Communities in the Philippines and Laos are benefiting directly from a Swiss retailer´s investments into sustainable supply chains.
With massive global demand, tuna fishing in the Philippines has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry. Progressively bigger boats have swept ever greater quantities of fish out of the water. The one thing that’s been shrinking are the tuna stocks. Yet around the islands of the Philippines, thousands of people continue to fish in the same way they have for decades: a small boat, a handline, a single hook. Because they target large tuna that have already reproduced, it is an inherently sustainable method.
Now these artisanal fishers have a chance to compete with the big commercial players, thanks to a WWF project supported by the German Investment and Development Bank (DEG), Swiss retailer Coop, its tuna supplier Bell Seafood and Dutch importer Sea Fresh. The project is supporting around 5,200 fishermen on 3,200 boats to supply European markets and get the yellowfin tuna fishery ready for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
In Switzerland, whenever possible, Coop sources via Bell Seafood all its fresh tuna from the project. “When they see that there is a retailer of
consequence like Coop that wants to buy fish directly from this project, it takes away the pressure to fish more intensively or neglect sustainability,” says Urs Weingartner, responsible for Coop’s fish buying strategy until April 2013 and now project leader at Bell. “Our involvement and commitment shows that their selective fishing methods are a worthwhile alternative.”
For Coop, sustainable sourcing is simply good business sense. “Yellowfin is the most important species of tuna, and if we don’t contribute to saving resources then one day we simply won’t be able to sell it,” says Urs. “Either because tuna stocks are too low, or because concerned customers won’t buy it. It is worth investing now in responsible practices that will contribute to securing supplies in the long term.”
While the fishing methods have not changed, the fishers understand the demands of the European market better – for example, they now always carry ice on board to keep the fish fresh. The project is also enabling them to meet MSC criteria, including scientific monitoring and measures to safeguard the tuna stock, which are often difficult to achieve for small-scale fishers. “A project like this should be clearly differentiated by a consumer-logo in the long-term,” Urs believes. “The best way to do so is by entering MSC certification one day.”
Investing in innovation
For some products, however, certification does not exist. Until recently this was the case with rattan, a tropical palm widely used in furniture and handicrafts. The rattan industry is worth US$4 billion a year, but supplies are becoming scarce as the forests where it grows are destroyed. Overharvesting of rattan can itself cause forest degradation, while chemicals used in processing rattan products can pollute soil, air and water, and pose a health hazard.
Coop has worked with communities in Laos to bring the world’s first Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified rattan onto the market – part of a larger WWF project to promote sustainable rattan production in the Greater Mekong. More than 700 people, predominantly women, from seven villages in Khamkeut district in the Bolikhamxay province are involved in growing, harvesting, splitting the rattan and weaving it into baskets to be sold in Coop’s stores. This has improved the livelihoods of many families: “Our income has risen from US$70 to US$150 over a production period of three months,” says Kensy Milatid, weavers group leader, Thaveng village.
“Somebody needs to start projects like this,” says Carine Boetsch, responsible for the brand Oecoplan and FSC label at Coop. As a relatively small market with high awareness of certification, Switzerland makes a good testing ground”.
Coop itself does not sell large quantities of rattan, but its commitment is vital to get the project off the ground. “Bringing a sustainability project like this up to commercial scale is a big challenge,” she says. “It takes time and money to build capacity to meet the demands of the big players, so suppliers need support before they become economically viable. This is an important first step.”