to prominence and success. They are a credit to clustering in the region and I will always be proud to have been affiliated with the initiative.”
Cleland-Gomez’ sentiments were echoed by Sylvia Dohnert, Executive Director of Compete Caribbean who expressed delight and extreme satisfaction with the project.