What you need to know:
- Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institution data puts demand for fish at 500,000 tonnes against local production of 189,000 tonnes.
- The government should work with stakeholders to come up with ways of making the country less dependent on imports.
The government is once again considering a ban on fish imports from China, raising questions about the ability to meet internal demand. Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institution data puts demand for fish at 500,000 tonnes against local production of 189,000 tonnes.
The population is projected to grow from 53.5 million in 2020 to 70 million in 2030. With an annual fish consumption of 10 kilogrammes per person, the continental average, that means a fish deficit of 461,100 tonnes by 2030.
Besides, Kenya exports some of its fish products; so, we should embrace competition. Again, fish from China is significantly cheaper than the locally produced ones.
A recent report shows some consumers prefer the dearer local fish owing to their better quality to frozen imports. Chinese fish are lighter and smaller, making them attractive to low-income consumers, which leaves the rest of the market open to the bigger and heavier fish produced locally.
That means if stakeholders could be innovative and sustainably increase their yield and improve the value chain, the local catch could reclaim its share of the market.
Like most of the world, Kenya’s fisheries resource is at their limit; hence, aquaculture is viewed as the new frontier for food security. Should we stop all fish imports, aquaculture would have to triple its efforts to bridge the widening gap between fish demand and supply. This calls for a shift in mindset from peasant fish farming to commercial levels.
The first step is for farmers to take advantage of economies of scale to cut production costs. Secondly, we need to learn from experience in aquaculture. For example, most government and donor programmes promote the peasant approach to fish farming, mainly for boosting household consumption for food and nutritional security.
Once the donor pulls out, the project collapses. Look at the Fish Farming Enterprise Productivity Program (FFEPP) of 2009-2012. When government assistance was reduced some years ago, the production of tilapia in ponds declined sharply by 37 per cent. Most of the farmers who abandoned pond fish farming cited high cost of inputs as the primary reason.
The government should work with stakeholders to come up with ways of making the country less dependent on imports. Some interesting questions for all of us to ponder would be: If fisheries sector continues with business as usual in the next 30 years, what are some of the certainties and uncertainties to deal with and how will it affect stakeholders?
In case of future pandemics, can the country be food-secure? How do we achieve faster aquaculture growth and what is the implication to different stakeholders? How do we balance our net fish trade? How can we reduce post-harvest losses?
Let the government go slow on its Chinese fish ban and come up with evidence-based data to guide their decisions lest food security remain a mirage.