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Fishing and fish products in Africa: the untapped potential for a regional market.

Africa is a continent that is endowed with plentiful fish resources in oceans, rivers, lakes, floodplains but fish farms accounts for just 4.9% of global fish trade. Though African countries are endowed with an enormous coastline and with fish resources from oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, floodplains and fish farms, which generate a range of benefits including food and nutrition security, livelihood, exports and biodiversity, the continent only accounts for 8 million tonnes or 5.1 per cent of the world’s total fish production (capture plus aquaculture, 2007). In the subsequent years, Africa produced a total of 9.9 million tonnes of fish in 2010, of which 2.7 million (1/3) came from inland fisheries, 1.49 million tonnes from aquaculture and the rest from marine capture fisheries (FAO 20141).

As the global population grows, so does the demand for fish and the pressure on aquaculture to increase productivity. In 2003, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the World Fish Centre published ‘Fish to 2020 – Supply and Demand in Changing Global Markets’. This report predicted that by 2020, sub-Saharan Africa 5.9 million tonnes from capture fisheries and 132,000 tonnes from aquaculture, representing annual growth of 2% and 6% respectively. The largest producers in Africa include Egypt (just over 1 million tonnes in 2007), Morocco (894,000 tonnes) and South Africa (683,000 tonnes).

Fish and fish trade is a mainstay of many African economies and represents a significant source of foreign exchange earnings, in addition to the sector’s important role in income generation, employment and food security.  The fisheries sector as a whole employs 12.3 million people as full-time fishers or full-time and part-time processors, accounting for 2.1% of Africa’s population of between 15 and 64 years old. Of these employed, almost half were fishers; 42.4% were processors and 7.5% were engaged in aquaculture.

Women are heavily involved in the fish sector, accounting for about 27.3% of the total workforce in fisheries and aquaculture, and they are directly involved in fishing (3.6 %), processing (58%), and aquaculture (4%). With regard to food and nutrition security, fish is very important source of animal protein, accounting for an average of around 5% of total protein FAO (2014). Per capita consumption of fish in Africa was reported to be 9.7 kg per year; lower than the world average (18.9 kg/year); with some countries (Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Malawi and South Africa) experiencing stagnant or declining per capita FAO (2014).

Globally in 2013, fish was reported to be the highest traded food commodity in the world with a total value of US$130 billion, followed by soybean US$58 billion (Table 1); FAO reported US$136 billion, up 5% from previous year; and African accounted for only approximately US5$ billion (FAO 2014).

Sadly though, despite this progressive trend, Africa’s participation in the global fish trade remains insignificant. By value, Africa was a net exporter for the period 1985–2010, but a net importer since 2011 in quantity terms, reflecting the lower unit value of imports (mainly for small pelagic species) (FAO 2014).

The European Union is by far the world’s biggest importer of fish, seafood and aquaculture products. Import rules for these products are harmonised, meaning that the same rules apply in all EU countries. In the case of aquaculture products, a control plan on heavy metals, contaminants, residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs must be in place to verify compliance with EU requirements. This has resulted into lack of market orientation in Africa and the continent’s limited participation in the global fish which represents approximately 4.9% of total value of traded.

Anything involving export requires quality management of the highest order. In addition to limited global participation, Africa’s capacity for intra-regional trade is also low. Official intra-African trade was just 11% of the continent’s total trade between 2007 and 2011 (UNCTAD 20133). Essuman (1992) mentions that, according to FAO estimates, intra-regional trade in Africa below the Sahara (excluding South Africa) is about 15 per cent of total fish production, or 150,000 tonnes, valued at about US$200 million.

A number of factors make Africa to be losing shares in the global markets and trading relatively less with itself. These include inadequate hard and soft market and trade infrastructure, deficient policy and institutional frameworks; tariff and other barriers as well as poor infrastructure, lack of capital, and technology and information-linked bottlenecks. Lack of proper packaging material and storage, at processing sites and markets. Tettey (1987) estimated that between 20 to 40 per cent of fish harvested in the region is wasted through spoilage. Lack of basic facilities like running water, sanitation, electricity, ice, storage or refrigeration facilities at processing sites. Unhygienic possessing and preservation methods such as drying of fish directly on the sand, use of unclean fermentation tanks, or reusing of salt and similar practices, dirty pakagung baskets and bags leading to product contamination and spoilage.

