Commercializing Fishery

Why it Remains a Daunting Task

Historically, fish has played an important role in food security for many countries. Globally, it contributes 15-20Pct of current total animal protein intake requirements. Ethiopia is among nations with a vast potential in this regard. The country has many lakes and rivers for fish production and various species exist in these bodies of water. But the current annual production—57,360 metric tons—only satisfies a fraction of the demand. Instead of becoming a commercialized and thriving industry, the fishery sector in Ethiopia still remains a small scale and artisan-oriented industry. EBR’s Kiya Ali investigates.

It has been almost two decades since Yohannes Geremew started selling fish at his outlet around Piassa, in Addis Ababa. He comes from a long familial line of fishermen. His father and grandfather used to fish using traditional methods in Lake Zeway to sell to residents of Zeway town, located 166 kilometers south of the capital.

“My family and I have many years of experience catching and selling fish,” Yohannes told EBR. He sells around 50 kilograms of fish daily on regular days which grows to 80 kilograms during fasting seasons.

Yohannes sources the fish from traditional, small-scale, and artisanal fishermen who catch fish from the bodies of water around Zeway, Meki, and Koka. But often he has to shift to other fishermen in other areas because of supply fluctuations. “Over the last 20 years, my income from the fish selling business has increased only marginally. It is not even enough to support my family let alone reinvest and expand the business.”

Just like Yohannes, many engaged in the sector say nothing has changed in the fish sector for the past 50 years. In fact, the contribution of fishery to the agrarian-based national economy remains negligible. The share of fishing to the agriculture sector is currently only 0.3Pct, according to the 2018/19 report by the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE). The largest contribution for the agricultural sector comes from crop production, which accounts for 64.8Pct, with the rest from animal husbandry and hunting.

While the majority of the rural population prefer farming and less so animal husbandry, the tripling of the population over the last half-century plunged the average-farm-land-size per household to less than 0.5 hectares. As a result, the need for alternative sources of food is increasing in Ethiopia.

Although fish can be utilized as an alternative source of food in Ethiopia, a country usually known as the water tower of Africa, fishery remains far from supporting the livelihoods of landless rural people, let alone commercialization and significant contributions to the national economy.

The current annual production of fish in Ethiopia is 57,360 metric tons, 31Pct lower than the government’s plan. Half a million people are engaged in fishing in Ethiopia, according to data obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). Abyata, Chamo, Langano, Abay, Tekeze, and Omo are the lakes and rivers identified as large resources of fish. All are natural sources of fish except Tekeze, where fish thrive in the lake behind a hydroelectric dam.

Insiders stress that the problem is not lack of demand but rather the absence of sustainable supply. “Demand for fish is increasing owing to an increase in per capita income and the opening of high standard hotels and restaurants,” explained Hussain Abegaze, Director of Fish Resources Development at MoA. “The menu of high-quality hotels and restaurants wouldn’t be complete without seafoods enjoyed by many foreigners in Ethiopia. Even Ethiopians are now consuming more and more fish.”

Those engaged in commercial fish production acknowledge the problem is supply. “There is no problem on the demand side. Our biggest challenge instead is the absence of quality locally produced feed,” explains Alemayehu Degefa, CEO of Trout Fish Farmer. “So, we are obliged to import and that increases our production cost and reduces profitability.”

Established with a startup capital of ETB2 million, Trout Fish Farm has 12 artificial ponds with a maximum production capacity of 3,000 kilograms of fish annually. Nine months to a year is needed to produce fish ready for market.

Due to the absence of a sustainable local supply and absence of commercialization and industrialization, Ethiopia’s fish market is leaning on imports. “Accessing inputs like fish feed and the absence of proper natural resource management are outstanding problems. The nearby river we use as a source of water for the ponds is usually contaminated. The fish mortality rate is around 30Pct due to this contamination. Importing technologies and upscaling production is impossible due to constraints in accessing finance.”

Studies reveal that the fish market inertia prevailed as a result of the lack of attention and regulation of the nation’s water bodies. But Aschalew Lakew (PhD), Director of Natural Fisheries and Aquatic Life Research Centre at Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research, says it is more than that. “Currently, fish is mainly produced from natural sources. This is not enough to fully satisfy consumers’ demand. Fish from natural resources cannot sufficiently meet production targets. The only way to maximize supply is to invest in commercial fishery.”

Clearly, the existing small scale and artisan-oriented fishing industry is inefficient and cannot evolve with dynamism to consumer needs. It cannot currently stand-in for the imported fish that hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets require. Local fishers follow resource than market.

No major investment has been made in the fishery sector since the establishment of the former Ethiopian Fish Corporation. This state-owned corporation used to have modern fishing boats, butcheries, cold warehouses, and vehicles equipped with cold rooms and several other technologies in its end-to-end value chain. The Corporation, which used to harvest fish from lakes around Arba Minch, for example, also had a chain of retail outlets across the capital and many regional cities. However, after the Corporation was privatized, the buyer flipped the urban outlets to other purposes and abandoned the fishing facilities and technologies on the lakes.

In addition to the absence of investment, lack of regulation and credit, backward technologies, absence of standards and research facilities are the major factors contributing to the sluggish progress in commercializing the fishery industry.

To improve the situation, the government is looking to uplift the sector within the next decade by identifying it for its potential towards food security, job opportunities, and alternative source of income for the rural populace to improve their livelihoods sustainably. According to the ten year plan of the MoA, fish production is expected to increase to 137,000 metric tons by 2030. The plan targets 39,000 metric tons to be harvested from major lakes, 68,000 metric tons from dams and small water bodies, 17,000 metric tons from rivers, and 13,000 metric tons from aquaculture.

According to the plan, massive works will be undertaken to modernize the fishery sub-sector within the next decade. This includes disseminating information regarding inputs and market opportunities, producing adequate manpower, ensuring input supply, introducing new fish varieties, substituting imported fish products locally, providing new fish breeds and inputs for investors, and building fish breeding facilities. The plan also envisions increasing the number of investors in the fish value chain by 5Pct every year.

To attain the targets, the government plans to release 658 million new fish of various breeds to natural water bodies in the next ten years. Additionally, 8.1 million fish will be distributed to farmers from agricultural research centers.

Aschalew, on the other hand, stresses attracting private investment in the sector to expand fish production and all its potential. “ Moreover, a law preventing overfishing should be introduced and properly implemented. Currently, anyone can be a fisher and it is greatly affecting the fish stock.”

Wasihun Belay, Agricultural Economist with more than a decade of experience, recommends installing an integrated market system to promote the commercialization of the sector. “Government and other stakeholders should establish improved fish marketing systems to ensure its accessibility in all parts of the country.”

Insiders also suggest the government can boost investment by discouraging import by increasing taxes and duties on imported seafood. For Hussain, providing incentives to investors who want to be involved in agro-processing industries that focus on fish products will help uplift the sector. EBR

9th Year • Oct 16 – Nov 15 2020 • No. 91

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