A complex and varied industry
“The aquafarming sector is far from homogeneous”, explained Daniël Knoop, International Aquaculture Programme Manager at Solidaridad and co-founder of STIP. “There are many different types of seafood, and an equal amount of supply chains. It is also the world's fastest growing food industry and is constantly undergoing new developments. New businesses and initiatives are springing up everywhere. However, this type of rapid growth tends to come at the expense of sustainability. We felt something needed to be done." In 2013, Solidaridad decided to launch a new aquafarming product, which could then serve as the basis for a global programme. “The only question was: how do we gain influence in this rapidly changing and complex industry?” Knoop asked.
Untapped market niche
Solidaridad and Wageningen University & Research (UR) both acknowledged the need to gain greater insight into the development of production processes and markets within the seafood industry. The parties decided to collaborate on a new product aimed at increasing transparency within the sector. “If you want businesses to develop sustainability initiatives, you'll have to start by identifying the relevant opportunities”, Knoop explained. “To do that, you'll need to gain insight into the various production chains.”
Buyers also desperately needed greater transparency in order to identify the opportunities and risks of procurement in specific countries, acquire knowledge on traceability, gain insight into problems affecting their production chains and find suppliers capable of providing sustainable products. “At the time, there was no tool capable of offering such transparency, and businesses were prepared to pay for one,” Knoop said.
Transparency via a database
Solidaridad and Wageningen UR developed the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal. “We started by gathering data from factories in Bangladesh, and rapidly expanded our scope to include other countries. We then made these databases freely accessible to the seafood industry through an attractive, easy-to-use web portal.” This Supplier Database was STIP's first product and was soon followed by Sourcing & Investment Intelligence, a free database offering a comprehensive overview of all available information on the fishing industry in a specific country. Knoop added, “We are also currently developing a Buyer Database that will offer factories greater insight into the world of buyers.”
“STIP and Solidaridad really complement each other well. As an objective platform, STIP focuses purely on facts and offers no value judgements. We don't come out and say 'this is right or wrong': we simply start by assessing the industry and its various supply chains. NGOs generally don't have a great track record when it comes to fact-driven interventions, and tend to be guided by an underlying ideology. STIP simply takes stock of the facts that matter to everyone in the industry.” – Daniel Knoop, STIP Co-Founder
Solidaridad can then apply these facts to determine where its sustainability ambitions for the aquafarming industry can be realised most effectively. Solidaridad negotiates with businesses and applies its knowledge to help them achieve concrete solutions and improvements. “Businesses tend to appreciate the fact that STIP is an independent company that is not influenced by any specific opinions or ideologies. They want to get the facts straight before discussing any desirable measures," Knoop said.
Towards a profitable company
Solidaridad will support STIP as long as the start-up contributes to its objective: making aquaculture more sustainable. The company will eventually evolve to operate independently of Solidaridad. “We'll need to expand our database with more countries so that businesses will be willing to pay for our services. It's great to see that STIP is being entrusted with the freedom it needs to experiment and achieve those goals,” Knoop said.