The depletion of fish resources in the region due to poor resource management and overfishing, especially by trawlers, industrial fisheries and by foreign fleets fishing under fisheries access agreements and joint-venture arrangements is a big issue.

Trade is constrained by inadequate market and trade infrastructure and poor policy implementation. High transport costs, complex and unaligned trade rules and poor market information also prevent Africa from optimizing the social and economic benefits available. Lack of harmonisation and and/or enforcement in trade policies and sanitary regulations among African States, corruption, harassment at check points continue to hamper the development of intra-regional trade in fish and fishery products.

Of interest and challenge to ARSO is the lack of uniform standards, regulations and conformity assessment regimes governing fish processing and trade on such issues as moisture content, salt level, colour and smell characteristics, microbiological quality, insect infestation, packaging and texture.  Quality inspection is mainly of incoming cured fish products at ports of entry. Locally produced cured products are generally not subject to quality inspection. Due to lack of conformity assessment procedures  it needs to be stressed that official quality certificates tend to report on visual characteristics, and in that sense, are subjective.

  • The technical barrier caused by the International standards of food hygiene or the Health regulations and quality standards based on Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Point (HACCP) with regards to fish and fishery products adopted in developed countries. Indeed, despite the unilateral trade preferences the EU grants to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, as well as the huge efforts made by African countries to comply with European standards, many still face difficulties in accessing the European market mainly ue to the stringent sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards and measures imposed by the EU. These constraints have a big impact on the region’s international trade in fisheries products. Many members of the African, ACP group of countries are yet to develop these standards and have in fact very little or no adequate technical infrastructure to meet the sanitary and safety standards laid down by the WTO or the EU.

Measures should be taken to mitigate the negative impacts and seize the opportunities available in this sector. Improving market conditions and the basic amenities for fish storage and trade; Strengthening the policy process and improving policy performance by building capacity in policy analysis and design; Informing policies with micro-level information on ‘trade realities’ by upgrading research and information systems;  Creating and sustaining an enabling environment for fish trade through responsive and pro-active policy processes by negotiating international trade rules to access domestic and international markets; implementing at the national level, policies adopted at the regional level (regarding removal of tariff barriers on transport and sale of artisanal, locally produced products) to facilitate the free flow of artisanally processed fish; simplifying and harmonizing customs documents and tariff schedules to facilitate the cross-border trade; and Setting and harmonising sanitary and quality standards and conformity assessment regimes (packaging, labelling and marking of goods) appropriate to the African context to facilitate greater trade, are the major policy measures that needs to be addressed.

The good news is that despite the fact Africa has for a long time acted separately on various issues of common interest, African countries, through these hard lessons, are now maturing and taking control of their own destiny. For example, the Partnership for African Fisheries imitative is to regroup all African states to speak as one voice on international policy issues and ensure fisheries are given proper recognition in policies on regional economic integration.

The second Conference of African Ministers of Fisheries & Aquaculture (CAMFA) in April/May 2014, endorsed the African Union Policy Framework & Reform Strategy for Fisheries & Aquaculture in Africa. This Policy Framework and Reform Strategy lays down the guiding principles for Africa to (i) increase fisheries and aquaculture productivity, (ii) improve profitability of fish enterprises, (iii) enhance sustainability, (iv) wealth generation, (v) social welfare, nutrition and food security, and (vi) strengthen regional collaborative management.

The 23rd Ordinary Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in June 2014, committed themselves to triple, by the year 2025, intra-African trade in agricultural commodities (including fish) and services. The Summit endorsed the AU Policy Framework and Reform Strategy for Fisheries and Aquaculture in Africa; and committed themselves to “accelerate trade by developing fish value chains, promoting responsible and equitable fish trade and marketing in order to significantly harness the benefits of Africa’s fisheries and aquaculture endowments”.

Developed countries also remain keen to work in partnership with Africa in these initiatives. For example the ‘Fish Trade for a Better Future’, a European Commission funded project being implemented by WorldFish, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) is aiming to strengthen value chains and, with a focus on sustainability, give better access to intra-regional markets and subsequently improve food and nutritional security and income in sub-Saharan Africa.

