Apologies for the delayed update; the week managed to get away from me.
The fourth meeting of the Pangasius Aquaculture Dialogue (PAD4) transpired much like its predecessors, at least in my experience. While the stakeholder representation was diverse and thoroughly sampled many different sectors involved in the Southeast Asian catfish farming industry, the double-whammy of a grueling agenda and our reliance on consecutive translation rather than simultaneous managed to impede our work early on. While much of what needed to be discussed was indeed brought to the floor, many of the critical subjects at hand were not explored as thoroughly as they deserved. Aside from this, however, the meeting was actually quite productive.
It’s interesting to be involved in this process; to see the sausage-making that goes on inside the box of certification development. The attractive thing about the PAD is that its structure, like that of the other Aquaculture Dialogues, truly does endeavor to make that box as transparent as possible. In fact, that is the primary reason why I believe that this process may actually succeed.
Much of the criticism of other aquaculture certification groups, such as the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and GlobalGAP, is based on the fact that during the formative stages of these institutions, neither transparency nor full stakeholder participation was emphasized. Many environmental groups challenge these standards on this principle. If neither the reasons nor the process behind a given set of benchmarks are open to examination, how can one truly buy into the idea that a certification is indeed a marker of sustainability?
Over the last few PAD meetings, I’ve been privileged enough not just to participate and have my say on how I feel the standards should be set, but also to be able to interact with other stakeholders whom I may never have met otherwise. It’s not every day that someone like me, a Greenpeace Campaigner, gets to sit down with thoughtful, articulate representatives of feed companies, major retail operations, and production facilities, and talk shop over duty-free scotch or a cold mangosteen smoothie.
The active word in this whole process is “dialogue,” after all (forgive the archaic spelling). It’s a chance to not just have one’s say, but to listen to others as well, and hopefully to emerge from the process with not just another line item crossed off one’s agenda, but with a deeper and more multi-dimensional understanding of the issues at large. To be perfectly honest, when I first came to the PAD two years ago, I was demanding standards and benchmarks that were based in part on simple ignorance. I’ve learned a great deal from the other people within the PAD – from the small-scale Vietnamese farmers to the French importers, and from my supposed enemies among big business to my quotidian contemporaries within the environmental movement.
No, I don’t think everything emerging from the PAD is perfect. There are still some nascent standards (especially regarding the feed chain, chemical use, and water pollution issues) that must be tightened up – and trust me, I’m not letting it go without a fight. But in spite of this, I marvel at how much I haven’t had to fight for, and at how many times we’ve all really wanted the same thing.
Environmental sanctity. Animal welfare. Social justice. A healthy, productive Mekong Delta, and a prosperous population dwelling within it. There is no arch-villain opposing these ideals, scheming in his underground lair as to how to best ravage the environment and enslave the local populace. Instead, there’s a diverse group of individuals with a surprising amount of commonality amongst their goals and ethics… and who all happen to have an inexplicable fascination with all things catfish.
I’ve found myself energized by what the PAD theoretically stands for — the idea that, in order to save this planet and heal our oceans, we must work together. We environmentalists must check our pride at the door and work hand-in-glove with those same forces that we had once dismissed, belittled, and demonized. This kind of unity can straddle cultural and political divisions, and can forge new pacts between erstwhile foes. It is a truly powerful force, and just maybe, it can help to forge a better world for all of us.