Application of good agricultural practices, or GAP, to improve quality and safety will enable sustainable development of aquaculture, a conference heard in HCM City on October 8.

The conference sought to create a platform for stakeholders in aquaculture to share information and seek co-operation in strengthening application of VietGap, the Vietnamese version of GAP, and boosting sales of VietGap-certified products.

Pham Anh Tuan, the Fisheries General Department's deputy general director, said rapid development of the aquaculture industry in the last few years has led to environmental pollution and disease outbreaks, threatening the industry's development.

Consumers nowadays not only demand quality products but are also concerned about how they are produced, he told the conference, organised by the General Department of Fisheries and Metro Cash&Carry Viet Nam.

"Like other aquaculture certificates such as GlobalGap and ASC, VietGap certification also covers environmental protection, food hygiene and safety, social responsibility, and product origin to ensure our aquaculture industry can produce a lot of fish and shrimp, but do not have an adverse impact on the environment and can easily trace product origins."

It would help Vietnamese aquaculture products gain wider acceptance in both domestic and international markets, he said.

Nhu Van Can, deputy director of the Department of Aquaculture, said the country's good agricultural practices focus on inspection of on-farm production and inputs to raise awareness of standards among producers and develop brands for Vietnamese aquaculture products.

When farmers adopt VietGap they can easily upgrade to other certificates required by import countries, he pointed out.

Under the Government's policy on VietGap development in aquaculture, the country would foster its application in breeding of key export items like tra fish, tiger prawn, and white-leg shrimp, he said.

Government agencies are also working to find more markets that accept VietGap-certified products, he stated.

But he admitted that it is not easy to popularise VietGap among aquaculturists.

Many participants said farmers are reluctant to adopt the safe production method because they think it is expensive and makes them uncompetitive.

Tuan said adoption of VietGap standards may cause high production costs in the initial stage, but in the long run it helps reduce costs and improve the quality and competitiveness of Vietnamese goods.

Adopting the standards helps farmers sell their produce more easily and significantly cut costs since fish contract fewer diseases, he explained.

Philippe Bacac, chairman and managing director of Metro in Vietnam , said his supermarket has co-operated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to develop the fisheries sector as part of the "Public Private Task Force on Sustainable Agricultural Growth in Vietnam ."

The programme aims to raise productivity and incomes for farmers while securing the sustainability of both the fisheries industry and the environment, he said.

Under the programme, since 2011 Metro has worked with farmers in the Cuu Long ( Mekong ) Delta to ensure the supply of best quality products for its outlets.

Truong Dinh Hoe, general secretary of the Viet Nam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors, said: "Most seafood processing firms have good food safety control systems. We need to focus more on checking the pre-processing stage to ensure sustainable development ." .-VNA