On this initiative, Stephen J Hall, Director General OF WorldFish notes “Africa has the potential to develop its fisheries and aquaculture to play a much greater role in promoting food security, providing livelihoods and supporting economic growth. Per capita consumption has fallen, despite Africa’s great abundance of aquatic resources. Fish Trade will create the foundations for a more solid, productive and sustainable building-up of this great, continent-wide, resource.”

In support, Hamady Diop, Programme Manager Fisheries and Aquaculture, NEPAD notes “Recent years have seen increased growth in aquaculture. Fish Trade will provide the opportunity to learn from past successes and failures and governments will be given the right information to be able to create the incentives and infrastructure that investors need to meet local demand and penetrate higher value-added export markets.”, while Steve Wathome, Programme Manager, Agriculture and Rural Development Delegation of the European Union to Kenya, European Commission notes “The EU is convinced that the Fish Trade programme will significantly contribute towards the fisheries sector in Africa. Trade has been identified as one of the major challenges affecting growth of the fish sector in Africa, with challenges being notable with regard to intra-Africa trade and accessing global markets.”

Equally, Prof.  Ahmed El Sawalhy Director AU-IBAR notes “Trade plays a major role in the fishery industry as a creator of employment, food supplier, income generator, and contributor to economic growth and development in several African countries. Domestic and intra-regional trade of fish (both marine and inland waters) is important with great potential for enhancing regional integration and food and nutrition security.

The program working in four ‘corridors’ to generate information on the structure, products and value of intra-regional fish trade and its contribution to food security in sub-Saharan Africa,  will equip governments with the capacities needed to implement the African Union Policy Framework and Reform Strategy for Fisheries and Aquaculture in Africa. In addition, it has been designed to support the work of governments towards implementation of the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.

Evidently, access to international markets is dependent on Africa being able to offer products which meet quality and sustainability standards of the markets. ARSO takes great interest in the fact that project will support adoption and implementation of appropriate policies, fish certification procedures, standards and regulations by key stakeholders in intra-regional trade and recommendations on policies, certification procedures, standards and regulations, well embedded in national and regional fisheries, agricultural, trade and food security policy frameworks. To this end, as a member of the Working Committee, ARSO looks forward to a  cooperation to achieve the following is envisaged:

  • Identifying and Prioritising Policy and Regulatory Options for Promoting Intra-Regional Fish Trade in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Formulating regional policies, fish certification procedures, standards and regulations in selected areas that are critical for promoting intra-regional fish trade
  • Developing Approaches for Implementation and Monitoring of these Policies, Standards and Regulations Recommendations
  • High Level Intra-Regional Fish Trade Policy Dialogues to Inform Pan-African and Sub-Regional Discourse.

It is envisaged that the initiative will take advantage of the existing ARSO Platform which has so far:

  • Two Fisheries Standards, ARS 753-2013, General principles and criteria for sustainability and ARS 752-2013, Sustainability standards — Processes & Methods, Glossary and basic descriptions
  • ECoMark Africa – Pan-African and multi-sectoral eco-labelling initiative for Safety, Quality, Environment
  • African Eco-labelling Standard, Fisheries — Sustainability and eco-labelling — Requirements, AES 02 marine and inland capture fisheries that provides requirements for the sustainable harvesting of fish up to the point at which the fish are landed.
  • Harmonized African standards and Conformity Assessment for the HACCP – Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Point – internationally recognized system for reducing the risk of safety hazards.
  • Harmonized African Sanitary/Safety Standards for Fish with a focus to: processing and post-harvest loses, Handling, preservation, processing methods, distribution methods, Moisture content, salt level, smell characteristics, packaging, texture, labeling.
  • The ARSO DISNET Trade Web Portal ( where African countries exchange trade and market information of products traded in African and their standards, regulations  and conformity assessment regimes (ARSO CACO – requirements for the free flow of trade.

If African carry on with these initiatives, then it will live to the expectations of the Africa Progress Panel (APP) led by Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel laureate and consisting of ten distinguished individuals who advocate for equitable and sustainable development for Africa, thus  “If we want to extend the recent economic successes of the continent to the vast majority of its inhabitants, then we must end the neglect of our farming and fishing communities. The time has come to unleash Africa’s green and blue revolutions”.(African Progress Report 2014).

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